Trump: Day 2

I’ve been steering clear of Facebook, which has allowed me to gather my thoughts about Trump Nation absent the high-volume caterwauling that has defined social media lo these past couple of months. So pardon me for spewing all my unedited brain droppings here on my blog. I just can’t seem to help myself.

First, I found myself with somewhat mixed feelings about Trump’s press secretary’s belligerent attack on the media in his first briefing. The guy didn’t take questions; he just complained about an erroneous report about Trump removing a bust of MLK that he merely moved to a different part of the Oval Office. But he also beat up on them for claiming that Trump’s inauguration wasn’t well-attended and insisted that more people showed up in 2016 than showed up in 2008.

Which is, you know, not true. At all.

Behold:On the one hand, I’ve always wanted to see Republicans take on the press and expose their blatant bias. So that’s kind of fun. At the same time, this isn’t really a Republican administration – it’s Donald Trump. And in part, he’s beating up on the press for telling the truth. Stylistically, it’s delightful, but substantively, it sucks.

Speaking of sucks, today’s Women’s March was a turgid mess that represents a huge missed opportunity. You had massive turnout to demonstrate widespread feminist anger aimed at the Vulgarian-in-Chief, and then you hand the microphone to Madonna, perhaps the only woman in America more vulgar than Trump. She drops F bombs and talks about fantasies of blowing up the White House. (If Trump really were Hitler, Madonna would already have been shot.)

Anyway, way to keep it classy, M. If you’re looking to build a credible opposition movement, this is precisely the way to sabotage it before it gets off the ground.

Speaking of sabotage, Trump has signed an executive order that guts the Obamacare individual mandate that conservatives now hate, having wholly forgotten that it was initially a conservative idea designed to avoid a single-payer system.

The reality that no one admits is that the United States has had universal healthcare for decades, even before Obamacare was a twinkle in Barack’s eye. By law, nobody can be denied healthcare because of their inability to pay. Of course, that means that people wait until they get sick and then show up in the emergency room, which is the most expensive and inefficient form of healthcare delivery available. Obamacare was a well-intentioned-but-deeply-flawed attempt to make the system less expensive and more efficient. Repealing it without a replacement wouldn’t throw people out of hospitals to die in the streets, but it would return us to the days when we were trying to pretend that we weren’t wasting massive amounts of money on a fundamentally broken healthcare system.

Trump has said he’s going to keep Obamacare’s “good parts,” but that just doesn’t work. The bad parts fund the good parts. You can’t force insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions unless you also have a mandate requiring everyone to buy insurance. A solvent insurance pool requires enough healthy people to participate in the system to cover the costs of the unhealthy. If healthy people can wait until they get sick before they buy insurance, then the pool can’t cover costs, and the whole thing collapses.

My father was beaten up in his final campaign because he was championing a system that included a mandate to buy insurance, too. His bill, the Healthy Americans Act, had bipartisan support and is the perfect alternative to the ACA. The Congressional Budget Office determined that it would save the Federal Government $1 trillion over ten years.  If Trump were smart, he’d pull it off the shelf and take credit for it.

Trump, alas, isn’t smart.

Speaking of smart, several conservative columnists had a similar reaction to Trump’s inaugural speech and said very clever things about it. I share a few of my favorite bon mots with you here:

“After every major Trump speech or event, the person I was before it seems desperately naive. I have been a consistent Trump critic, but my expectations are never quite low enough.”
– Michael Gerson

“Twenty minutes into his presidency, Donald Trump, who is always claiming to have made, or to be about to make, astonishing history, had done so. Living down to expectations, he had delivered the most dreadful inaugural address in history.”
– George Will

“Trump’s inaugural declaration (which mirrored much of what he said in the campaign) is a historic milestone, but not in the way Trump believes. It’s a formula for America’s decline on the world stage and runs enormous risks of destabilizing the global economy.”
– Robert Samuelson

“So, that happened.

Let us pray.”
-Kathleen Parker

Let us pray, indeed. I’m going to bed.

 

Now THAT’S a bad speech

This past summer, I was at a wedding reception talking to a guy who was terrified about the trade deficit.

“Did you KNOW,” he said, speaking in capital letters, “that the TRADE DEFICIT last year was 700 BILLION DOLLARS?!!” (That’s him verbatim. You could absolutely hear the extra exclamation points after the question mark.)

I told him I didn’t know – I still don’t, as that number sounds like it was a number pulled out of his butt – but even if that were true, I told him I couldn’t care less.

He was aghast. “But WHERE is AMERICA going to come up with THAT kind of money?!”

It was then I realized that the word “deficit” had convinced him that a “trade deficit” is exactly the same thing as a “budget deficit.” That’s about as stupid as someone who thinks salad dressing should only be stored in dressing rooms. The words are the same, yes, but the meaning is different enough that no one really needs to worry about spilling Thousand Island on their Hamlet tights.

When the government has a budget deficit, they have a shortfall between the amount of money they spend and the amount of money they take in. We buy, say, two or three trillion dollars worth of stuff, but we don’t have enough cash to cover that extra $500 billion or so. So we stick the rest on the credit card and hope that the bill arrives in the mail when the American people aren’t looking.

A trade deficit, however, is the difference between the amount of stuff we buy as opposed to the amount of stuff we sell. So if I sell you my old comic book collection for fifty bucks, you have just racked up a staggering $50 trade deficit with me. WHERE  are YOU going to come up with THAT kind of money?!

As you can see, the question makes no sense at all. You don’t owe me anything, since you were already stupid enough to blow fifty bucks on a piles of rotting newsprint with pictures of Green Lantern drawn on them.  But you’re okay with it, too, because you decided that you wanted those dog-eared comics more than you wanted the fifty bucks. And thus, through the magic of capitalism,  both of us walked away happy.

Last May, Donald Trump, ostensibly a savvy capitalist himself, proved that when it comes to this fundamental tenet of economics, he doesn’t know salad dressing from comic books. Speaking to a rally of true believers, then-Candidate Trump mocked the people who were worried that his proposed tariffs and taxes would start a trade war.

“Trade war?!” he sniffed, the extra exclamation point dripping from his scowling smirk. “We’re losing $500 billion in trade with China. Who the hell cares if there’s a trade war?!”

(Wait, it’s $500 BILLION, not $700 BILLION?!!  Why didn’t TRUMP tell the GUY at the WEDDING RECEPTION ?!)

Kindly consider the depth of ignorance found in Trump’s statement. We’re “losing” $500 billion in trade with China. So when we trade with China, we hand them $500 billion, and they hand us… nothing, apparently, because that money is lost. LOST! We’re losing it. So WHO the HELL cares?

Of course, that money is not lost. We handed them half a trillion bucks; they handed us all kinds of crap – shoes and umbrellas and refrigerators and iPhones and Trump-brand neckties, all made in China. (Yes, before he inflicted himself on the American electorate, Trump was making America great again by exploiting cheap Chinese labor.) That $500 billion isn’t “lost.” It’s been traded. And it wouldn’t have been traded if we didn’t prefer having iPhones to having the money we paid for them. The trades were voluntary – both parties are satisfied. No bill for $500 billion is going to arrive in the White House mailbox unless Melania decides to surprise Barron by buying Guam for him as a birthday present.

All this is prelude to how terrible President Trump’s inaugural speech was. I’m not talking about its moments of breathtaking stupidity, like his line about how kids are stuck in a school system which “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Really? Deprived of ALL knowledge? Do they become zombies? Or game show hosts? Well, at least they’re young and beautiful. Maybe they could hook up with some creepy billionaire who likes to grab young and beautiful people by the…

But I digress. (Although it’s hysterical that the word “all” before knowledge has been dropped from the official transcript. Trust me; it was there. I’d suggest that you rewatch the thing if you don’t believe me, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.)

Trump got most passionate as he was describing “American carnage” caused by the horrors of other countries “making our products.” Other countries making OUR products?! No more!  It’s time to rebuild the “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”  It’s going to be “America First.” Two rules: “Buy American and Hire American.” And that, my friends, is how we’re going to make America great again.

Or, at the very least, make America as great as North Korea.

North Korea, you see, has a philosophy called “Juche!” It’s a word that roughly translates into “self-reliance,” but in practical terms, it means that North Korea follows two simple rules: Buy North Korean and Hire North Korean. International trade is considered a betrayal of the Hermit Kingdom’s revolutionary principles.

That text either translates as “Self-Reliance” or “Deprived of all knowledge.”

And the result? Widespread poverty, massive repression, and famines so bad that vast swaths of populace have had to survive by eating grass.

Trade is good. It creates wealth. And, like it or not, we live in a global economy. Pretending we don’t won’t return us to the 1920s, when we didn’t.

Back then, the now-rusted-out factories were rust-free and churning out Model Ts built by 100% American labor. But now Ford can churn out sedans and SUVs that are exponentially more sophisticated than the Model T, and they can do it with a tiny fraction of the labor force. Why? Automation. Those assembly line jobs have been made obsolete by technology, and, Trump’s populist, protectionist rhetoric aside, they’re not coming back.

I’ve said many times that the entirety of the MBA I earned can be summed up in three words – markets are efficient. If labor is going overseas, it’s because the market has found a more efficient use of capital. If government jumps in and tries to stop it, it’s a bit like tearing up all the modern car-building machinery and forcing Toyota to make all its Priuses by hand, complete with hordes of seamstresses sewing up the leather seats. Will that create jobs? Well, yes, but it will also destroy other jobs, destroy a great deal of wealth, and ultimately make Toyota so non-competitive that they’ll go out of business, thereby destroying the short-term Prius-leather-seat-sewing jobs that made Trump look like a hero when he created them.

This is the real danger of Trump, folks. He’s going to mandate that the economy operate like it did fifty years ago, and if he gets his way, we’ll ALL be eating GRASS!!

Hopefully, we’ll still have some SALAD DRESSING.

A Practical Guide to President Trump

“Tomorrow, January 20, 2017 is a day of mourning,” wrote a friend of mine on Facebook.  “Not only are we forced to say goodbye to the people who TRULY ‘Made America Great’, the best President, first family and Vice-president our generation will ever see, but we are also witnessing the death of a nation by swearing in the modern day Hitler.”

Ah! The modern day Hitler. (The actual Hitler, apparently, was a product of antiquity, despite having lived less than a century ago.) So all of us are at risk of having the gestapo pound down our doors and drag us into forced labor camps where we’re either gassed on arrival or worked and starved to death.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is beyond nonsense. Yes, I’m a middle-aged white male, so I’ve got privilege coming out the wazoo. But even if you are a transgender Jewish Muslim of African descent in a same-sex marriage and seeking an abortion, you are equally at risk of being hauled away by the Trump SS as I am. Which is to say, not at all.

Again, this is not to say I’m now a Trump devotee – it’s a plea from a Trump critic who wants the people who oppose Trump to focus on reality and stop crying wolf.

No, you’re doing more than crying wolf. You’re screaming wolf. And it’s making things worse.

If you’re reading this, things may suck for you in the near future, but the good news is that you don’t have to hide in somebody’s attic for the next four years for fear of being slaughtered by the government.  There is much to be concerned about with regard to the buffoon sitting in the Oval Office for the next four years, but don’t flatter yourself into thinking you’re freakin’ Anne Frank. That kind of hyperbolic hyperventilation is insulting to the memory of the real Hitler’s real victims, and it’s counterproductive to dealing with the reality in which we all find ourselves.

So rather than just add to the rhetorical cacophony, I thought I’d offer some practical tips as to what President Trump will actually mean.

1. Genocide is off the table.
In order for Trump to be Hitler, he has to create the apparatus necessary to begin the slaughter of millions of American citizens. That infrastructure, as well as the widespread political will to enable and maintain it, simply does not exist. Hitler spent a great deal of time and effort building his genocide machine, and Trump is both dumber and lazier than the Fuhrer he’s supposedly emulating.

In addition, while there certainly remain troubling pockets of racism and bigotry throughout our country, the vast majority of the American people are not on board for the wholesale slaughter of their fellow citizens. Combine an unmotivated genocider-in-chief with a public almost wholly opposed to genocide, and you have a surefire recipe for non-genocide.

When people start talking about Trump as Hitler, I ask them to paint me a picture as to how that will happen in practical terms. So far, I haven’t gotten any workable proposals as to how we get there from here.

2. And no, climate change is not the same thing. 
The closest someone has come to offering a realistic Trump genocide scenario is the idea that climate change will now do the dirty work that concentration camps used to do. Trump will kill us all by abandoning the Paris climate change accords, a friend of mine wrote, since “climate change knows no borders.”

“No matter how isolated i am in the sane enclave of california,” he wrote, “climate change will destroy us all. This will be trumps legacy. Anything else he does can be undone.”

The subject of climate change has been so poisoned by politics that the fact that even the most ardent supporters of the Paris accords recognize they are essentially symbolic gestures will be lost on the alarmists. Every credible scientist admits that even full compliance with them will do nothing to lower or even slow the rise of global temperatures.

The scientific consensus is 100% clear on this point – the climate is going to do what it’s going to do regardless of who’s in the White House. Replace Hitler with Gandhi for the next four years, and the climate outcome would be exactly the same.

For my part, I take comfort in the fact that the computer models that have predicted catastrophe have been off by an average of 300% over the past thirty years, but if you’re still convinced that we’re doomed, the harsh reality is that the Paris agreements will do absolutely nothing to undoom us, and Trump’s withdrawal from them won’t make any difference one way or the other.

3. Trump’s stupid border wall is empty symbolism, too. 
It’s heartening to see Trump having to backpedal his moronic assertion that Mexico is going to foot the bill for his dopey wall, but if you’re troubled that this is going to create some kind of police state dystopia, then you’re probably not aware that huge chunks of that wall have already been built, and all of it was built before Trump even announced his candidacy. (Even Mother Jones admits that.)

The wall is fuel for increased xenophobic rhetoric, and that’s problematic, but it will have little or no impact on actual illegal immigration. If you doubt that, then you probably think illegal immigrants get here by scurrying across the border in the dead of night. Most of them aren’t that stupid. Instead, the vast majority of them simply get a visa to come visit the United States, and then they don’t go home when the visa expires. It’s easy; it’s clean, and, best of all, nobody gets shot. And nothing Trump has proposed is going to change it much.

4. Gay marriage is here to stay. So is abortion.
I have a number of friends who think the Trump apocalypse will be heralded by his Supreme Court picks, who will undo both the Obergefell decision that made gay marriage legal and the infamous Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion a constitutional right.

Is it possible the Court will do this? Yes. Is it likely? Not at all.

Start with gay marriage, which is in no danger of going away. Obergefell overturned only part of the Defense of Marriage Act. The other part – the section that states can ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states – is blatantly unconstitutional, since it violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause, which reads as follows:

“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.”

So if one state makes gay marriage legal, every state has to recognize those marriages.

Congress knew this part of DOMA was illegal when they passed it, and President Clinton knew it when he signed it. It was a cynical, craven pandering to an electorate which, at the time, was solidly opposed to gay marriage. (Yes, times have changed.) Clinton even publicly stated that he looked forward to the day when the High Court overturned the unconstitutional law he had signed.

So that’s out there like a Sword of Damocles waiting to fall on anyone who tries to overturn Obergefell. But even if it weren’t, the Court would now be in a position of not just preventing new same-sex marriages, but of nullifying thousands of existing marriages, something even the most conservative members of the Court would be reluctant to do. In addition, a case would have to be brought before the Court with the potential to overturn Obergefell, and no such cases are in the pipeline. And remember, replacing Scalia with a conservative wouldn’t alter the makeup of the Court that decided Obergefell and has repeatedly upheld Roe.

And what about Roe itself? Well, what about it? It’s survived decades of challenges, even when conservatives have held a majority. Furthermore, many of its principles have already been codified into federal law. Many states have legal protections that go further than Roe in thwarting government interference on abortions, and none of those would change. People don’t seem to realize that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion would remain legal in all fifty states.

5. Repeal of the ACA? Don’t bet on it.
Actually, in one sense, yes, bet on it. There will, in fact, be a formal repeal of Obamacare, and it will be conducted with huge fanfare and a dramatic signing ceremony, and Trump will tweet something awful, and everyone will wring their hands.

But will the law then allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions? Or kick kids of their parents’ policies? Or cap lifetime benefits?

No, no, and no.

Obamacare is an expensive mess, but the pre-Obamacare status quo was an expensive mess, too. And voters will not tolerate the return to a time when people couldn’t get coverage because they’d gotten sick. And even before Obamacare, people were never denied emergency care because of inability to pay. Republican promises to “replace” Obamacare are all predicated on the fact that the provisions I listed above are wildly popular, no matter which party you belong to. Watch for Trump’s Obamacare’s “replacement” to look an awful lot like Obamacare.

6. So okay, then what’s Trump going to do that’s really awful?
What, you mean besides just being Donald Trump, who is an awful human being? Because that’s awful in how it sets a tone for the country that makes us all crasser, coarser, and crosser than we were before. But that’s already baked into the Trump cake. What’s his administration actually going to do that will make things worse for the day-to-day lives of Americans everywhere?

Two words: trade war.

Trump wants to tax products coming across the border at a rate of 35%. Guess who pays that tax? You do. Companies don’t just eat those kinds of costs – they pass them on to consumers. In a global economy, tariffs and trade wars are asinine, and they’re huge disincentives to economic growth. The fact that Donald Trump has turned the GOP into a protectionist party is the single biggest disaster Trump has inflicted on the nation as a whole. It’s going to sink the economy, and it’s going to cost you personally.

He’s also going to spend as much as Obama, and probably more. When Obama took office, Republicans fell all over themselves to block his bloated trillion-dollar stimulus package. They were right to do so. But now they’re falling all over themselves to push through Trump’s “infrastructure” package, which is exactly the same thing, only at a higher cost. Republicans are repeatedly demonstrating that they’re not above rising above principle for partisan gain. Trump’s also going to beef up defense spending, so we’ll all drown in a river of red ink regardless.

There’s also no appetite among anyone in either party to get entitlement spending under control, which means that the country is looking at the inevitability of a Greece/Venezuela-style meltdown within the next ten to twenty years, and since debt only becomes painful when default is nigh, nobody is going to notice until the ship of state goes over the waterfall. 

7. So what to do? Because there’s a great deal to be done. 
There is, indeed. Which is why it would be very helpful to tone down the Hitler crap. The screeching makes it impossible for anyone to be in the same room with you for very long. (I’m swearing off Facebook for the next few days for that very reason.) The better approach is to talk to each other and, even more importantly, to listen to each other.

That’s the approach I intend to take a few days from now, after the screaming of wolf has died down to a dull roar.

Not My Warden

Dutch and Ernie were each serving twenty-year sentences at Jojo State Prison in southern North Dakota.  For reasons unexplained, neither of them had faces, but that’s not important to the story.


Both guys had gotten quite close to Horace Flimpson, who had served as warden of the prison since 1987. But Horace was getting on in years, so it was time for him to retire.

Even though they were cons, Dutch and Ernie were invited to the party where Warden Flimpson got a big cake and a gold watch. They wished their buddy well, only to discover that his replacement was going to be none other than Skiffles McGee, who had been the vicious and unpopular warden of a prison where both Dutch and Ernie had done hard time for illegally waxing contraband surfboards.

“Skiffles McGee?!” Ernie shouted as he and Dutch walked back to their cells. “Can you believe it?”

“It makes me so mad,” Dutch said. “I hate that guy.”

“Me, too,” Ernie said. ‘And let me say right now that he’s not my warden.”

“Not yet, no,’ Dutch said. “But sadly, he will be.”

“No, he won’t.” Ernie said. “Not my warden.”

“What?”

Ernie scowled. “He only got this job because he bribed somebody. He has no right to be the warden.”

“Well, okay,” Dutch said, “that’s probably true. Ol’ Skiffles is a real turd, and I wouldn’t put it past him to bribe somebody. But he’s still going to be your warden.”

“Not my warden.”

“Yes, your warden.”

“How can you defend him?” Ernie shot back.

“I’m not defending him,” said Dutch. “I hate him.”

“Then how can you say he’s your warden?”

“Because he’s going to be the warden of this prison, and I’m in this prison. That makes him my warden.”

“But he shouldn’t be the warden,” Ernie said.

“Yes,” agreed Dutch, nodding. “He shouldn’t be. But he is.”

“Even though he cheated?”

Dutch nodded again. “Even though.”

“He eats fried kittens for breakfast, you know,” Ernie said.

“I did know that, yes.”

“Then how can you look me in the eye and say he’s your warden?”

“Because no matter how crappy he is, he’s still my warden,” said Dutch. “And you probably need to accept the fact that he’s your warden, too.”

“Not my warden!” Ernie was getting very angry by this point.

So Dutch decided to take another tack with him. “Okay, fine,” he said. “He’s not your warden. Can you at least tell me what that means?”

“It means that I’m not going to just smile and get over it,” Ernie said.

“Okay. So what are you going to do?”

“I just told you.”

“Not really. I need specifics. Does this mean you’re going to break out of prison? Because if you’re not in this prison, then he’s not your warden.”

“Of course not,” Ernie said. “I don’t want to get caught and add another dozen years to my sentence.”

“Okay, fine. So you’re in the prison where Skiffles McGee is the warden, but since he’s not your warden, does that mean you don’t have to do what he says?”

“He’s NOT MY WARDEN!!,” Ernie repeated, speaking in capital letters for added emphasis.

“But he doesn’t know that. I’m pretty sure he’s going to act like he’s your warden. So when the guards come around at night and tell you that it’s lights out, are you going to leave your light on?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about guards who are working for the guy who is not your warden. When they walk past the cell and say, ‘Lights out, Ernie,” are you going to leave your light on, because these guards are following the orders of the guy who is not your warden?”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Ernie muttered.

“I’ve heard dumber,” Dutch said.

“How can you just sit back and take it?”

“Who says I’m going to sit back and take it?” Dutch said. “I’m going to oppose him every way I can.”

“Good,” Ernie said. “I thought you weren’t going to resist.”

“Resist?” Dutch asked. “I didn’t say ‘resist.’ I said ‘oppose.'”

“What’s the difference?”

“There are a lot of things we can do to show we don’t like ol’ Skiffles. But if we ‘resist’ him that means we refuse to do what he says. And if we refuse to do what he says, the guards are going to kick our heads in. I don’t want to get my head kicked in.”

‘There are other ways to resist,” Ernie said.

“Not really,” Dutch said. “Because as near as I can tell, there are two ways he can not be your warden. One way is for you to get out of prison, and the other way is to shoot him in the head.”

“I didn’t say I was going to shoot him in the head!”

“Then how will you get rid of him?”

“I get him replaced,” Ernie said, as if it were too obvious for words.

“Great! Then get him replaced! I’ll even help you do that! But that takes time. And until he’s replaced, if you don’t shoot him in the head, and you don’t leave prison, then he’s your warden.”

“You’re an idiot,” Ernie said.

“And you smell like farts,” Dutch said.

Dutch and Ernie never spoke again. And when they were released in 2029, they blocked each other on Facebook.

I’m not pro-Trump. I’m anti-violence.

For the past two days, I have had a series of exhausting Facebook discussions about the election results. In order to make my point, I’ve had to defend, albeit halfheartedly, some truly awful people, Donald Trump being the chief among them, but Steve Bannon being a close second.

I do not like Donald Trump or Steve Bannon. They are bad people. I do not want to defend them. I am opposed to them. I think they will do awful things, and I think every attempt they make to do awful things should be met with opposition.

It frustrates me that I even have to say this. It frustrates me that the point I’ve been trying to make over the past few days somehow calls my disgust with Donald Trump into question. It frustrates me that every discussion about Trump is so deeply and relentlessly polarizing and painful that it is impossible to find a rational center where people can address the real problems and concerns of what a Trump administration will actually mean, and where people who passionately disagree can still find ways to peacefully navigate the difficult days ahead.

But my frustration is my problem. The larger problem, and the one that preoccupies me as I consider where our country is and where it is going, is that violence is becoming an acceptable option.

Of course, it was already acceptable for the racists and bigots who were Trump’s most vocal supporters, and now they have been emboldened by a bully’s victory. Everyone, including the vast majority of the tens of millions of people who voted for Trump, can see this violence for what it is. It is squalid and ugly, and it is easily identified as such. This kind of bile has always been with us, and it will likely always be with us. It cannot be tolerated, and it should not be defended. I’m confident that the vast majority of people in this country are people of good will who will not tolerate or defend such things.

What unnerves me is that there is a violence that many otherwise decent people will be willing to defend. It is a violence that cloaks itself in virtue, even though it is as squalid and ugly as the violence of racists. It represents itself as the violence of the righteous, or the violence of the oppressed. This violence is predicated on the principle that Trump’s victory is so completely unacceptable that morality provides no limit on the vehemence of an appropriate response. If you accept that principle, you start with peaceful protests, but you’re not willing to end there. If chants and signs and marches don’t bring Trump down – and (spoiler alert) they won’t bring Trump down – then escalation is not only acceptable, it’s imperative.

This kind of violence was not acceptable before Trump. It is becoming acceptable now.

And it is already happening. A man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat was accosted and then choked on a subway train. A woman was thrown to the ground and repeatedly punched at a polling place because she announced she was voting for Trump. A girl was beaten at school because she announced she was a Trump supporter.

From the last link:

“This girl comes up to me and she said, ‘Do you hate Mexicans?’ and I was like, ‘no,’ and she said, ‘You support Trump. You hate Mexicans.'”

Armenio says the girl hit her, threw her to the ground, pulled out her earrings and hair. She was left with a bloody nose and scratches and bruises.

Trump opponents even beat up a homeless woman who was trying to protect Donald Trump’s star on Hollywood Boulevard.

homeless-trump-supporter-assaulted-youtube

This is a small handful of examples. There are many, many more. And, if the current overheated rhetoric continues, there will be many, many more after that. People will get hurt, and people will die, and many of those outraged by violence from Trump-supporting racists will turn a blind eye to the so-called violence of the righteous. Some will even applaud.

This is not a good thing. This is a very, very bad thing.

Just as we need to oppose Donald Trump in his awfulness, we need to oppose violence from whatever source it may come. Your anger and frustration over Trump’s victory does not give you the right to punch a Trump voter in the face.

Trump/Hitler – Part II: Why It Matters

So whenever I post something here and link to it on Facebook, the conversation all takes place over there and not here. For those of you who are not my FB friends, you should know that my earlier post today has ignited something of a firestorm.

“I quit reading after the 4th paragraph,” wrote one friend. “Not marching people into gas chambers made me throw up in my own mouth. Wish you were here so I could’ve done it in yours.”

Ouch.

Another friend told me that my “defense” of Steve Bannon was “close to treasonous.” (I tried to make it clear that I was not trying to defend Bannon in any way, shape, or form, as I describe him as “a thug, a bully, and a bigot.” He seemed unconvinced.) Later, the same friend insisted that “white power is entering the [W]hite [H]ouse, and anyone not enraged is complicit and Vichy.”

Which is precisely the problem and the reason I wrote that piece.

There’s a Doctor Who episode titled “Let’s Kill Hitler!” The plot involves going back in time to off the Fuehrer, but they don’t succeed. That hasn’t stopped other fictional characters from trying. The idea is the subject of movies, literature, and even comedy sketches. progressVermin Supreme, the perennial presidential candidate who wears a boot on his head, has made “time travel research to kill baby Hitler” one of the planks in his political platform.

And why not? Who doesn’t want to kill Hitler? Furthermore, who wouldn’t be justified in killing Hitler? The Nazi dictator represents the very embodiment of human evil. There is no punishment he does not deserve, and no response to his evil would be too extreme. Taking out Hitler is not something to be left to chance. You certainly don’t arrest him or put him on trial. You strangle him with your bare hands. If you can’t get close enough to do that, then you lob grenades into his bedroom. Or you bomb the snot out of any building where he might be hiding. Yes, innocents may die, but surely that’s a small price to pay to take out the worst person who has ever lived?

Well, thankfully, Adolf Hitler is long gone. But now here comes Trump Hitler. What punishment does he not deserve? What response to his evil would be too extreme? Are you seriously thinking we should put him on trial and leave it to the system to prevent the horrors he’s about to unleash? Isn’t it time someone strangled him with their bare hands? And if they can’t get that close, wouldn’t blowing up the White House and killing Trump Hitler be an entirely justified course of action? If Trump is Hitler, than a violent response is not only justified; it’s necessary.

That leads to horror very quickly.

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, I think Trump is awful. I think Steve Bannon is awful. I think this campaign played on America’s worst fears and exploited the darkest side of who we are. Nobody should read this and presume than I’m on the side of those who wish to divide us because of what we look like or how we worship. At the same time, I’m not on the side that thinks that violence is an acceptable response to Trump’s election. I stand firmly against rioting, bombing, or any other violent response to President-elect Trump. If Trump really were Hitler, I might think differently. As it stands now, I’m with John Lennon. “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.” (“Imagine” is still a sucky song, though.)

America is surely flawed, but we remain a nation of laws, and we have a system of government that is designed to thwart potential Hitlers. I think it will prove quite frustrating to President Trump, and that he won’t be able to be Hitler even if he wants to be. It is important that our response is commensurate with the actual challenge we face instead of acting like Krsitallnacht has just taken place.

Is Trump Hitler?

I’m going to try and thread a needle here that may not be threadable. So if I fail, it’s Donald Trump’s fault.

Indeed, I want to be clear at the outset that a lot of things are Donald Trump’s fault. I have believed, from the outset of the campaign, that he is wholly unfit to be President of the United States, and I have said so repeatedly and publicly. I officially left the Republican Party after he became the nominee. I have been on national television three times deriding Trump and his candidacy, so I would hate to have anyone read this blog post and assume that I’ve “come around,” that Trump is somehow my guy now, or that what am I about to say should in any way be interpreted as apologia for a president who, in the best case scenario, will largely be an ineffectual buffoon, and, in a more-likely worst case scenario, could do real and permanent damage to the nation.

With that as background, I’m now going to begin my needle-threading. Conceding and recognizing everything about Donald J. Trump that is loathsome, repugnant, and genuinely stomach-turning, I think it also needs to be said that the president-elect is not the moral or practical equivalent of Adolf Hitler.

trump_hitler1-1-354x354Hear me out here. This shouldn’t be interpreted as high praise, as “Not Hitler” is a pretty low threshold to cross. One can be all kinds of despicable and still not approach the evil of slaughtering six million people in a deliberate, state-sponsored genocide. One can also be legitimately and justifiably opposed to Trump, frightened by Trump, enraged by Trump, and sickened by Trump even if he doesn’t round up people and put them into gas chambers.

Which, honestly, he’s not going to do.

Again, understand the needle I’m trying to thread. Trump’s call to keep all Muslims from entering the country is xenophobia at its worst. (He’s backed down to something called “extreme vetting,” but the standards he’s using to accomplish this would essentially accomplish the same goal.) He’s now talking about a Muslim immigrant “registry” that sounds embryonically Hitler-ish, and so I understand the concerns, and I’m not encouraging complacency. As Trump proposes awful things, and he will continue to propose awful things, he needs to be vigorously and unrelentingly opposed, and I intend to be part of that opposition.

Now for the needle-threading. Is cracking down on Muslim immigration a step toward Muslim concentration camps? Is it a precursor to Trump rounding up Muslim-American citizens and authorizing the police to smash their windows, loot their shops, and throw them into ghettos before engineering a “final solution?” And after he’s done purging Islam from America, are we going to see ethnic cleansing against Hispanics or Jews, too?

All these things are possible, I suppose, but they’re also very, very unlikely. And here’s why.

In the first place, Trump is not smart enough to be Hitler. Keep in mind that by the time Hitler came to power, he had already written Mein Kampf and laid out for the world his rancid reasoning for blaming the Jewish people for all the world’s ills. Hitler was evil, vile, and wrong, but he was not a casual or shallow thinker. One of the reasons he was able to rise to power is that the elites didn’t take him seriously, and they assumed he didn’t really mean all the vile things he had said and written. They were horribly wrong. Hitler knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he let the world know well in advance that genocide was at the top of his agenda.

Donald Trump has not only not written a book; he’s never read a book. I don’t think he’s even read his own books. (Read this piece by the ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal to get the full extent of Trump’s ignorance.) A couple of years before running against Hillary Clinton as a pro-life conservative, he was praising Hillary Clinton as “terrific” and reiterating his support for partial-birth abortion. This is a man without any discernible ideology who believes only in his own ego and who’s thinking seems to be a byproduct of his bleached and ludicrously-swirled hair. He is only a racist when it’s convenient to be a racist. He lacks the sustained and bilious passion necessary to codify American genocide.

“Ah,” I hear you say. “But what about Steve Bannon?”

For those of you living under a rock, you should know that Bannon is Trump’s “white supremacist” appointee who will serve as the Karl Rove of the new Trump administration. Ostensibly, Trump will be a vapid and thoughtless puppet having his strings pulled by Wormtongue Bannon, who will sneak into the sleeping president’s bedroom every night with wireless earbuds so he can subliminally expose the Puppet Fuehrer to an iPod looped with Nuremberg Rally speeches.

The problem is that the case the Bannon is a “white supremacist” is hanging on a pretty thin reed. The smoking gun is a single statement by his ex-wife made in the crucible of a heated divorce, wherein she claimed he didn’t want his daughter to go to school with Jews. The fact that the daughter did, in fact, go to school with Jews would suggest that perhaps one statement from an angry ex-wife is not sufficient to convict Bannon of being a 21st-Century Goebbels. Bannon has been the subject of many supportive columns from Jewish defenders who know the man and insist that genocide is not at the top of his agenda, and I’m inclined to believe them.

Once again, do not mistake this as an endorsement, or even a defense, of Steve Bannon, who may well be an anti-Semite. Certainly he’s a thug, a bully, and a bigot. He’s also said a number of things about Mormons that demonstrate conclusively that he’s Grade-A pond scum. My point is that pond scum is pond scum, and, generally speaking, I would prefer that pond scum weren’t in the White House.

But pond scum is still a whole lot better than Hitler.

There’s also the rhetorical problem of the fact that we’ve seen too many instances of the Boy Who Cried Hitler in recent years. We were told that Bush was Hitler; we’re told that Obama is Hitler. Now that there’s someone who’s exponentially more Hitler-esque than either of the previous Hitlers, we need to be really worried, because, well, this one’s really Hitler.

Okay. Maybe this one is. But can we admit, then, that the previous ones were not? And can we also consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, this new Hitler may not be Hitler, either?

So What Now?

So what now?

Not everyone is asking that question yet. Emotions are still raw, and it will take time for many to heal. I’m grateful to note that my FB feed is almost entirely gloat-free, and last night’s winners seem to have no appetite for adding to the pain of the Hillary supporters. I take that as a good sign. We’ll need a surfeit of kindness in the days ahead. For my part, I’m strangely at ease with last night’s results. Many people I love are not.

Prior to the actual returns coming in, I had resigned myself to the reality of another corrupt Clinton presidency, and to have that possibility eliminated was a genuine relief. It was quickly replaced by trepidation about what a Trump presidency will mean. I don’t think anyone knows, least of all the President-Elect himself.

I think there are several things that it does not mean. In the lamentations of the Clinton faithful, I’ve seen warnings that “women will lose all access to birth control,” that “gay people will be rounded up and put in prison,” and that Trump’s critics will start to mysteriously disappear. I don’t think any of those things are remotely likely, nor do I believe abortion rights or same-sex marriage are genuinely at risk. I also don’t really worry that nuclear war is in the cards, although the battle over the Supreme Court will likely feel nuclear. The Republicans, for over a year, have refused to consider a legitimate SCOTUS nomination by a sitting president, so Democrats in the Senate will have no qualms about filibustering any and all Trump nominees now and forever. Given the wafer-thin Republican Senate majority and the deep unpopularity of the incoming president, gridlock will be the order of the day.

Which is fine by me. I’m a big fan of gridlock. The Constitution was written to make government inefficient by design to avoid concentrations of power. Gridlock means that even the worst presidents don’t have the ability to bring down the Republic singlehandedly. I think Trump will soon discover that he can’t do a lot of the crazy crap he thought he’d be able to do, and he is likely to find the presidency a whole lot more frustrating than he anticipated. That’s probably a good thing.

I also think it’s a good thing to see this election as a referendum on the media as much as the candidates. The smugness of the press was smacked down hard, and it was a smackdown that was richly deserved. This election cycle removed even the veneer of objectivity from most of the talking heads, and many of them will find themselves struggling to get their credibility back. It’s impossible to eliminate bias from any human endeavor, so to see the objectivity pretense exposed for what it is was very satisfying, indeed. For my part, I think we’d be better served by a media that is open and honest about who’s side they’re on.

This should also provide a welcome reminder that nobody in politics really knows anything more than anyone else. Everybody, every step of the way, got this wrong. Everyone, that is, except Scott Adams of Dilbert fame, who eerily got every element of this election right. If you’re not reading his blog, you’re really missing out.

Someone asked this morning whether or not it’s time to get rid of the Electoral College, given that Hillary is on track to win the popular vote. Yes, it is. The Electoral College distorts the whole process and leaves out a huge chunk of voters from the campaign. A genuine national election makes much more sense.

EDIT: I’m getting pushback on my Electoral College opposition, and I’m rethinking this to some degree. The idea that elections would then become contests to only persuade huge population centers is problematic and a valid concern.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I don’t know if this helped anyone feel better, or if it only depressed you even further, but I’m no longer willing to let my life be defined by something as squalid as politics. There will always be goodness and virtue in the world, regardless of whether or not there is any in the Oval Office.

EDIT: I’m also seeing some complaints about how third parties somehow made this outcome possible. I don’t think that’s remotely true. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either party, and without a third party option, I probably would have just left the POTUS slot blank. If someone is disgusted enough with the two major nominees that they’re willing to “throw their vote away,” that’s not someone willing to sign on to one of the parties if their other choices are removed.

It’s Almost Over

I have had a number of complaints, online and off, that I have not been living up to my punditious* responsibilities in 2016, and to that I plead guilty. I have spent far less time talking about this dreadful election than I have in previous cycles, but, ironically, far more time talking about it than I would like. But now, on the eve of inevitable disaster, I thought I’d sum up where I am and what I’m thinking. I don’t have a grand plan here, so I may wander into all kinds of tangents and minefields as I try to make sense out of a senseless situation.

First off, I’m not going to tell you who’s going to win. I stuck my neck out in 2012 and insisted that the polls were all flawed and that Romney was going to walk away with it. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate how stupid it is for anyone to presume they know any more about these things than anyone else. With regard to this election, you have the same information I do, and you’re perfectly capable of making as accurate an assessment of the electoral landscape as any of mine. All you need to know is that a psychic Scottish goat has predicted a Hillary victory. So, you know, there’s that.

I will say that this election has conclusively demonstrated that television advertising is all but useless and will have no real impact on the final vote totals.  Trump cruised to the nomination with virtually no television advertising, and Jeb Bush and his SuperPACs spent tens of millions and got nowhere. Hillary has outspent Trump by an outrageous factor with regard to her media blitz – I don’t remember what the actual number is, and I’m too lazy to look it up – and, really, I don’t think it will make the slightest bit of difference.

The fact is that people just don’t watch TV ads anymore, so ads don’t move the needle. Social media is changing the nature of the public conversation, and non-professionals become pundits to their friends by forwarding amateur videos that none of the campaigns have created and which they really can’t control. I think the “Hillary Lying for 13 Minutes Straight” video packed more of a punch than anything the Trump campaign put out, and it was produced by a bunch of nobodies. In contrast, can you think of a single ad from either candidate that drove the discussion in any significant way? Me neither.

It makes me think that the whole “ground game” buzz is irrelevant, too. Much has been made of the fact that Hillary has organized a big ground game to get her voters to the polls, and Trump has not. That may prove to be relevant. It may also prove to be an antiquated relic of campaigns past, given that social media, not a phone call, provides the more potent means to mobilize voters. I suspect the latter, but I’m probably wrong.

I do think the “Shy Trump” effect is a thing, although I only have anecdotal evidence to back that up. I have no idea how big it is or if it will provide any surprises in the vote totals. I only know I have several friends unwilling to admit their support for Trump, given that they are largely disgusted with him and don’t want to appear to be in league with Trump’s vocal legion of racists and bullies. The shy folk are good people who have nowhere else to go, and they’re especially worried about the Supreme Court, and they’re willing to back a loathsome man like Trump in the hopes of preventing SCOTUS from devolving into the extraconstitutional Superlegislature the Left so desperately wants it to be.

At the same time, I wonder how much more damage the Court can really do. I’m amazed at how many people think that a repeal of Roe v. Wade is the most pressing problem facing the nation. The fact is that a repeal of that rancid decision is ridiculously unlikely, regardless of what new appointments are made, and, in policy terms, little or nothing would change if it were repealed, given how many of Roe’s principles have been reinforced by a host of state and federal laws. If it were repealed, abortion would remain legal in all fifty states.

And, not to get too abortion-tangential on you, but I really wonder why Mormons are so eager to throw in with a movement that wants to criminalize all abortion from the moment of conception. Our church teaches that in cases of rape, incest, or a serious threat to the mother, abortion can be morally justified. How do you codify that position into law? If you legislate that abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, how does a woman prove she’s been raped? What kind of intrusive legal apparatus would be necessary to make that determination? Wouldn’t that just inspire every woman seeking an abortion to claim she’s a rape victim? Do you really want to turn doctors and nurses into narcs?

The reason abortion is not illegal, and extremely unlikely ever to be made illegal, is that the majority of Americans do not see it as immoral, particularly in the cases where the LDS Church makes exceptions. If they were convinced that it is moral to compel a woman to carry a rapist’s child to term, the law would reflect that. Absent any clear moral consensus, abortion will not be criminalized, and single-issue voters who focus solely on reproductive rights are largely wasting their time.

Still, that one issue is one of the few still animating the GOP faithful, many of whom now find themselves members of a party that can’t  figure out what the hell it’s supposed to be. That problem will persist even if, or perhaps especially if, Trump somehow manages to win. Last night, I had a conversation with my brother-in-law who sells computer cables. He’s as rock-ribbed a conservative as it is possible to be, and he’s terrified that if Trump were to succeed in starting a trade war with China, he’d be out of business. Now that the Republicans are the Party of Trump, isolationism and protectionism are the banner headline issues of a party that used to champion free and open markets. What the hell does it mean to be a Republican, anyway? I don’t think anyone can answer that question, and I think the answer will become even more muddled if a vapid buffoon like Trump is given the keys to the party’s ideological bus.

I think one thing most everyone can agree on is that Ted Cruz is a whiny and opportunistic jerk. Mitt Romney and John Kasich couldn’t, in good conscience, support Trump, so when Trump’s convention coronation rolled around, they stayed home when Ted decided to take a dump in the Trump throne room. And then Ted jumped on the Trump bandwagon late in the game for completely unprincipled reasons, leaving Cruzer losers like Glenn Beck to apologize for ever thinking he was a man of integrity. If there’s any silver lining in this debacle, and it’s a thin lining indeed, it’s that Cruz will not be the one the party turns to as it digs through the ashes of its disgrace to try to rebuild itself.

As for me, I can think of no outcome, barring a miraculous surge from Gary Johnson, that will lift my spirits after the polls close tomorrow. I will say that I won’t enjoy seeing either candidate win, but I would really enjoy watching Hillary Clinton lose and seeing the corruption of Clintonism finally broomed off the national stage. I would get an evening’s worth of a schadenfreude sugar rush out of that before falling into despair over the prospect of President Trump. Even typing those two words in such close proximity gives me bowel trouble.

I doubt I’ll have much more to say as the returns come in, unless something truly unexpected happens. In the meantime, I’m going to start listening to Christmas music, which serves as a welcome reminder that we live in a universe that is not defined by the squalor of politics.

  • I define “punditious” as “of or pertaining to punditry; punditioulous.”

Explaining and Losing

When my father first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1992, his Democratic opponent was a congressman named Wayne Owens, who had been caught up in the House Post Office Scandal. (You’ve probably forgotten about that. It was a big brouhaha back in the day, but measured against 21st Century political sleaze, it seems almost quaint.) Owens spent the entire campaign playing defense and trying to justify why he had mishandled taxpayer money to his own benefit. His stump speech began with an apology and was followed by a lengthy explanation before he could proceed to any sort of positive message.

For his part, Dad never brought up the issue at all. “I don’t need to,” he said. “Regardless of what I say, Wayne has to explain himself. And when you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

That bit of political wisdom has stuck with me, and it proved to be all too true when Dad ran unsuccessfully for a fourth term in 2010. He had been one of the primary architects of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that staved off a worldwide financial meltdown without costing taxpayers a dime, since all the money was repaid with interest. If you listened to Dad’s very cogent explanation, you would understand what he did and why he did it, and you may actually be convinced that he did the right thing. But the substance of his explanation ultimately didn’t matter.  When he was defeated in the state convention, chants of “TARP! TARP! TARP!” filled the hall. The fact that he spent his whole campaign explaining was clear evidence that he was losing.

I offer this as context for a better understanding of how to process the bombshell news that the FBI is looking at emails discovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. (Which is icky in and of itself. Who wants to even think about anything that may or may not have been on Anthony Weiner’s lap?!) When the news broke, my FB feed exploded with indignation, followed by explanation.

explain

People were furious that my congressman, Jason Chaffetz, had tweeted that the email investigation had been “reopened.” That single word triggered a great deal of outrage, although I’m still not sure why. Yes, technically, the case hasn’t been reopened, mainly because it was never closed. So how is pursuing a new lead in an open case somehow less troubling than reopening an old one?

Regardless, there was also a bunch of people and articles insisting that this letter was being misinterpreted, and one article went so far as to claim that the scandal “has been killed by a slew of new facts,” including the so-called “fact” that the newly-discovered emails “have nothing to do with Hillary Clinton.” (If that’s true, you’d think someone would tell Hillary Clinton, who very clearly thinks these emails have something to do with her.) One FB friend insisted that Comey’s letter wasn’t referring to Hillary’s case at all, and every media organization was simply reading it wrong. Again, shouldn’t Hillary be informed of this? Because she’s reading it wrong, too, right?

And on it goes. Some of the explanations are cogent; some are silly. But the substance of the explanations is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if what your explanation is sagacious or stupid. What matters is that you’re explaining.

And when you’re explaining, you’re losing.

So here’s how I see the race at this point.

When the Access Hollywood groping tape came out, everyone, including me, assumed Trump was done. (Although I was surprised at the intensity of the public reaction, as all this tape did was confirm that Trump is precisely the sort of misogynist pig he reveals himself to be almost every time he opens his mouth.)

Then came the legion of Trump’s accusers, and Trump went on an explanation tour, trying to debunk the women who were only confirming that Trump did all the things he was bragging about on tape. Again, if you apply my father’s axiom, it doesn’t matter whether or not Trump’s explanations were valid. He was explaining, and he was losing. The media spotlight was on Trump’s squirming, which meant that much of the truly troublesome Wikileaks info we were getting about Hillary was going unnoticed. Sure, Trump would try to get Hillary to explain herself, but nobody cared, so Hillary was winning because she wasn’t forced to explain anything.

What this letter has done is move the spotlight from Trump to Clinton, and now it’s Hillary’s turn to squirm. (And may I say that watching a Clinton squirm gives me a schadenfreude sugar rush.) This means that the person on defense in the final runup to Election Day is Clinton, not Trump. That’s not a good place to be.

Does that mean I think Hillary will lose the election? No, not necessarily. I don’t know or pretend to know the extent of the damage done here, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. I do know that detailed rebuttals, or cries of “This is unfair!” or calls for James Comey’s head won’t make the slightest bit of difference. Those are all just more losing explanations.

I will say that I think this email scandal, as well as all the Wikileaks bombshells currently being ignored, will linger well past November, regardless of who wins. I can imagine voters who despise both candidates looking at the possibility of another Clinton era, complete with old and new scandals bubbling up on an almost daily basis, and thinking a vote for Trump might be the best way to avoid four years of endless and pointless investigations. Clinton fatigue is a rational response to the tiresome antics of a couple who have devoted their lives to normalizing corruption.

You may disagree. Indeed, you may have a host of explanations for why I’m dead wrong. By all means, start explaining, and see where it gets you.