Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day







Friday, December 8, 2017

 
December 8, 2017 

An article in New York Magazine is entitled "New Reports Suggest Trump Might Not Be a Liar at All, But Truly Delusional." It notes that Donald Trump generally is considered to be a "con man," i.e., a liar. "But new reporting has opened up a second possibility: The president has lost all touch with reality." That appraisal is based on "accounts from insiders suggesting Trump habitually insists upon the impossible in private. He does not merely tell lies in order to gull the public or to manipulate allies. He tells lies in private that he has no reason to tell."

 An article in The New York Times of November 29 is one such account. Trump now denies that he made the crude comments on the "Access Hollywood" tape, that the voice isn’t his, even though he admitted earlier that it is. He still claims that he lost the popular vote due to voter fraud. He has returned to claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. According to "a Republican lawmaker," not identified, Trump boasts of winning districts he did not win.

Donald Trump is a bad joke as President, but we have tended to see him as a fool, a braggart, a child in a job demanding an informed adult. He also is a man full of, virtually defined by, worrisome personality quirks. Now, in addition to leaks of his possibly delusional behavior, we have expert opinion, by way of a collection of essays by mental health professionals.[58]  A few days ago, I referred to a book entitled Dangerous Convictions, describing the state of the Republican Congress; now we have The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, which presents essays by two dozen mental health professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists. They are of the opinion that, as stated in the Prologue, "anyone as mentally unstable as Mr. Trump simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency."

It’s true that diagnosing mental illness from a distance is risky, potentially misleading and controversial. For psychiatrists, it is contrary to the so-called Goldwater rule, which was adopted after the 1964 election; it "prohibits psychiatrists from offering opinions on someone they have not personally evaluated. . . ." The American Psychological Association has a similar rule. However, there is a distinction between diagnosis and informed comment about a public figure by those trained to evaluate mental health; it can be proper and useful and, at present, it is necessary.
Some of the essays come close to diagnosis at a distance and some generalize broadly about patterns of behavior. However, most offer expert insight into the behavior which all of us can see. As one contributor puts it, the Goldwater rule is not an impediment because the aim is not diagnosis, and the subject is not a patient.: "Our duty to warn is an expression of our concerns as citizens possessed of a particular expertise; not as clinicians who are responsible for preventing predictable violence from someone under our care." [59]  Put simply, "The issue that we are raising is not whether Trump is mentally ill. It is whether he is dangerous."[60]
In a sense, expert opinion isn’t required, as Trump’s deficiencies are obvious. However, many seem unaware of how serious the situation is, either from lack of attention or because they think that Trump, though he sometimes might be over the top, will solve what they see as the country’s problems. Others, harboring no illusions, hope to use him. All must be persuaded that his intellectual and emotional problems are too serious to ignore. Any input from those experienced in detecting and evaluating behavioral aberration is welcome.
Several of the essays describe Trump in terms of "malignant narcissism." One lists Trump’s traits which fit that description: lack of empathy for others, lack of remorse, lying and cheating; loss of reality; rage reactions and impulsivity. Because of this array of traits, Trump is "definitively and obviously dangerous."[61]  Another adds paranoia and sadism, illustrated by Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, and his threats aimed at protesters.[62]
Indulgence in conspiracy theories is an additional sign of instability. Trump has praised Alex Jones, who alleges wildly imaginary conspiracies to explain 9-11, the Sandy Hook massacre, Boston Marathon bombing and other events. The "birther" nonsense about Obama implies a conspiracy, and Trump claims that the Access Hollywood tape may have been altered.
One essay echoes the New York article in suggesting that Trump suffers from delusional disorder. It gives three examples; one might be dismissed as mere lying ("mere"?), but two do seem delusional: Trump’s claim of a huge inaugural crowd, in the face of photos showing the opposite, and his story that rain stopped as he began his inaugural speech, when it actually started then.[63]  The author offers solipsism, a term borrowed from philosophy, as an alternative descriptive category: "solipsism is the belief that the person holding the belief is the only real thing in the universe." Donald Trump does seem to live inside himself.
Robert Lifton, who wrote the Foreword to The Dangerous Case, in an interview also referred to solipsism in describing Trump: "Solipsistic reality means that the only reality he’s capable of embracing has to do with his own self and the perception by and protection of his own self. And for a president to be so bound in this isolated solipsistic reality could not be more dangerous for the country and for the world."[64]
Another essay sums up itself and the exercise. The issue is not mental illness, but there are "genuine, observable, and profound impediments in Mr. Trump's capacity to deal thoughtfully and reliably with the complex and grave responsibilities of being a reliable president and commander in chief." Whether or not he is delusional, he doesn’t acknowledge or, apparently, recognize having been wrong, and he doesn’t seem to learn or accept anything which might convince him of his errors.
"Donald Trump's presidency confronts the psychiatric profession and, much more important, our country with the challenge of dealing with an elected leader whose psychological style (marked by impulsivity, insistence on his own infallibility, vengeful retaliation, and unwarranted certainty in uncertain circumstances) is a profound impediment to sound decision making and presages the erratic and ill-considered exercise of enormous power."[65]
Unless "the Vice President and a majority of . . . the principal officers of the executive departments," acting under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, declare that "the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office," we’re stuck with this dangerous man for at least another year. We’d better hope for a Democratic landslide next November.


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58. The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, Lee, ed. (2017)

59.
Id., at 153

60. Id., at 172

61.
Id., at 89-91


62. Id., at 96-98


63. Id., at 113


64.
http://billmoyers.com/story/dangerous-case-donald-trump-robert-jay-lifton-bill-moyers- duty-warn/


65.
The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, at 158

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

December 5, 2017
The current Republican Congress is a menace to good government — to any government — as demonstrated by its votes on health care and taxes. However, any thought that the present-day Party is uniquely destructive, unusually captive to an anti-government philosophy because of the advent of Donald Trump, vanishes with a brief glance at its history.

A book written by a former Congressman, Tom Allen, Dangerous Convictions: What’s Really Wrong with the U.S. Congress, describes the tax cuts of 2001 under a Republican Congress and President. A speech by George W. Bush shortly after his inaugural, pushing his tax cut proposal, described the "reality" of his plan: increased discretionary spending, $2 trillion of debt paid off, $1 trillion in a contingency fund, and money left over. "Bush was in fact not talking about ‘reality,’ because none of it was true."[55]  It reminds one of the claims this year by Congress that the tax cuts would help middle class families and create jobs, and Trump’s assertion that the cuts wouldn’t help him.

Allen notes that Paul Krugman exposed the lies in his book, Fuzzy Math; Krugman said this: "There's something about the tax cut crusade that gives the crusaders a disdain for petty concerns, like telling the truth about their own proposals. . . . [T]he arguments made for tax cuts have been startling in their intellectual dishonesty." Although extreme partisanship was present under Gingrich in the 90s, Krugman saw a new form after 2000: "[W]hat has happened since Bush moved to Washington—the deliberate mis-statements and suppression of the facts—is, as far as I know, unprecedented in the history of American economic policy. It would be a shame if this style of governing succeeds, because it will set a precedent for future administrations."[56]  He certainly was right in the last observation.
In 2006, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, scholars of, and partisans for, Congress —to them the First and most important Branch of government — wrote a book entitled The Broken Branch, describing Congress’ decline. That same year, they wrote a column for The Los Angeles Times in which they described a bill pushed by the Republican Speaker of the House: "Hastert and his fellow House Republicans have refused to say exactly what they will include in the 300-page court security bill . . . ." Again, a familiar pattern. "If this were one isolated instance of a Congress pushing through sloppy and ill-considered legislation . . ., we would wince but move on. But this breach of the normal legislative process is all too typical of today's Congress. Over the last five years, Congress has abandoned the web of rules and norms that have long governed how a bill is considered, how votes take place and how outcomes are decided."
In a later book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks, Mann and Ornstein put it more bluntly: "Today’s the Republican Party. . . has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition, all but declaring war on the government."[57]
Republicans’ contempt for social policy is illustrated by comments by two Senators. Orrin Hatch expressed his disdain for "entitlement" programs: "I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything." Not to be outdone, Chuck Grassley proclaimed: "I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies." Or on food, shelter, other such luxuries.
I suppose that having such contempt for ordinary people — you know, the ones Trump promised to protect — makes it easier to be flunkies for the favored few.

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55. Dangerous Convictions (2013), 43-44

56. Fuzzy Math (2001). 8-9

57. It’s Even Worse than It Looks (2012), 102-03

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December 3, 2017

The Senate, with one dissenting Republican vote, passed, at about 2 a.m. December 2, a tax-cut bill which is massive in size, and so much a work in progress that it was amended by handwritten notes in the margin. Its contents were better known to lobbyists than to Democrats; the former provided the latter with a list of amendments.

The bill, by every independent analysis, rewards corporations and the rich, and adds a trillion or more dollars to cumulative deficits, and therefore to the national debt. Unable to destroy Obamacare directly, the Greedy Obfuscating Party did it by eliminating the individual mandate.

The aim was to reward donors and starve government, goals so important that the usual pretense about avoiding deficits was abandoned. If anything is done by the wrecking crew later on that score, it probably will involve cuts in Social Security and Medicare. This fraud has been perpetrated with the lying approval of a President who ran as a friend to working people.    

Although not the goal, the possible effect of the bill and its House counterpart will be to finally awaken voters to the fact that Republicans cannot be trusted with the reins of government.

Friday, November 17, 2017

November 16, 2017
Donald Trump is bizarrely unqualified to be President, but that has not led to his rejection, by Congress or by those who voted for him. Support by Congressional Republicans can be discounted to a considerable degree, as they rally around more out of a desire to use him than from any illusion of his merit. Some of his fans among the public seem to be true believers, an extreme example being the woman who, in the presence of the great man, held up a sign reading "Thank you, Lord Jesus, for President Trump." Some fall between adulation and opportunism, such as the white nationalists who see him as an ally. Whatever the motivation, the support is surprising given his obvious and overwhelming unfitness for office.
Trump’s job rating among the general public never has been high, ranging between 33% and 43% since July 1, according to numerous polls, and between 33% and 40% on the Gallup tracking poll. Several polls over the same period produced "favorability" ratings ranging from 28% to 46%.[52]  According to Gallup, his job approval rating for November 6-12 is 38%; the ratings for the nine previous Presidents for November of their first years range from 49% to 87% Leaving aside the highest number, for G. W. Bush, aided by 9-11, the range is 49% (Clinton) to 79% (Kennedy).[53]   Therefore, Trump is performing below par, but his numbers still strike me as high, given his record and character.
The explanation, if it can be so described, is that, over our selected time frame, self-identified Republicans have given Trump job approval ratings between 78% and 87%.[54]  Making due allowance for party loyalty, cultural divisions, the influence of the far right, the cheerleading of Fox News and the low level of attention paid by many citizens, those numbers are mind-boggling.
One additional, and ironic, element is that Trump is so bad that we become used to his deficiencies, and new ones fail to register. He is such a clown that no one expects calm, rational, consistent behavior.


54.
Ibid.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

November 16, 2017
In the last post, I referred to Kansas as an example of the failure of Republican economic theory. That state (What’s the Matter with . . .?) also is a center for vote suppression, another feature of Republican governance at the state level.
Kris Kobach, the Republican Secretary of State of Kansas, is a leader of the vote-suppression movement. As Ari Berman, who has written extensively on voting rights, puts it, "No state has been as aggressive as Kansas in restricting ballot access, and no elected official has been as dogged as Kobach."[47]  He now is vice chairman of a Trump commission supposedly created to discover and fight fraudulent voting. It more likely is designed to soothe Trump’s bruised ego by "finding" those illegal votes that cost him the popular election, and also aimed, as many state measures are, at suppressing Democratic votes. That likelihood was summarized by the Brennan Center for Justice. Kobach’s "naming as vice-chair is very meaningful: For the better part of the last decade, he has been a key architect behind many of the nation’s anti-voter and anti-immigration policies."[48]
He is joined in the vote-manipulation crusade by Scott Walker and the Republican legislature of Wisconsin. A study demonstrated that many registered voters in Wisconsin did not vote last year because of the limited types of ID accepted at polling places.[49] Other studies demonstrate that those prevented or discouraged are disproportionally minorities and the poor, who might vote Democratic. 
Gerrymandering is another way to control voting, and Republican legislatures have gone some distance toward perpetuating a Republican House through partisan redistricting. In the 2016 election, the Republicans won 55.4% of seats in the House, but received only 49.1% of the total votes; Democrats received 48%, but won 44.6% of seats. Not all of that is due to gerrymandering, but some is; an Associated Press study found that "Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country."[50] 
Gerrymandering exists at the state level as well. A case before the Supreme Court involves Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting, by Republicans, of its lower legislative House. As a result of the new map, in 2012 Republicans won 60 of the 99 seats (60%) despite winning only 48.6% of the state-wide vote; in 2014, they won 63 seats (63%) with only 52% of the vote.
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Here’s another, entirely unrelated but revealing, example of the depths to which the Republican Party has fallen: under the House version of the tax "reform" bill, interest on student loans no longer would be deductible. College tuition has exploded, most students and families cannot pay it out of pocket, education is even more necessary than before, and the House, in order to cut taxes for the favored few, will make that education more difficult to obtain. 

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47.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/magazine/the-man-behind-trumps-voter-fraud- obsession.html?_r=0


48.
https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/uncovering-kris-kobach%E2%80%99s-anti-voting- history

49.
http://billmoyers.com/story/voter-suppression-wisconsin-voter-id-law-2016/

50.
https://www.apnews.com/e3c5cc51faba4b7fb67d8a3f996bdaca

Sunday, November 12, 2017

November 12, 2017
The fact that so many people continue to vote for Republicans is a puzzle. Last Tuesday’s results were encouraging, but we’ve a long way to go to restore rational government.
To be sure, voting for the GOP once was a perfectly sensible thing to do, but that day has passed. At the national level, Republicans can’t govern; no party that doesn’t believe in government could. To the extent that they have a program, it is to cut taxes, cut regulations, shrink government and dump everything on the states, but beyond that, they appear to be irrational: denying climate change, ignoring environmental risks, pretending that more guns are the solution to shootings, opposing improvements to a health care system that delivers less at higher cost than other advanced countries, pretending that the market will solve all problems.
There is, however, one partial explanation for their behavior: follow the money. The Republican Congress is attempting to pass a tax-cut bill which will favor the rich and corporations, and increase the deficit. The former is true to GOP ideology, but the latter runs counter to its pose as a party of deficit hawks. The bill It is widely unpopular, and one would suppose that incumbents want to be reelected, so why push it? One Republican member of the House, in a burst of candor, gave the game away: "My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’ "[44] The administration agrees about the focus; Gary Cohn, chief economic advisor, declared: "The most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan."[45]  He also observed that "we see the whole trickle-down through the economy, and that's good for the economy.[46]
The Republicans in Congress continue to support President Trump. Up to a point, that is natural; he is their Party leader and, according to the most recent Gallup poll, 83% of self-identified Republicans approve of the way President Trump does his job. However, he has, among other examples of irrational, dangerous behavior, preferred the opinion of Vladimir Putin to our intelligence agencies, and abandoned the Paris Accords; until recently, we had the dubious distinction of being joined in that position by Syria, but now we stand alone.
We are told that Republicans have done good things in the states, but the best test of their economic policy is in Kansas, where its application has been a disaster.

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44.
https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/11/08/get-it-done-or-don’t-call-me-again- gop- admit-their-tax-plan-all-about-rich-donors

45.
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/11/cohn-big-ceos-most-excited-group-about- trump-tax-plan.html

46.
https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/09/gary-cohn-trickle-down-is-good-for-the- economy. html

Sunday, November 5, 2017

November 5, 2017
The New York Times has run two columns in the past few months which advocated centrism as a Democratic strategy.[43] Obviously the target of those critiques was any tendency of the Party to move leftward. However, those authors’ rejection of such a move apparently was not sufficiently non-liberal for one of The Times’ resident pundits. On October 27, Bret Stephens’ column was entitled "Communism Through Rose-Colored Glasses." In reading it, I had the feeling of passing through a time warp.
He referred to a recent book which describes enforced famine, under Stalin, in Ukraine in 1932, and asked: "How many readers, I wonder, are familiar with this history" or, he added, with "the deportation of the Crimean Tatars" (1944), Peru’s "Shining Path" (active primarily in the 80s), or "the Brezhnev-era psychiatric wards that were used to torture and imprison political dissidents" (Brezhnev ruled the USSR from 1964 to 1982). Stephens added a comment by Raymond Aron in 1955. What is the point of this stroll through the past? It is that "so many of today’s progressives remain in a permanent and dangerous state of semi-denial about the legacy of Communism a century after its birth in Russia."
He offered examples by asking more questions: "Why is Marxism still taken seriously on college campuses and in the progressive press?" Is it? If so, he might note that Marxism and capital-c Communism are not identical. "Do the same people who rightly demand the removal of Confederate statues ever feel even a shiver of inner revulsion at hipsters in Lenin or Mao T-shirts?" These questions are worth asking, he tells us, "because so many of today’s progressives remain in a permanent and dangerous state of semi-denial about the legacy of Communism a century after its birth in Russia." Apparently he moves in different circles than I.
These unidentified people "will attempt to dissociate Communist theory from practice in an effort to acquit the former. . . . They will say that true communism has never been tried." Here is, perhaps, an indirect distinction between Marxism and Communism. "They will write about Stalinist playwright Lillian Hellman in tones of sympathy and understanding they never extend to film director Elia Kazan." The last is an odd claim, apart from wondering who has so sympathized: the main difference between the two is that Hellman refused to aid the HUAC witch hunt by naming names, while Kazan did so. Creating a blacklist apparently is an act of patriotism.
However, apparently it isn’t really Communism that worries Stephens, it’s anything progressive (or, maybe, they aren’t different to him): "Bernie Sanders captured the heart, if not yet the brain, of the Democratic Party last year by portraying ‘democratic socialism’ as nothing more than an extension of New Deal liberalism." Isn’t it? He doesn’t say. "But the Vermont senator also insists that ‘the business model of Wall Street is fraud.’ Efforts to criminalize capitalism and financial services also have predictable results." (He’s really making the same argument as Douglas Schoen did in his column in The Times on October 18: be nice to Wall Street). No one is trying to criminalize either, merely to curb their excesses and hold accountable those who game the system.
Two overriding oddities of Mr. Stephens’ warnings about Communism and Stalinism and progressives are that people associated with the Republican administration — not generally considered to be leftist — have cozied up to Russia, and that Russia interfered with the election in aid of Republicans. Granted that Russia no longer is officially Communist, that country, successor to the USSR, still is a major adversary. What would HUAC think of those connections?

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43.
I commented on them on August 27 and October 21.