Wednesday, June 29, 2016

June 29, 2016
On June 24, Andy Borowitz "reported," on, that "across the United Kingdom on Friday, Britons mourned their long-cherished right to claim that Americans were significantly dumber than they are." That is to say, they caught up to us by voting to leave the EU. David Cameron must be included among the not-so-bright, having promised the referendum to silence EU critics, thinking that his fellow Brits would be smarter than he turned out to be. Also include the English who, while promoting or celebrating the vote to leave, proudly waved the Union Jack; their vote increases the chance that the union will not survive.
Borowitz detected a ray of hope among the Brits. "This is a dark day," his imaginary correspondent said, "but I hold out hope that, come November, Americans could become dumber than us once more."
Speaking of Trump, what is he up to, if anything? Instead of campaigning, he went to Scotland to look at his resorts, finding a little time to speak as inanely as usual. He hasn’t raised much money and shows little interest in acting like a candidate. The theory that he never was serious about winning the nomination sounds ever more plausible, and even the speculation that he is trying to tank his candidacy begins to sound less far-fetched.
Trump gives the impression of not being all there, or at least not very bright, or never having grown up. His behavior isn’t just strange for a candidate; it’s strange for anyone. His inability to answer questions goes beyond lack of preparation or interest in details: he simply doesn’t know much and seems at times not to comprehend. However one recent poll shows him only two points behind, within the margin of error. We could regain the title.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

June 25, 2016
Facing an unappealing choice of major-party candidates, some voters will be tempted to look to a third party. A letter published in Thursday’s Seattle Times illustrates this temptation for Democrats.
The writer was a supporter of Bernie Sanders, as was I. His response to a plea to get behind Hillary Clinton probably reflects the views of many: "We have had it with the Clinton-Bush-Obama contingency [sic] that pushes the same old neoliberal nonsense onto Americans: endless war to support the military industrialists and global trade laws that anyone with half a brain knows benefit only mega-corporations and hurt working people and the environment." He reluctantly voted for Obama in 2008, hoping "that he might be different this time," but found otherwise. Apart from the reluctance, I can sympathize; Obama has been a disappointment. This year the writer plans to vote for Jill Stein, the presumptive Green Party nominee, believing that "she is the most qualified to be president." Leaving aside her qualifications, she won’t win, and then what? Our writer’s conclusion: "if that means Donald Trump is our next president, oh well!" Cast a protest vote and never mind the consequences.
I am, as these notes probably make clear, no fan of Mrs. Clinton. However, in the real world, choices must be made between real alternatives; the choice between Clinton and Trump is clear, and important. Save abstract principle for a time when the alternatives don’t matter.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

June 12, 2016
One needn’t read much of War and PeaceI confess that I didn’t — to come across the author’s description of a character "who, like a wound-up clock, by force of habit said things he did not even wish to be believed." Tolstoy might have been thinking of Donald Trump. His campaign has been an act, one designed to stir up the audience: unhappy people who think that the system is rigged against them, and that conditions only will get worse unless something drastic is done. What Trump says, often retracted (sort of), is less important than the impression of anti-establishment power.
In his recent book, Mike Lofgren, in describing "the characters who run the Deep State," also has inadvertently captured the Trump persona: "Actual competence is often less important than boundless self-confidence and a startling lack of reflectiveness about what one is actually doing" - or proposing to do. "An overweening sense of self-importance and a capacity for self-satisfied assertion seem to be all that are required." This has been described as "hubristic incompetence," or "the narcissistic habit of seeing the world as an arena for achieving power and glory rather than as a place for pragmatic problem solving."[42]  If those are the inhabitants of the deep state, how much worse would it be if the man in charge were of the same type?
That such a person probably will become a nominee for the presidency and might be elected, is depressing, to say the least. If the country were in better shape, fewer people would have bought the snake oil, and if the Republican Party were in better shape, it might have started out with a more impressive and appealing group of alternative choices and could, now, produce one to rally around.
The GOP may yet realize that it must do the latter, and may have an opportunity to. Trump is dropping in polls, which may be due to his attack on a "Mexican" judge; that episode certainly has made him even more toxic to the Republican elite. However, fear of alienating the base, too many of whom follow Trump, makes dumping him difficult and risky, and also underscores what that base has become.

Perhaps the recent story, in The New York Times, about the failure of Trump’s Atlantic City projects, will make the faithful wonder about his "success." However, they may buy his line that he was a winner because he milked the ventures for millions. Who cares about casinos or Atlantic City? His followers may not care about the government, either, but what about the country? There has to be a limit to the attraction of this con job, even to the randomly angry. His appeal supposedly is that he would make their lives better, but if he has never thought of anyone but The Donald, what are the odds?


42. Lofgren, The Deep State (2016), pp. 179-81.

Monday, June 6, 2016

June 6, 2016
Donald Trump is an enigma. Given his strange behavior, including boasting about his wealth, making accusations, claiming to be the answer to every problem — but showing no understanding of government, or much of anything else — combined with a less than appealing personality, what explains his success in the primaries?
His followers are drawn from the Republican base, but that doesn’t explain why they supported Trump rather than one of the numerous other candidates. It seems that, for some of his followers, the primaries have been a sort of reality show, an extended Apprentice, with Trump in his usual presiding role. He is, or claims to be, immensely rich and successful in business, so of course he can run the country. He is his own man, supposedly self-funded until now, and therefore free of the influence of donors. Like many of his followers, he toys with conspiracy theories, about Obama, about the Clintons.
There is a widespread sense that the country is on the wrong track. Some of this is misdirected into resentment against immigrants or a desire to win a war for a change. Trump feeds on that. He isn’t politically correct; he will say out loud that we need to keep Mexicans and Muslims out. He’ll bomb the bad guys. More than the others, Trump has promised to make everything right, to make America great again. (Aren’t we already exceptional? Never mind.)
Some of his fans are on the far-right fringe, as illustrated by his endorsement by present and former KKK leaders. There is an echo of the Nixon campaigns in the pandering to racist attitudes and the law-and-order theme. The protests, especially the violent ones, at Trump rallies have fed this mood.[38]
It will be interesting to see how much the Trump University scandal eats into his support. Paul Ryan’s belated statement of support may have been timed to push that off the front pages.
There have been accusations that Trump is a fascist. Carl Bernstein summed up Trump’s campaign: "it's a fascinating intersection of celebrity and Neo Fascism."[39]  Leaving aside the loaded and imprecise term "fascism," is Trump an authoritarian and would he impose some sort of authoritarian rule? I think that the answer to the first is yes, and to the second probably no. He is capable of starting a war out of a combination of arrogance and sheer stupidity, and could take any number of less dangerous but harmful actions but, if we were lucky, the system would prevent most of that. According to theories of authoritarianism, there are two sides to the phenomenon, leaders and followers. Authoritarian followers would respond to Trump.
Will Trump, if he is defeated soundly, bring about the end of far-right control of the GOP? Rush Limbaugh, like Trump an ignorant blowhard, is in decline, and it would be nice to think that this is a straw in the wind.
Why would someone of such limited understanding of the job, of the world, put himself forward as a candidate for the presidency? Trump can’t be entirely without self-understanding and, despite his high opinion of himself, it seems unlikely that he expected such success in the primaries. One possible explanation comes from a former public relations representative of Trump’s PAC: "the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count. . . . The Trump camp would have been satisfied to see him polling at 12% and taking second place to a candidate who might hold 50%. His candidacy was a protest candidacy."[40]  ("Protest" might be equivalent here to ego-stroking). The new variation on that theme is that he realizes that he’s in over his head and is trying to sink his candidacy.[41]  That could be so, but the theory rests on his saying seemingly self-defeating things, and he’s been doing that all along.



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