Wednesday, August 19, 2020

August 19, 2020

Trump being Trump

One of the many questions about Trump’s 2016 campaign is whether he deliberately took political positions that he thought would get him elected, or whether his biases happened to resonate with enough voters in critical places.  I’m inclined toward the latter, because he isn’t disciplined enough to take a course not natural to him.  His behavior this time around seems to confirm that view, as he takes positions which are transparently self-serving or irrational, and not designed to win votes.

He has denounced voting by mail, alleging that it would lead to “the greatest rigged election in history” and “the greatest fraud ever perpetrated.”1 Although he claims that voting by mail leads to fraud, he will, again this year, mail in his ballot. He gave the game away by this reaction to Democratic proposals to increase funding for vote-by-mail options: “The things they had in there were crazy. They had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”2 

How can that be prevented?  Deny the Postal Service needed funding. "They want $25 billion for the post office. Now, they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. . . .But if they don't get [it] that means you can't have universal mail-in voting, because they're not equipped to have it."3  Voting by mail would doom Republicans; he’s a Republican; if we deny the post office necessary funding, there won’t be any voting by mail.  He might as well put up a billboard saying “I’m wrecking the Postal Service so that I can be re-elected.”   

Trump dropped a hint that Kamala Harris is not eligible to be Vice President — even though she was born in Oakland — because her parents were immigrants, thus announcing again that he doesn’t have a clue about what is in the Constitution.  His blathering will remind people that his previous birther claim also was aimed at a person of color: Barack Obama.

Racism isn’t a winning theme this year, but Trump blunders on.  He threatened to veto a defense authorization package if it includes a provision to rename some military bases honoring Confederate leaders, tossing in a gratuitous racist label: "I will Veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the Elizabeth 'Pocahontas' Warren (of all people!) Amendment, which will lead to the renaming (plus other bad things!) of Fort Bragg, Fort Robert E. Lee, and many other Military Bases from which we won Two World Wars, is in the Bill!"4

Not long ago, Trump tweeted clips of whites yelling “white power” or brandishing guns at protesters.  More recently, using his usual medium, he played another race card, tweeting: “The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood.”5  He added, in case anyone missed the point, “Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey Booker in charge!  Cory Booker, Senator from New Jersey, is African American.  Trump trails Biden among women. Patronizing suburban women and suggesting that they share his fear of “those people” doesn’t seem like a strategy to win them over.

On Trump’s watch, the response to the coronavirus pandemic has been a tragic failure.  Apparently eager to remind everyone of that, Trump criticized Michelle Obama for using an out-of-date number of deaths when she cited “over 150,00.”  Clever of him to remind us that the death toll now is about 170,000. 

Trump has botched the response to the corona virus, not only by inaction, lies and encouragement of irresponsible behavior, but by promoting remedies that range from dubious and possibly dangerous (hydroxychloroquine) to demented (ingesting bleach).  

Trump’s use of his office for financial gain is no secret.  “Hotels, clubs and restaurants owned by Trump or bearing his name have billed various federal agencies and personnel more than $1 million since he became the Republican nominee for president.”7  Yet he continues to hold events at his properties, drawing attention to the practice.  He declined to pledge that stimulus funds would not go to his properties.8

Although Russian interference in the 2016 election was a major issue and an embarrassment to Trump — casting doubt on his ability to win without foreign help —he said, last year, that he would accept election aid from a foreign country (“information on an opponent”) in this year’s election.9   When intelligence revealed that Russia is at it again this year on his behalf, he said that couldn’t be true, offering the ludicrous excuse that no one has been tougher on Russia than he. However, when it was reported that Russia had offered bounties on American troops in Afghanistan, Trump declined to raise it with Putin.10  He might as well announce that he welcomes Putin’s help in the election and won’t do anything to annoy him.

Most of the news media are on to Trump, so he should be clinging to Fox, but he attacks it whenever it runs anything he doesn’t like, such as reports of negative poll results.

All of this might be ascribed to a belief that, no matter how he behaves, he’ll be re-elected, but it’s obvious that he is far from confident about that, as revealed in his suggestions that the election might be postponed or redone.  It’s Donald being Donald, because he isn’t capable of any other behavior.


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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

August 11, 2020
It’s all on the line

No presidential election in my lifetime has been as important as the one we hope to hold this year.  That there is some doubt that it will occur is an illustration of the problem.  Our current President is so determined to cling to office that he may attempt to postpone the vote.  He cannot face the prospect of defeat, not only because it would shatter his fragile ego, but because his office is a shield against legal accountability.

Of course, Trump doesn’t admit that those are his concerns, but he hasn’t offered much in the way of more respectable rationales.  Judging from his campaign speech in Tulsa, we should return him to office because of what he’s done for us, and because Biden would be a left-wing nightmare.

I think that we can safely ignore the latter; here’s his view of the former: America under Trump is an exceptional place.  It is, according to his 2020 State of the Union address, “thriving and highly respected” again. “America’s enemies are on the run, America’s fortunes are on the rise, and America’s future is blazing bright.”  That was not true before his advent, but all is well now: “The years of economic decay are over.  The days of our country being used, taken advantage of, and even scorned by other nations are long behind us.  Gone too are the broken promises, jobless recoveries, tired platitudes, and constant excuses for the depletion of American wealth, power, and prestige.” 

His bright picture of the present is another riff on the familiar theme of  "American exceptionalism.”  The label once might have been justified, although a bit smug, because we had been a positive influence through our creation of a new sort of nation and some good works, such as the Marshall Plan.   There is little now on the positive side of the ledger to justify it.  It has become a slogan for American hubris: we’re always right, so don’t criticize us and, by the way, you need to clean up your backward country.  The attitude behind it also functions to silence any domestic criticism by branding it un-American.

The smugness was captured by one of Trump’s parade of Press Secretaries, Stephanie Grisham: “So typical to watch the mainstream media and Dems attack @realDonaldTrump for speaking directly to the American people. His message is simple: the U.S.A. is the greatest nation on Earth, but if people aren’t happy here they don’t have to stay.”

Here is the peroration to the State of the Union: “Together, We Will Make America Strong Again. We Will Make America Wealthy Again. We Will Make America Proud Again. We Will Make America Safe Again. And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again.”  That strikes an odd note: earlier in the address, all was well; now greatness still lies in the future.  Keeping track of empty boasts is a challenge.  In any case, his slogan of keeping America safe is bitterly ironic.  Thanks to Trump’s indifference and ineptness, the country, far from being safe, is in the grip of a pandemic which has killed more than 160,000 and, by one estimate, may kill 300,000 by year’s end.  His recent tweet endorsing the views of a doctor who traces disease to sex with demons pretty much sums up his intellectual capacity and ability to lead the country out of this crisis. 

He has brought out the worst in people, encouraging faux-freedom posturing, ranging from refusing to wear masks to attacks on health care officials.  A streak of hyper-libertarianism always has been part of our makeup, but its far worse now.

Trump, the alleged master of the deal, sat out the negotiations over a further financial rescue package, allowing his staff and Senate Republicans to prevent action.  Now he has  signed issued executive orders (memoranda, some sort of documents) on various matters related to the pandemic, thereby setting himself up as the nation’s rescuer. To underscore his absence from the negotiations, he signed the documents while at his golf club in New Jersey.

To underscore his disdain for virus control, he announced the signing at a press conference attended by dozens of guests, many of whom were not masked and ignored social distancing.  Challenged by a reporter, Trump justified the behavior by claiming: “This is a political activity. . . . They have exceptions, political activity. And it’s also a peaceful protest.”  He babbled on: “You could call it political activity, but I’d call it peaceful protest, because they heard you were coming up and they know the news is fake. If the press in this country were honest, it wasn’t corrupt, if it wasn’t fake, our country would be so much further ahead. But we’re doing really great.”1   It was a protest against the fake news, which keeps quoting him.  

Two of the memos purported to extend unemployment benefits and provide eviction relief.  A third directed a suspension of payroll taxes for employees; no doubt he thinks working people — those still employed — will thank him.  Finally, he directed the secretary of Education to extend deferral of payments and interest on student loans until December 31.2 

The student loan deferral may actually provide relief, but the others aren’t quite what they seem to be.  Payroll taxes will be deferred, not cut; some time in the future they will be added to those currently due.3  The deferral lasts from September 2 to December 31; the presence of an election during that period is not coincidental.  In an additional, blatant pitch for votes, he declared at the news conference: “If I’m victorious on November 3rd, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax. I’m going to make them all permanent.”4  Those taxes pay for Social Security and Medicare; cutting taxes would provide an excuse for cutting benefits.

The memo concerning extended unemployment benefits provides for a $400 benefit, rather than the expired $600, and requires states to pay $100 of new amount, something most states probably can’t do.  The federal contribution is to be taken from disaster relief funds, during hurricane season.  The program ends not later than December 6.5

The memo on evictions is a collection of bland provisions such as this: “The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director of CDC shall consider whether any measures temporarily halting residential evictions of any tenants for failure to pay rent are reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 from one State or possession into any  other State or possession.”6 

Most of this may be window dressing, as his authority to accomplish some of the these moves by executive fiat is dubious.  Of course, if challenged, he’ll whine that nasty liberals are trying to block his noble effort. Ignoring the setting, it wasn’t a bad political maneuver; I wonder who thought it up for him. 

Someone must have.  His cognitive level was revealed by this incoherent insult hurled at Joe Biden during a campaign stop on August 6: “He’s following the radical left agenda, take away your guns, destroy your 2nd Amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God. He’s against God. He’s against guns. He’s against energy, our kind of energy.”7 Ignore the hypocrisy in a charge against a practicing Catholic by one apparently unacquainted with religion.  It is incredible that the welfare of a nation of 328 million is entrusted to someone so addled.

Trump’s contribution to the other major domestic issue, police brutality, has been equally counterproductive. The continuing protests, more specifically their tendency to lead to vandalism and violence, gave Trump an opening to rally support under a law-and-order banner. The support largely has not materialized, partly because it was so blatantly opportunistic, partly due to the excesses of the federal agents, but partly because of his  racism.  His denunciation of Black Lives Matter, his opposition to renaming military bases and removal of the Confederate flag, his nod to “Southern heritage,” tweets about threats to the Suburban Lifestyle Dream, as well as elements in his pre-presidential history, reflect that. 

It may be that part of his motivation is simply to sow division, without regard to the issue.  That does seem to be his campaign strategy.  However, racism also lurks in his disdain for John Lewis.  On July 3o, three former Presidents spoke at the memorial service for Lewis, who, who fought for voting rights.  The same day, Trump, who did not attend, proposed delaying the November election. Asked about Lewis in the bizarre Axios interview, Trump showed that disdain, pretended to have helped African Americans, and  demonstrated his core narcissism:

Jonathan Swan: John Lewis is lying in state in the U.S. Capitol. How do you think history will remember John Lewis?

President Donald J. Trump: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know John Lewis. He chose not to come to my inauguration. He chose… I never met John Lewis, actually, I don’t believe.

Jonathan Swan: Do you find him impressive?

President Donald J. Trump: I can’t say one or the other. I find a lot of people impressive. I find many people not impressive. But no, but I didn’t go-

Jonathan Swan: Do you find his story impressive?

President Donald J. Trump: He didn’t come to my inauguration. He didn’t come to my State of the Union speeches, and that’s okay. That’s his right. And again, nobody has done more. . . for Black Americans than I have. . . .  He should’ve come. I think he made a big mistake by not showing up.8

Not only have Trump’s ego and incompetence caused chaos and suffering at home, they have damaged, if not destroyed, our reputation abroad.  His carping on NATO funding, withdrawal from the Paris accords on climate change and from the Open Skies Treaty, subservience to Putin, withdrawal of troops from Syria and from Germany, and his bungling of the virus response have demonstrated that the United States is not a reliable partner, let alone a leader.  So much for American exceptionalism.

Problems will remain after next January, but escorting Donald Trump out of the White House is an important, necessary, first step toward recovery.


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