Fight the normalization of Trumpism

A year ago the Republican establishment felt pretty good about its prospects, crowed about the outstanding group of people who were running for president, and acted confident about the party’s chances of winning back control of the executive branch of the national government.  Today we see party leaders trudge to the microphone with all the cheer of a condemned man on the way to the gallows to endorse He Who Has All But Won the Party’s Presidential Nomination, while a growing Greek chorus is warming up a “not so fast” refrain for an electorate faced with two bad choices.

Stepping out from the chorus today, in National Review, Charles Murray issues an important challenge to what he calls the conservative establishment: go on the record—now; right now—with your view of Donald Trump.  It’s not good enough for Republicans or conservatives to shrug their shoulders and side with Trump because they disagree with Hillary Clinton on the issues and think she’d make a worse, or much worse, president, he argues.  Although voters often have to pick from among two or more bad choices, Murray calls on those who make politics their livelihood to assess Trump as a candidate for president without comparing him to the presumed Democratic nominee or any other particular candidate.  Tell us, does the man meet your standards as a potential president; what’s your real opinion.

Murray answers his own challenge: “Donald Trump is unfit to be president in ways that apply to no other candidate of the two major political parties throughout American history.”  OK.  It is not, he says, just that Trump is greedy and venal and narcissistic, or even that he’s a liar…anyone could miss a few facts:

Then it gets a little more important, as when [Trump] says Paul Ryan called to congratulate him after his victory in the New York primary, announcing a significant political event that in fact did not happen. Then the fictions touch on facts about policy. No, Wisconsin does not have an effective unemployment rate of 20 percent, nor does the federal government impose Common Core standards on the states — to take just two examples plucked at random from among his continual misrepresentations of reality. That he deals so heedlessly in those misrepresentations makes it impossible for an opponent to conduct an authentic policy debate with him.

It’s one thing when a candidate knowingly deceives the public on a few specific topics. Hillary Clinton has knowingly tried to deceive the public about her flip-flop on gay marriage and her misuse of her e-mail server. That’s bad. It should be condemned. This aspect of her character should affect one’s deliberations about whether to vote for her. It’s another thing entirely when a candidate blithely rejects Pat Moynihan’s (attributed) dictum, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.”

Murray links to other writers who have made their own contributions to the growing collection of reasons why Trump is unfit, and it turns out they are some of the very same pieces I’ve been saving for future reference: Ross Douthat, Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks, among others.  They have identified aspects of the candidate’s character that should make any reasonable person nervous at the prospect of a President Trump: the bullying, the unreconstructed pandering to voter fear and racial prejudice, the threats against journalists who dare ask pointed questions, the unrealistic view of the modern world and America’s place in it.

I am told that it is unfair to speak in such harsh terms of a person I don’t know personally: Look how nice his kids seem to be. Look at all his friends who say that he’s really a pleasant fellow in private. Sorry. I don’t need any secondary sources. Donald Trump makes the case for David Brooks’s assessment in every public appearance. When a man deliberately inflames the antagonism of one American ethnic group toward another, takes pleasure in labeling people “losers,” and openly promises to use the powers of the presidency to punish people who get in his way, there is nothing that person can do or say in private that should alter my opinion of whether he is fit to be the president of the United States.

I know that I am unlikely to persuade any of my fellow Establishmentarians to change their minds. But I cannot end without urging you to resist that sin to which people with high IQs (which most of you have) are unusually prone: Using your intellectual powers to convince yourself of something despite the evidence plainly before you. Just watch and listen to the man. Don’t concoct elaborate rationalizations. Just watch and listen. [emphasis added]

That’s important.  His ability to (apparently) win the nomination of one of the two major political parties for president of our country, as stunning as it is, shouldn’t be our excuse to relax and think, well, if the GOP thinks he’s fine then I guess he must be; I must’ve misunderstood some of what he said (or the media reported it wrong!).  It will be tough to do, but don’t let the sheer lunacy of what he says wear off—don’t just get used to the outrageousness and let it become normal, become just another opinion.

And, one more thing from Murray:

…contemplate this fact about history: We have had presidents whose competence once in office was better than we could have anticipated. Truman, for example. We have had presidents whose characters were subsequently revealed to be worse than they had seemed during the campaign. Kennedy, for example. We have never had a president whose character proved to be more admirable once he was in office than it had appeared during the campaign. What you see on your television screen every day from Donald Trump the candidate is the best that you can expect from Donald Trump the president. “Hillary is even worse” doesn’t cut it.

It’s a Daily Double!

Now, what was I just saying (in the preceding post): politicians think voters are stupid, yes, but some seem to have no problem letting us voters know that they’re cut from the same cloth.  I give you, former Texas governor Rick Perry.

In a ceremony at the state capitol in Austin on Friday, a day after John Kasich joined all the other Republican presidential candidates on the sideline, which signaled the official start of a full-fledged identity crisis for the Republican Party (how entertaining!), our former governor and erstwhile GOP presidential contestant, a man who endorsed Ted Cruz for president and had called Donald Trump, among other things, “a cancer on conservative politics,” ever-so-casually endorsed Trump and even allowed as how he would campaign for him and wouldn’t mind being his running mate.

Then Perry took the hypocrisy one step further and explained that it’s all just politics:

“If you recall back in 2011, 2012, I probably said some harsh things about Mitt Romney,” Perry said of the first of his two unsuccessful runs for the GOP presidential nomination. “He said some harsh things about me. We are competitors, so the rhetoric is the heat of battle. It’s in the chaos of the presidential bid. … If one doesn’t understand that, then they don’t understand how our process of elections works. We compete, and then we let bygones be bygones.”

So, he really didn’t believe what he trash-talked about Trump before?

“As late as this last week … I said he’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever seen. He knows how to market. He knows how to brand. He’s vanquished 16 pretty capable men and women,” Perry said. “So, from the standpoint of his being capable to lead, to have the vision to take this country forward, I think it’s important to have a president who understands economically how to move this country forward and how to build our military back up – an individual who knows how to govern.[“]

Excuse me: you can say anything you want about another candidate during a campaign, and you presume that I know that you don’t really believe any of it, because it’s all “just politics?”  A campaign is the opportunity to make shit up about your opponents, and it’s OK because while the people are stupid enough to choose who they support based on your lies, they’re also smart enough to know that you’re lying and that’s no big whoop because it’s just politics?

Oh, and another thing: you think Trump is qualified to be president because he can market!?  And somehow you look at Trump and see someone who knows how to govern!?!?  Put your glasses back on, Paint Creek, and take a closer look.



Hypocrisy for $500, Alex

Today’s smarmy little performance by Sen. Ted Cruz stands out from all his other smarmy little performances as a great example of something I’ve believed for a long time: politicians think voters are stupid.  Time and again they demonstrate that they believe we’ll fall for anything dressed up in a few well-worn catchphrases, that we don’t remember anything that happened before breakfast.

You didn’t have to watch every minute of every Republican presidential candidates’ debate to know that they savaged each other on those stages, that there was real personal dislike and lack of respect.  Granted, Donald Trump was the nastiest and most obvious about it, but he was not the only candidate who tried to pull him-or-herself up by tearing their opponents down.  Only weeks later Fiorina endorses Cruz for the office; then on the day after he was mathematically eliminated from any chance of capturing the nomination on the first ballot at the Cleveland convention, Cruz decides to present her as his choice for the second spot on the ticket, the person he feels confident about placing one heartbeat from the presidency.  Today the two of them behaved as if they’ve been secret members of the other one’s fan club all along, and they expect we’re going to just forget what they said about the other, with such conviction and passion, such a short time ago.

Which is it: were you being honest with us when you were trying to tear your opponent a new one, or are you telling the truth now about your respect and admiration for that same person?  It’s one or the other, can’t be both.  All I know for sure at this point is what you’ve taught me: you can’t be trusted to tell the truth.  Neither can the so-called journalists covering the story, who aren’t calling you on your hypocrisy, as they should.

Dear candidates for President of the USA,

It’s not that I haven’t been paying attention to all you’ve been up to for the past six months or more, it’s just that I can’t maintain interest in this made-for-TV “reality show” the way some of my fellow Americans can, and I’m long past faking it.  Plus, there’s no good reason why it should take the people of our fine little country this long to make a decision.  Strikes me that the only reason why the campaign for president runs for two damn years (and even longer than that, behind the scenes) is that the political industrial establishment has kids in college or wants a new boat.

First off, let me say that I’m disappointed at the overall quality of the candidates, and I don’t just mean the ones of you who are still in the race now.  The Republican Party crowed about putting up such a highly-qualified collection of candidates, but so many of them turned out to be real dopes.  I don’t need to go into details, you know who I’m talking about…and most of you agree with me.  The Democrats who made an effort aren’t inspiring anybody, either.  (Is the simple fact that a person puts him-or-herself up as a candidate for president prima facie evidence that they’ve really got a screw loose and can’t be trusted with the job?)

Watching the Republican race from the sidelines has been a demoralizing experience.  I get it that people are unhappy with the quality of our national political leaders and want a change, but I’m saddened at the utter lack of critical thinking that seems to have gone into the winnowing process that’s produced two favorites who are demonstrably unfit for the job.  You lie right to our faces, act like eight year olds in a playground argument, say anything that comes to your mind and scream that it’s true because you said so, and we cheer you on?  Maybe we’re enjoying the catharsis, getting a rush from screaming that we’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more…that’s fine, as far as it goes.  But if we’re not careful one of you could end up with the responsibility of defending our asses from enemies foreign and domestic, and I’m not too keen on that prospect.  I mean, what would happen to our country if one of you wins?!  I take some solace recognizing that far less than half of Republican America is supporting any of you, and as a student of history it will be exciting to watch a political convention where the winner of the nomination is not known before the first gavel falls.

The Democrats?  Meh.  Will any third-party candidates, or ultra-rich independents, get on the ballot and make the general election really interesting?  I hope so.  Will national cable news channels stop pretending this is just a fun-and-interesting way to pass the time until they launch the next branded coverage of some run of the mill disaster?  THAT would be really interesting…

Anyways, this is one for the history books and I sort of envy the future students who will read about it and wonder, “how the hell did that happen?”

Oh, for a little straight talk now that spring is in the air

The political reaction to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is the clearest evidence I’ve seen lately of the sclerotic thinking that passes for wisdom and strategy in American politics.  Not saying I’m surprised, mind you, just saying.

Don’t get me wrong: every vacancy on the Supreme Court of the the United States, ever, has been the occasion for political plotting and pontificating…that’s the nature of the beast.  Maybe there was more lip service paid in the past to observing “a decent interval” before going public, but we know that one reason the successful professional political players are successful is that they don’t let an opportunity to gain advantage go to waste.  In this case, Scalia’s body hadn’t made it home to Virginia before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his intention to block anyone nominated by President Obama in the hope that a Republican wins the presidency this November.

Why?  Because “The American people should have a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court justice”?  Excuse me, Mr. Majority Leader and avowed Obstructionist-of-Obama-in-Chief, but that’s not the way it’s done and we all know it.

There isn’t—or shouldn’t be—any disagreement on the facts: the Constitution gives this president the responsibility to nominate a new justice in this case, not the next president; many of the same Republican senators now insisting that the process must be put on hold for the good of the nation had very different opinions when the question came up during the last few months of George W. Bush’s presidency.  (Yes, plenty of Democrats have more than a passing acquaintance with hypocrisy as a political tool, too, starting with Chuck Schumer on this same topic eight years ago; I’m sure some of you have more examples.)  Also true is that the Constitution gives responsibility to the Senate to approve or reject that nominee, with no timetable or deadline for doing so.

There’s no question that McConnell and the Republican majority have no legal requirement to approve President Obama’s nominee, or even to put the nomination to a vote.  They may make the political calculation that stonewalling for a year is the better path: bet on winning the White House and holding the Senate so they can have their pick of ultraconservative judges, versus running the risk of losing both and allowing the Democrats to choose another Douglas or Brennan (if one can be found).  I wish they would just say so, instead of going to the well for another round of the Obama Apocalypse that (inexplicably) plays so well with a certain portion of the electorate.  Andrew Prokop at wrote them a first draft of such a speech:

Justice Scalia was a strong, solid conservative. And whoever Barack Obama nominates to replace him is certain to be well to his left — and will likely be very, very, very far to his left.

This would upset a balance of power in the Court that has existed for decades. Instead of a five-vote majority that is generally conservative, a Scalia replacement appointed by President Obama would allow a new majority bloc of five solid liberals to form. On issues affecting free enterprise, the sanctity of human life, and federal power, sweeping new liberal rulings could reshape law and precedent across America.

I believe this would be a disaster for the country. Most members of my party believe this would be a disaster for the country. And most of my party’s voters believe it would be a disaster for the country.

So I’m going to do my best to stop it from happening.


…in suggesting that President Obama shouldn’t appoint any replacement for Scalia, and that he should just leave it to the next president, I am rhetorically going further than others have in the past.

But really I’ve just hit the fast-forward button. We would have ended up opposing whomever Obama nominated, because that person would, of course, have had liberal views. And my party’s senators would never have approved any other Obama Supreme Court nominee anyway, because they’re terrified of losing their seats in primaries.

So maybe my “no nominees in the final year” position hasn’t explicitly been taken by anyone before, but it hardly means the death of our constitutional democracy. The near-term upshot is that one Supreme Court seat stays vacant for a year. Some closely divided cases will effectively remain unresolved for a bit. Big deal.