This is not the president you’re looking for

I get tired of feeling like I have to write about Donald Trump, and about what he has done and is doing to our country and our society.  I get tired of reading about the topic, too: it’s unhappy, repetitive, disillusioning news for anyone who believes in the American ideals of justice and tolerance and fair treatment and service to others.

The thing is, we can’t stop reading and writing about it because it’s too important.  None of us should just let what Trump and the Trumpettes are doing become background noise, or just blindly trust that someone somewhere will take care of it all eventually and things can go back to the way they were.  (First of all, things the way they were weren’t all that grand, but still…)  The least we can do is keep reminding ourselves and others of what is really happening—to recognize reality, to see the truth—and remind ourselves and others that things are not supposed to be like this.  We have to stand up for ourselves, and for our country.

David Brooks of the New York Times did a good job of that last week, sadly reminding the Republican Party and those who claim loyalty to its beliefs that they’ve betrayed their own ideals and are letting their party rot away.  He told Republicans who believed “…You didn’t have to tie yourself hip to hip with Donald Trump…You could sort of float along in the middle, and keep your head down until this whole Trump thing passed…it’s clear that middle ground doesn’t exist.”

First, [Trump] asked the party to swallow the idea of a narcissistic sexual harasser and a routine liar as its party leader. Then he asked the party to accept his comprehensive ignorance and his politics of racial division. Now he asks the party to give up its reputation for fiscal conservatism. At the same time he asks the party to become the party of Roy Moore, the party of bigotry, alleged sexual harassment and child assault.

There is no end to what Trump will ask of his party. He is defined by shamelessness, and so there is no bottom. And apparently there is no end to what regular Republicans are willing to give him. Trump may soon ask them to accept his firing of Robert Mueller, and yes, after some sighing, they will accept that, too.

That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.

The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation. The pro-life cause will be forever associated with moral hypocrisy on an epic scale. The word “evangelical” is already being discredited for an entire generation. Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.

You don’t help your cause by wrapping your arms around an alleged sexual predator and a patriarchic bigot. You don’t help your cause by putting the pursuit of power above character, by worshiping at the feet of some loutish man or another, by claiming the ends justify any means. You don’t successfully rationalize your own tawdriness by claiming your opponents are satanic. You don’t save Christianity by betraying its message.

(snip)

The Republican Party I grew up with admired excellence. It admired intellectual excellence (Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley), moral excellence (John Paul II, Natan Sharansky) and excellent leaders (James Baker, Jeane Kirkpatrick). Populism abandoned all that — and had to by its very nature. Excellence is hierarchical. Excellence requires work, time, experience and talent. Populism doesn’t believe in hierarchy. Populism doesn’t demand the effort required to understand the best that has been thought and said. Populism celebrates the quick slogan, the impulsive slash, the easy ignorant assertion. Populism is blind to mastery and embraces mediocrity.

(snip)

[Unlike the tax cuts of 30 to 40 years ago] Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time. They have no vision of the common good, except that Republican donors should get more money and Democratic donors should have less.

The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: “I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.”

We don’t have to end up that way; we don’t have to let it happen.  Start with this Jedi-mind-trick chant: this is not the president you’re looking for…

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.

The Washington kabuki

It’s playing out just as any predictable, poorly-written melodrama might, these “negotiations” to raise the federal debt ceiling and avert a national economic emergency, particularly when the play is performed by such transparent and ham-handed actors.

As expected, yesterday the Senate refused to go along with the House bill to cut government spending and pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution (which even National Review’s Rich Lowry is against); it was thought this might provide the cover for enough Republicans to be able to say that they had done their best to comply with Tea Party demands but now had to vote for a debt ceiling hike to avert a crisis, but we haven’t seen that start so far.  Then, Speaker Boehner dramatically announced he was “abandoning” his negotiations with President Obama and laid all the blame on him for not giving in to the no-tax-hike meme…before he announced he would continue negotiating.  Obama says Boehner’s rejected a plan with less tax increases than what the Gang of Six proposed earlier in the week, and he’s called for more negotiations this weekend, while Senate leaders are trying to revive the scheme to let the president raise the debt ceiling without members of Congress having to cast an approving and politically-dicey vote.

Politically dicey?  Yes, for the many Republicans in the House more worried about getting a Tea Party-ish challenger in next year’s primary election than they are about the United States defaulting on its debts.  How’s that for statesmanship?

(Check out the letter Boehner sent to House Republicans on Friday, and expect to see/hear the verbiage again in campaign ads.)

So they talk this weekend, and come out of the talks to stand in front of the microphones and say predictable things.  I feel pretty confident they will come up with some way to beat the deadline and raise the debt ceiling to prevent default, even if they don’t tie it to spending cuts or increased revenue (which isn’t necessary—these are separate albeit related issues).  But I wish they would take advantage of the opportunity now to take some action on spending and revenue, because that’s going to have to be addressed and sooner would be better than later.  David Brooks thinks so, too, arguing that “Standing still is not an option.”

Doing nothing could lead to default and the end of American economic supremacy. The compromise put together by Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, that’s been floating around is a ploy to evade responsibility. Punting with some small package would spook the markets and reflect dishonor on yourself.

(snip)

You do it because you know the political climate will be worse for a deal in 2013. If you’re a Republican, you know Obama might win re-election, and even if the G.O.P. swept everything, you know your party wouldn’t have the guts to cut entitlements unilaterally (that’s why the cut, cap and balance bill didn’t mention the specific programs that would face the ax). If you’re a Democrat, you know Obama might lose, and, even if he doesn’t, the Senate will likely tilt rightward.

Mostly you do it because you want to live in a country than can govern itself.

(snip)

…this is the next step in the journey toward economic health.

Grand Old Party, or Grumpy Old Protesters

President Obama hosts another Big Budget Meeting tomorrow at the White House with a deadline looming for raising the nation’s debt ceiling to keep the country from defaulting on its loan payments, and both political parties are acting as if they’re serious now.  (Now?  Yeah, now…finally, now.)  Republicans, who’ve been spurred in part if not entirely by tea party pressure, have been very tough in the negotiations, demanding that Democrats agree to trillions of dollars in spending cuts and no tax increases in return for the votes to increase the debt ceiling.  Sounds like the Republicans have won this round, doesn’t it?

Columnist David Brooks makes a very good case that the GOP has wrought amazing concessions from Democrats on the economy, spending cuts and debt reduction, and that if it takes what’s been offered it will be good for the country, set a new starting point for future negotiations on more cuts, and be a significant political victory for Republicans to campaign on in 2012.  But he also warns that if they don’t agree soon, people will have good reason to wonder if the GOP has ceased to be a political party capable of governing and turned finally into a mere protest movement that has a “no tax hike” fetish—even when the effective tax rate in this country is now the lowest it’s been since 1950!  The long-time conservative idea man is worried that no-tax-hike-ers threaten the future of his party:

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms…The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities…The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency…The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name.

(snip)

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

That makes sense to me, and I hope it makes sense to everyone, even the very fanatics that Brooks warns about.  The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait praises Brooks’ column for its emperor-has-no-clothes statement about GOP radicalism, and assigning all of the blame to “Republicans” who would stand in the way of shrinking government, who would cripple the economy and emasculate the recovery, just to make a point.  Something for all of us to keep in mind, as the clock tick-tick-ticks down to possible, and completely avoidable, national default.