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.

 

 

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?”

Advice from the right to the right-er

Anybody can sit back and disgorge him-or-her-self of comments on the outrageous stuff in the news and on the Web; tut-tutting what Donald Trump says doesn’t really require you to burn many calories.  This year I’m renewing my effort to keep an eye out for things that are less obvious, but offer some insight that we could all find useful.

You don’t have to be conservative, or “a conservative,” or even “a Movement Conservative,” to get something out of Jennifer Rubin’s “Right Turn” blog in the Washington Post (there’s a link in the Blogroll over there) , and I’d like to offer this link to her recent list of suggested resolutions for Republicans for this year.  Here are my favorites, with comments.

“2. Do not imagine that the entire party is made up of the most vocal, extreme elements in talk radio. There is no sign — not in respected polling or election results — that the party is entirely, or even primarily, made up of nativists and “very conservative” voters. You might think so if you are elected from Texas or Alabama, but thinking that is a microcosm of the country leads to disastrous results.”

  • Many of us forget this one.  The most radical elements of the GOP make the most noise and have worked their tails off to become politically powerful within the organization; but as is true with many groups, the loudest members don’t necessarily speak for the majority.  But the non-radical center had better come to play, or one day there won’t be a place for them in the party of Lincoln and Reagan.

“3. The country has accepted gay marriage, so move on. There are not sufficient states for a constitutional amendment nor is any president going to be able to stack the court with justices willing to overturn the gay marriage ruling. (The court won’t even find Obamacare unconstitutional.) Preaching defiance of the court is crazy talk and simply tells voters that Republicans are out of touch.”

  • Time to let this one go: it isn’t about the sacrament of marriage in your church, it’s about equal protection and equal treatment under civil law, and you don’t want to be arguing against that.

“7. Give up the fixation on the mainstream media. Yes, there is coverage that is tilted, invariably in the liberal direction. Yes, conservatives are held to a different standard. It should be called out. But so what? It’s not an excuse for failure, and voters don’t want to hear a lot of whining about how the deck is stacked. Moreover, Republicans benefit from being tested in interviews and debates by those with whom they disagree.”

  • Journalists are supposed to question the statements and beliefs of candidates and officeholders; they do it to Democrats and Libertarians and independents, too, but we don’t hear them complaining like you.  If you don’t like the critical attention, get a new line of work.

First step on the new path…don’t know where it’s going to lead.

It’s still too early for the 2016 campaign, but…

The first vote that counts in the 2016 presidential election is still four months away, so I remain committed to the belief that it is still too soon to be caring about this.  Of course, I’m vastly outnumbered by people in both the Democratic and Republican parties, in the news media, and of course in the political-industrial complex which makes its living off the perpetual campaign.  Nevertheless, I found something I want to share in case you haven’t already seen it.

I admit to being a little amused by the specter of Donald Trump leading the public opinion polls among Republican candidates, and bemused by the conceit of the Hillary Clinton camp that the nomination is hers because…well, because Hillary.  As a government contractor employee I’m far more interested right now in whether or not the do-nothing Congress can pass a simple budget resolution and keep the doors open, and at last report that seems a pretty good bet.  If it doesn’t happen, though, the most likely reason will be that some right-wing extremist will have decided that advocating lost causes is more important than good government…thank you, Sen. Cruz.

It’s those guys (and some gals, but mostly guys) who drove John Boehner to decide to give up his speakership rather than try to further advance his career herding cats.  It’s almost heroic when you think about it: Boehner decided to fall on his sword rather than let the loud-mouthed minority of his party seriously damage the overall operation by keeping up their effort to drive him out of the chair.  I’m getting misty-eyed just thinking about his courage and selflessness…and nearly giddy when I read the suggestion that this could be a step on the road to the self-destruction of the party that the extremists grudgingly call their home.

In today’s New York Times (“Anarchy in the House”), Geoffrey Kabaservice argues that the Boehner resignation drama can be seen as a symptom of the kind of conservatism led by Barry Goldwater in the 1960s.

The radicals who coalesced around Senator Barry Goldwater’s insurgent presidential campaign were zealots. They had no interest in developing a governing agenda. Their program consisted mainly of getting rid of the New Deal and every other government effort to promote the general welfare…Goldwater’s followers viewed any Republicans who wanted to govern as traitors to be stamped out. They accused their own leadership of conspiring with Democrats to thwart conservatives…They had no strategy other than taking over the party and nominating Goldwater. He would win the 1964 election, they believed, because a hidden majority would flock to the polls when presented with a candidate who wasn’t what we would now call “politically correct.”

(snip)

The present resurgence of anti-governing conservatism is also likely to end badly for Republicans. The extremists have the ability to disrupt the Congress, but not to lead it. Their belief that shutdowns will secure real concessions is magical thinking, not legislative realism. And the more power they gain, the less likely it becomes that a Republican-controlled Congress can pass conservative legislation, or indeed any legislation at all.

It’s true that sometimes no legislation is better than bad legislation. But the United States faces real problems, including stagnant wages, family instability, infrastructure collapse and long-term indebtedness. If Republicans can’t advance their own solutions, they’ll have to deal with what Democrats — or harsh realities — impose on them. Paralysis is not a plan.

The rebranding of Republicanism as a force for anarchy has spilled into the presidential contest and threatens the general election chances of the eventual nominee.

Does the Republican Party have time to turn that around before the general election?  I think so.  Do the people who run the party these days want to turn that around?  If so they better get started proving it, because soon enough even I’ll be paying attention to the campaign.