Sunday, April 3, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Started to work on this, then got so waylaid by allergies my brain froze up. Of course, trying to write about whether Trump is a fascist is a question that begs so much backtracking it's easy to get lost.

Worth noting here that the Wisconsin primary is Tuesday. Cruz has long been favored over Trump and Kasich: the latest 538 poll averages are 44.1-32.1-21.4%, and since it's mostly winner-take-all Trump is likely to fall short of the delegate count to stay on track for a first ballot win -- so expect some pundit talk about Trump stumbling, but Trump is a lock for a big win in New York on April 19, and has a good chance of scoring his first greater than 50% win there (538's poll average is 52.1-24.0-21.8%, with Cruz second and Kasich third).

More interesting is the Democratic primary, which 538 still gives to Clinton, but the poll averages have narrowed to 48.8-48.6%, with Sanders leading in five of the seven most recent polls. At this point I expect Sanders to win there, but it won't be a landslide. 538 is still showing Clinton with a huge lead in New York, 61.0-37.0%, but the last two polls there have Clinton +12 and +10, a far cry from the 71-23% outlier 538 still factors in. Clinton also has big leads in the other April primaries (65.9-30.5% in Pennsylvania, 70.6-27.0% in Maryland); also in California and New Jersey on June 7.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Steve Coll: Global Trump:

    Trumpism is a posture, not a coherent platform. [ . . . ]

    Trump hasn't indicated that he would definitely pull out of treaty commitments to Europe and Asia. He seems to think that his threats and his pleas of poverty will soften up allies so that, once in the White House, he can close some of those great deals he often talks about. For "many, many years," he told the Times, the U.S. has been the "big stupid bully and we were systematically ripped off by everybody," providing military security without adequate compensation.

    Like a hammer viewing everything as a nail, Trump desperately wants to reconceive foreign relations as something that can be fixed by a flamboyant and shrewd deal maker -- i.e., by himself. He reminds me of a guy who was brought in to become CEO of a troubled company I used to work for. The company had racked up massive losses over several quarters, staving off bankruptcy only because they had sold a lot of bonds a few years earlier -- they didn't need the bonds but sold them "because they could" and just sat on the cash until they burned it all up. Anyhow, this new CEO (I don't even remember the name now) had the huge ego you get in jobs like that, so the first thing I decided to do was to renegotiate all of the company's supplier contracts, just because he figured he was a better negotiator than his predecessor. Turned out that he never successfully renegotiated a thing: all he did was piss off suppliers the company was already in arrears to, companies that no longer saw us as viable long-term customers. America isn't in as bad shape as my company was, but if Trump follows through and tries to shake down traditional allies, he's not likely to net much other than bad will. (Japan, for instance, pays us for defense because it's a pittance compared to our trade deficits. Maybe they'll pay a bit more, but the US market isn't what it used to be, nor is the US commitment to defend them.)

    Coll has a pretty rosy view of American military spending abroad -- surprising for someone who's mostly covered the Middle East for the last twenty-some years:

    Trump also argues that reduced defense spending abroad would free up funds for investment at home. We do need to rebuild bridges, airports, railways, and telecommunications. But defense spending isn't stopping us from doing so; the problem is the Republican anti-tax extremists in Congress, who refuse to either raise revenues or take advantage of historically low long-term interest rates. In all probability, the U.S. can afford its global-defense commitments indefinitely, and an open economy, renewed by immigration and innovation, should be able to continue to grow and to share the cost of securing free societies. The main obstacle to realizing this goal is not an exhausted imperial treasury. It is the collapse of the once-internationalist Republican Party into demagoguery, paralysis, and Trumpism.

    That, of course, is pretty much the Clinton position, one that argues that America is still great, has never been anything else. Such platitudes are baked into the Belt Area foreign/security policy professional class. They even seep into Stephen M Walt: No, @realDonaldTrump Is Not a Realist.

  • Tierney Sneed: How Trump Ticked Off Anti-Abortion Groups by Trying to Prove His Creed: So Trump commits this gaffe, realizes his error (or more likely has it pointed out to him), and walks it back within hours.

    For months, the major concern the anti-abortion movement had with Donald Trump was that he was too wobbly on the issue. But on Wednesday, Trump staked out an abortion position so extreme that he blew up years of abortion foes' careful messaging.

    Trump's remark at an MSNBC town hall that an abortion ban should carry a punishment for women who seek out the procedure sent anti-abortion activists immediately scrambling to correct the damage.

    "Mr. Trump's comment today is completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion," Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said in a statement rushed out about an hour after Trump's remarks were first broadcast. "No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion. This is against the very nature of what we are about."

    In practical terms this should be treated as a wash -- like a muons which appears in a high-energy burst then vanishes within microseconds -- except that I think it shows two things:

    1. Trump understands the logic of the anti-abortion movement, which is about little more than punishing women (for sexual licentiousness, or getting raped, or just being poor), much as he understands punishment as the essential means of disciplining errant children and other rabble. No doubt being a major league misogynist helped Trump on this score.
    2. The much alleged "political correctness" police on the left are pikers compared to those who dictate orthodoxy on the right: the latter turned Trump around in hours, whereas Trump held firm on his assertions that "Mexicans are rapists" and his embrace of support from the KKK and outright Fascists. Sure, one might argue that this proves that the offenses he held firm on reflected deeply held beliefs, whereas his anti-abortion stance was never more than pure political opportunism. But I doubt he has any bedrock beliefs beyond his obsessions with the media spotlight and making money off that.

    Also see Here's How a Republican Is Supposed to Answer That Abortion Question Trump Flubbed, which shows how Ted Cruz handled the same question. The summary:

    See, Donald? That's how you do it. When someone asks you about abortion penalties after the overturn of Roe, here's what you do:

    You attack the questioner.

    You attack the media.

    You attack Barack Obama.

    You tell them what a swell pro-life person you are.

    You do everything except answer the question.

  • Olivia Ward: Is Donald Trump actually a fascist? I'll add that leftists like myself are hypersensitive to fascist airs, and apply the label broadly to any right-winger who threatens violence, glories in empire, and/or seeks to reverse liberal progress (which they often decry as decadence and decay). Trump loosely qualifies, but so does Cruz and Kasich and most Republican activists, especially anyone who thinks America enjoyed a golden age under Calvin Coolidge or William McKinley (or Jefferson Davis). What makes Trump seem exceptional is the way he draws the sort of people who historically have supported fascism: racists, xenophobes, ultra-nationalists, those who want to use state power to enforce religious morality, those who hate unions, those who are contemptous of democracy (and other people), those who are prone to violence and hung up on patriarchy, those who feel the need to follow a charismatic and forceful leader. So it's not so much that Trump started out as a fascist as that by style and temperament he's been anointed as the Führer of the fascists, a role he hasn't shirked.

  • Susan Sarandon Lives in a Very Small World: A not-very-smart critique of the "scandal" caused when Sarandon said that some Sanders supporters won't vote for Clinton against Trump, and that her own view was "I don't know. I'm going to see what happens." I wrote more about this piece then tore it up. Two points are that Sanders' popularity shows that there is much more quasi-left in America than anyone gave us credit for, and that transitioning from voting for one candidate who wants changes you want to another one who wants to defend the status quo (or somewhat mitigate the damage the goons on the other side are plotting) isn't likely to be smooth or automatic: perhaps if Clinton wins the nomination she should campaign for Sanders' supporters instead of veering to the right so to come off as slightly saner than Trump or Cruz, assuming everyone else will fall in line. At any rate, it's premature to worry about Sanders' supporters breaking ranks. As for the ad hominem attacks about Sarandon "living in a very small world," I think her political engagement is admirable and far-sighted, showing much more awareness of other people than is common in her tax bracket.

  • Brief links: