Sunday, March 5, 2017
For a while there, I thought I had shot my wad on Thursday's
Midweek Roundup, but it didn't take long for the floodgates to open.
I thought I'd start this with a remarkable letter that appeared in the
Wichita Eagle by Gregory H. Bontrager, under the title "Trump on our
side" (emphasis added):
The same media that is hounding President Trump are the same ideological
malcontents that gave President Obama a free pass for eight lost years
of American history. Finally, the middle class has a friend in the White
If you like welfare, food stamps or unchecked borders, Obama is the
man for you. But if you work for a living or own your own business,
Trump is on your side. Despite media hype, the age of the working man
has arrived, as personified by Trump.
No more apologies will be accepted from America-hating elitists and
the clueless children they foster on college campuses.
The American worker will no longer be held hostage to insane
regulations by runaway bureaucracies such as the Environmental Protection
Agency or rogue tax collectors in the IRS who have been weaponized by
Democrats to suppress political opposition.
The Democratic Party cares more about the rights of illegal aliens
than your children being able to walk safely down the streets of their
Whether they sit on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or the city
councils of sanctuary cities, it is time to push aside these apostate
Americans and take our country back.
As someone who grew up in a union household, I can't help but be
moved by this "working man" rhetoric, although I recognize that close
to half of wage-earners in America are women, and that most of the
jobs people work at today are in the service sector, more or less
removed from the muscle and grime associated with the working men of
yore -- hardly a vanished species, but much less prevalent than in
my father's and grandfather's days. Nor do I begrudge the right of
some people "who own their own business" to think of themselves as
"working men" -- those, at least, who actually do some of their own
work, as opposed to the ones who merely bark orders and push papers,
but I know full well that nothing changes a person like controlling
a business' checkbook, especially politically.
Still, what I find unfathomable is how anyone who's not a real
estate magnate (or maybe a hedge fund manager) can imagine that
Donald Trump -- a man who's spent every waking moment in the last
fifty years pursuing his own wealth and celebrating his own ego --
would be on their side, or even give half a shit about them. Even
the author's laundry list of phobias doesn't justify his leap of
Most wage earners -- a more accurate if less romantic term than
"working man" -- understand that welfare and food stamps are part
of a safety net that, when properly supported, protects the lowest
earners from disaster. Even people who never directly make use of
such support benefit from living in a society which doesn't allow
abject poverty to fester. Similarly, most government regulation is
meant to protect workers and communities from the sort of abuses
that inevitably tempt profit-seeking private businesses. It's easy
to see why some short-sighted business owners may take umbrage at
inspectors and tax collectors, but aside from lost jobs when badly
managed businesses fail, workers generally benefit from policies
which keep businesses from cutting corners.
It is true that if you think your problems are caused by policies
which limit the greed and avarice of private companies, Trump will
(sometimes) be "on your side." And if you see "illegal aliens" as
some sort of plague, you may take some pleasure in Trump's callous
and cruel demonization of America's most downtrodden immigrants and
refugees. But neither of those stances makes you a "working man,"
nor does it guarantee that Trump will be your champion. For starters,
the man is a world class liar and demagogue, as should already be
clear from his selective memory of his campaign promises.
The stuff about Obama and the Democrats is harder to explain,
other than that the author appears to have indeed been held hostage
the last eight years, not by federal bureaucrats but by the right-wing
fantasy media. Although appeals to the vanishing middle class have
been a staple of both parties, few politicians in recent memory have
devoted so much of their rhetoric to the cause as has Barack Obama.
One might fault Obama for delivering so little to the middle class:
under him, despite a modest tax increase on the rich, income inequality
has continued to increase, the safety net has continued to fray, and
his signature health care program delivered at best a mixed blessing.
But the idea that with Trump replacing Obama "the middle class has a
friend in the White House" is patently absurd.
To be clear, the "middle class" most of my generation grew up in --
we're talking 1950s here -- was the product of two things: a strong
union movement which lifted both blue- and white-collar wage-earners
to the level where they could own houses and send their kids to public
colleges, and near-confiscatory (up to 90%) income tax rates on the
still well-to-do managers and owners. (Paul Krugman called this "the
great compression" -- see The Conscience of a Liberal.) Look
for anything like this in Trump's platform: there's not even a hint
of anything comparable. Rather, what the Republicans -- and this is
certainly why Trump chose to become one -- have pushed ever since
Reagan (or Calvin Coolidge or William McKinley or the robber barons
who took over the GOP in the 1870s) is the notion that we'll all be
better off if only we let businesses pursue profits unfettered by
any sense of social responsibility. It should be clear by now that
only the very rich have benefited from that theory, and only to the
extent that they've been able to isolate themselves from the world
they've left behind. The "middle class" is not a natural condition
in capitalist society: it exists only because policies have forced
a more equal distribution of the national wealth. Take those policies
away, and, sure, a few people can become much richer, while a great
many slip into increasing poverty. And that's not just theory. That's
what has actually happened, to the extent that Republicans have been
able to seize power since 1980.
So there's nothing in Trump's platform to make him "a friend of the
middle class." But it's just as incredible to think he might be a friend
of anyone. Friendship is based on empathy, common understanding, and
mutual respect. To achieve that usually requires familiarity, engagement,
and interaction. But how much opportunity does someone like Trump get
to interact with even "middle class" (much less poor) people when he
lives in the penthouse on top of Trump Tower, is chauffeured around
town, and flies on private planes around the world -- at least to the
few spots where he owns luxury resorts full of deferential employees
and frequented by guests as rarefied as he himself is? Even leaving
aside his personality, charitably described as narcissistic, no one
can reasonably expect him to relate to, much less empathize with, the
everyday problems of most Americans.
The letter contains more absurdities, both of fact -- Obama, rather
notoriously, deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous
president -- and of interpretation -- I can't even imagine the "free
pass" he thinks Obama was granted, or what "eight lost years of American
history" even means. (Although thanks to Bush and Republican obstruction
of Obama we've wasted sixteen years. and counting, that could have been
used to counter global warming -- something future generations are sure
to judge us harshly for.)
The Kansas State Legislature passed a law repealing Gov. Sam Brownback's
income tax exemption for business owners, at long last promising to fill
a budgetary hole that has plagued Kansas since 2011. Brownback vetoed,
the House overrode, but the Senate barely sustained the veto, primarily
thanks to Republican Majority Leader Susan Wagle switching her position.
Richard Crowson drew the cartoon at right to mark the occasion. Sedgwick
County Commissioner Richard Ranzau took exception to the cartoon, noting
that depicting Wagle as a "female dog" was tantamount to calling her a,
well, you know. Ranzau is probably the most outrageously reactionary
politician in Kansas, at least in recent years. Of course, it isn't his
fault that his name resonates as some lesser known Nazi extermination
camp, one you can't quite put your finger on. Still, one would be less
likely to make the connection if he had somewhat more moderate take on
Crowson thanks Ranzau for showcasing cartoon.
Robert Christgau forwarded this tweet by
James F Haning II, proclaiming it "perfect":
Donald Trump is a stupid man's idea of a smart man, a poor man's idea
of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man.
There certainly is a lot of projection concerning Trump. There is
scant evidence to support many of the traits his fans attribute to
him (although, even without tax returns, he does a fairly good job of
passing for rich, even compared to the bottom of the top percentile).
And rich seems to buttress the notions of smart and strong, especially
given that they don't stand up all that well on their own. He has a
bully aspect, but that's mostly exercised through lawyers; other than
that he talks big, but is known to tone it down when faced with likely
opposition (as during his campaign stop in Mexico, where he offered
none of the slander and fury of his post-visit immigration rant). As
for smart, he's clearly not even remotely a smart man's idea of smart.
Whether stupid men are that stupid is another question: he clearly has
a knack for exploiting some people's insecurities, and for projecting
himself as their savior. Part of that comes from a very instinctual,
almost bred-in, sense humans have that in crisis they should rally
behind the guy who looks strongest -- an instinct that's likely to
give you a Napoleon, a Churchill, or a Hitler (most of whom turned
out to be disasters). Part is that many Americans have way too much
admiration for the rich. And part is the luck of running against
people who hardly inspire anyone at all. But much of it is that with
Trump we have a man who is extraordinarily self-centered and immodest,
so much so he doesn't betray any lack of confidence in his abilities,
even though they are manifest to anyone who bothers to look.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
George Zornick/ZoŽ Carpenter: Everything Trump Did in His 6th Week That
Really Matters: A regular series that goes beyond chasing tweets.
- Halted a probe into airline-price transparency. "Stocks in
major airlines increased 2 percent."
- Absolved senior adviser Kellyanne Conway of wrongdoing. Re
her promotion of Ivanka Trump's clothing line, contrary to federal
ethics rules. "The White House concluded that Conway acted 'without
nefarious motive,' and did not announce any disciplinary actions."
- Swore in a commerce secretary with serious conflicts of
interest. Multi-billionaire Wilbur Ross, who among other things
"served as the vice-chair of the Bank of Cyprus, 'one of the key
offshore havens for illicit Russian finance.'"
- His attorney general recused himself from Russia inquiries.
Jeff Sessions, who falsely testified to the US Senate during confirmation
that he had no contact with Russian officials.
- Announced a special exemption for the Keystone XL pipeline.
He also ordered that all pipelines be made with American steel "to the
maximum extent possible," which turns out to be not at all. (See
Keystone Pipeline Won't Use US Steel Despite Trump Pledge.)
- Ordered a review of water regulations. The first step
toward undoing clean water rules developed by the EPA under Obama.
Julia Edwards Ainsley: Trump administration considering separating women,
children at Mexico border
Eric Alterman: The Media's Addiction to False Equivalencies Has Left
Them Vulnerable to Trump: "Decades of conservative efforts to work
the press are paying off handsomely." I've described this as the "Earl
Weaver effect": you always argue with the umps, not so much to convince
them now as to make them more likely to give you a call later on (thus
avoiding another scarifying encounter).
Coral Davenport; Trump to Undo Vehicle Rules That Curb Global Warming:
"The E.P.A. will also begin legal proceedings to revoke a waiver for
California that was allowing the state to enforce tougher tailpipe
standards for its drivers." Also by Davenport:
Top Trump Advisers Are Split on Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
A few, like Rex Tillerson, recognize that withdrawal will have adverse
impact on how the US is viewed throughout the world. After all, it's
a pretty clear message: to protect our industry profits, we don't care
what the impact is to the rest of the world: fry, drown, whatever.
Note that even if the US doesn't formally withdraw, Trump's EPA is
already working hard to make climate catastrophe irreversible. Also
Steven Mufson/Jason Samenow/Brady Dennis: White House proposes steep
budget cut to leading climate science agency: maybe if we stop
studying the problem, we won't notice when it happens, so won't know
who to blame.
Josh Dawsey: Trump's advisers push him to purge Obama appointees:
Well, actually they'd like to purge much of the civil service as well
as a few dozen holdovers still trying to do their jobs. ("Candidates
for only about three dozen of 550 critical Senate-confirmed positions
have even been nominated.") A big part of the problem here is that
Trump campaigned by totally misrepresenting what Obama's administration
had been doing, treating it as all bad and therefore all in need of
radical change. But the election didn't change any laws, and policy
changes are subject to many checks and balances. No past administration
started with a clean slate, and most saw continuity as a virtue. Trump
is different partly because he set up the expectation of radical change,
and partly because his people have proven unusually incompetent -- I'd
say that's largely due to his party having made obstruction its norm
for eight years (after making destruction the norm for two terms under
GW Bush). Still, the immediately burning issue is that they're steamed
about leaks revealing their incompetence. A better solution would be
to try to behave in ways that aren't embarrassing to the public, but
that's a level of maturity they haven't grown into yet (if indeed they
Paul Feldman: A deadly pattern: States that went red during 2016 election
saw more workplace fatalities: Chart is pretty starkly amazing, with
only two states above 3.0 (New Mexico and Nevada) voting Democratic, and
only one state below 3.0 (Arizona) voting Republican.
Jon Finer/Robert Malley: How Our Strategy Against Terrorism Gave Us
Trump: Actually, the US doesn't have a strategy against terrorism
any more, and hasn't since it became clear that reconstructing Iraq
along Texas lines wasn't going to pay off. What passes for one is no
more than whacking all the terrorists we notice, or people in their
vicinity -- the sort of knee-jerk spasms dead chickens are noted for.
What gave us Trump was the callousness and ignorance of continuing a
hopeless and hapless war despite clear proof that of having no clue.
In early Bush days the US could present itself as some kind of friend,
and occasionally find acceptance and support, but those days are long
gone as the frustration of losing has turned Americans into haters of
all things Islamic. I think it was predictable from the start that
this approach would fail, but the authors are still committed to the
mission no matter how badly it fails.
Todd C Frankel: How Foxconn's broken pledges in Pennsylvania cast doubt
on Trump's jobs plan: One thing I'm struck by is how many of the
companies Trump's counting on to "invest in America" are Chinese -- not
just that their offers are subject to political ploys but that their
bottom line depends on getting lower labor costs in the US than they
are already getting in China. This doesn't seem like much of a golden
Jonathan Freedland: Donald Trump isn't the only villain -- the Republican
party shares the blame
David Cay Johnston: Trump's Lament That He 'Inherited a Mess' of an
Economy? False! Sad! Various measures of the economy were actually
up for the last months of Obama's second term, with the median wage
"began rising in 2013 after 15 years of being in the doldrums." This
momentum, a far cry from the "mess" Trump has already started blaming
for his own incompetence, will likely continue to buoy Trump for months
or even a couple years to come, until Trump (like Bush before him)
blows it all to hell. For more on this, see:
Christian Weller: The truth about Obama's economic legacy and Trump's
Paul Krugman: Goodbye Spin, Hello Raw Dishonesty:
At this point it's easier to list the Trump officials who haven't been
caught lying under oath than those who have. This is not an accident.
[ . . . ]
In part, of course, the pervasiveness of lies reflects the character
of the man at the top: No president, or for that matter major U.S.
political figure of any kind, has ever lied as freely and frequently
as Donald Trump. But this isn't just a Trump story. His ability to get
away with it, at least so far, requires the support of many enablers:
almost all of his party's elected officials, a large bloc of voters
and, all too often, much of the news media.
[ . . . ]
But then you watch something like the way much of the news media
responded to Mr. Trump's congressional address, and you feel despair.
It was a speech filled with falsehoods and vile policy proposals, but
read calmly off the teleprompter -- and suddenly everyone was declaring
the liar in chief "presidential."
The point is that if that's all it takes to exonerate the most
dishonest man ever to hold high office in America, we're doomed.
Krugman also wrote
Coal Is a State of Mind: Trump keeps insisting that he'll bring back
coal mining jobs, but nothing -- not technology and not economics --
suggests he can, no matter how much political will he puts behind it:
The answer, I'd guess, is that coal isn't really about coal -- it's a
symbol of a social order that is no more; both good things (community)
and bad (overt racism). Trump is selling the fantasy that this old order
can be restored, with seemingly substantive promises about specific jobs
mostly just packaging.
One thought that follows is that Trump may not be as badly hurt by
the failure of his promises as one might expect: he can't deliver coal
jobs, but he can deliver punishment to various kinds of others.
Laila Lalami: Donald Trump Is Making America White Again: The detail
points are worth reading, but file this under really bad titles. For
one thing, America has never been white, no matter how marginalized
the political system made non-whites. For another, while Trump will
make America more hurtful for non-whites, nothing he can do will change
the racial, religious, and/or ethnic demography of the nation to any
meaningful degree. The most he and his fans can hope for is to slow
down what they view as a demographic disaster, and perhaps to jigger
the system a bit to politically marginalize what they view as undesirable
Americans -- that is, after all, the point of the voter suppression laws
that are all the rage in Republican legislatures.
Jefferson Morley: Who wins? Donald Trump vs. the Koch Brothers on jobs:
I had to read down the article to even find out what Trump was thinking
of as his jobs program: turns out it's the BAT (Border Adjustment Tax),
which is really just a tariff. The Kochs are organizing against BAT, and
they have things Trump doesn't have, like a grass roots organization
that has been very successful at getting Republicans elected to Congress.
(In many ways Trump sailed to the presidency on their coat tails.) So
no, it's pretty much dead in Congress, and there's damn little Trump
can do about that.
Paul Rosenberg: America's infrastructure disaster -- and why Donald Trump
will do nothing to fix it:
The last time it was issued, back 2013, our infrastructure got an overall
grade of D+, with a projected $3.6 trillion investment needed by 2020 --
more than 3 1/2 times the amount that President Donald Trump has promised
(mostly from private investors) over a much longer period. Grades ranged
from a high of a single B- for solid waste to a low of D- in two categories --
levees and inland waterways. There were more straight Ds than anything else --
for schools, dams, aviation, roads, transit, wastewater, drinking water and
hazardous waste. Rail and bridges both rated C+, ports a straight C, public
parks and recreation a C- and energy a D+. Even Bart wouldn't be proud of
The key problem is that we let business ideologues (mostly but not
exclusively Republicans) convince us that government can't do anything
competently (except wage war, which kind of proved their point) so
we're better off not wasting our money -- just wait for the private
sector to fill the need. This is, of course, exactly not how we got
all our infrastructure in the first place (the whole point of Jacob
S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government
Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper).
Matthew Rozsa: This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest:
Favoritism from Vancouver to New York City. Rosza also wrote
President Pence's problems: Indiana Democrats say VP was "the worst
governor we ever had" -- something to bear in mind before you
Katy Waldman: We All Talk Like Donald Trump Now: Sad! Oh, dear!
Even when we satirize him the mental rot is contagious! As if we didn't
have enough to worry about already!
Matthew Yglesias: Trump is Mad Online at Obama, Schwarzenegger, and
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court: This day (March 4)
in tweets. Personally, I'm just gratified that when Trump refers to
"McCarthyism" and "Nixon/Watergate" he's treating them as bad things.
Nor do I especially mind him dissing Schwarzenegger, recently departed
from Trump's former reality show. For more on the latter (possibly
the week's least momentus "news") see:
Todd VanDerWerff: Arnold Schwarzenegger is leaving The Celebrity
Apprentice. He blames President Trump.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's broader bout of political insanity:
William Astore: In Afghanistan, America's Biggest Foe Is Self-Deception:
Actually, that's true in America as well. When future generations look
back on America today (assuming they should be so lucky), one big thing
they will puzzle over is how so many people could have believed in so
much really crazy shit.
Tony Blair, Who Brought US the War in Iraq, Lectures on the Evils of
Populism: Or more to the point, "he criticizes the left for abandoning
centrist politicians," like himself -- where centrism means pretending
to have a social conscience while serving the advancement of "clean"
businesses like high-tech and finance. ("Tony Blair has worked as an
advisor to JP Morgan and Zurich Financial Services, since retiring as
James Carden: Why Does the US Continue to Arm Terrorists in Syria?
Well, because the US doesn't have a clue what it's doing in Syria, or
for that matter all across the Middle East. Because US strategists feel
the need to choose sides in a contest where no sides are viable let
alone right. Because they can't contemplate of resolving problems but
by force of arms. And because they, like the "terrorists" they claim
to oppose, see terror as a tactic for advancing political goals.
Ian Cummings: FBI undercover stings foil terrorist plots -- but how many
are agency-created? I think it's pretty clear that Terry Loewen here
in Wichita would never have done anything but for FBI prodding. Several
other cases mentioned here are similar. I think the Garden City case
where three guys planned an attack on a Somali neighborhood was real,
but the FBI has a long history of trying to provoke crimes, and that
has probably gotten worse with all the "war on terror" nonsense.
Nelson Denis: After a Century of American Citizenship, Puerto Ricans
Have Little to Show for It
Richard J Evans: A Warning From History: Review of Volker Ullrich's
recent biography, Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, by the author of
The Coming of the Third Reich and two massive sequels. I can
see the fascination, but I'm more struck by the dissimilarities between
then and now -- one is reminded of Marx's quip about the arrival of
Napoleon III: "history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce."
Nor do I mean to downplay the real people hurt by Trump's policies and
acts. But Germany faced a real crisis in 1928-32, and Hitler presented
a plausible (albeit totally wrong-headed) solution until his absolute
self-confidence and ruthlessness drove the nation over a cliff. Trump's
demons are almost totally imaginary (his 40% unemployment rates, the
rampaging crime wave, hordes of demented illegal aliens, more hordes
of fanatical Muslims), and despite a modest Defense Department budget
bump (that will quickly be sopped up by graft) one doubts that he or
his anti-government henchmen will ever be able to turn the state into
a truly ominous force. Still, his impulses and tendencies are so bad
it helps to be reminded how catastrophically they've failed in the
Still, if you want to go further down this rathole:
Anis Shivani: Trump and Mussolini: Eleven key lessons from historical
fascism. Some key points:
- Fascism rechannels economic anxiety: key thing
is that it doesn't relieve it, it just redirects blame.
- Liberal institutions have already been fatally
weakened: I wouldn't say it's fatal here (yet), but Trump
wouldn't have risen without the discrediting of key institutions,
like the military in the Middle East and bankers everywhere.
- Of course it's a minority affair: The Tea Party
and the alt-right are every bit as vanguardist as the Bolsheviks,
but are rooted in venerable Americanisms, like Nixon's "dirty tricks"
and Lombardi's "winning is the only thing."
- Its cultural style makes no sense to elites:
which in turn makes it hard to counter; it's easy to prove that
Trump isn't smart but you won't impress his fans by doing so --
they've spent every moment of the last eight years loathing Obama,
suspecting that his brains are merely the engine of deviousness.
(Nor did Meryl Streep dissing football gain any traction.)
- No form of resistance works: Have fascists
ever been voted out of office, given that one thing they've always
been quick to do is to rig the system (much like the Republicans
with their voter restriction laws, though often even more brutal).
"Nothing ever works until fascism's logic, the logic of empire,
stands discredited to the point where no denial and no media
coverup is possible anymore." Actually the Axis was only "discredited"
by the most brutal military counterattack in history.
Daniel Politi: Pentagon Has Been Waging Secret Cyberwar Against North
Korea Missiles for Years: Perhaps this has something to do with why
North Korea is so paranoid, so erratic, and ultimately so dangerous?
We have thus far failed to develop the sort of taboo that inhibits
other forms of war, like chemical weapons -- in fact, cyberwar usually
doesn't even get recognized as such. In a better world, our recent brush
with Russian hacking would lead the US and Russia to work toward mutual
controls, including suppressing their own independent hackers. But as
long as we all think this sort of thing is OK it continues, sometimes
with dire consequences.