Sunday, June 10, 2018

Don't Blame Donald on Bill

Certain Republicans, when they can't bring themselves to defend Donald Trump's character, have another comeback -- it's all Bill Clinton's fault.  Democrats under Clinton established the precedent that character is purely private and doesn't matter; now they are reaping what they have sown. 

In a word, no.

This is wrong on multiple levels.

It simply is not true that Bill Clinton was our first President of less than sterling character.  One would have a hard time arguing that he is any less personally admirable than, say, Lyndon B. Johnson or Richard M. Nixon. 

Nor is he our first President to be a world class swinger, although admittedly he may have been our first President whose philandering ways were public knowledge when he was elected.  Furthermore, Democrats still don't consider simple promiscuity to more than a private failing, so long as it is all consensual. 

And although Clinton always had a vaguely sleazy vibe, Republicans spent four years examining every aspect of his life in microscopic detail, and the only grounds they could find for impeachment was his attempt to conceal foolish but consensual affair.  Significantly, all attempts to trash Hillary were for post-Presidential conduct, the Clintons' conduct before and during their stay in the White House having been thoroughly examined and turning up nothing, at least on Hillary.

I am willing to concede Clinton's detractors a few points:

  • Democrats, after losing three successive elections by landslides and fearing they would be permanently shut out of the White House, were probably too quick to circle the wagons around their leader.  
  • Small lies, like claiming that he smoked marijuana but didn't inhale, can be signs of a more serious honesty problem.
  • It is becoming increasingly clear that men who are unrestrainedly promiscuous are often none too fastidious about consent.*
  • The affair with Monica Lewinsky, though consensual, was inappropriate on many levels.
  • Clinton's post-Presidency behavior -- monetizing his name and connections -- is sleazy but all too common among former office holders.  Doing so while his wife was was still an office holder really is a new level of impropriety.
Still, comparing Clinton to Trump is absurd.  Consider:
  • Bill Clinton is knowledgeable about policy and issues.  Trump knows nothing, shows no interest in learning, and holds his ignorance up as proof of virtue.
  • Clinton's past career was thoroughly combed over by Congressional Republicans and Ken Starr while he was in the White House for any impropriety, all to no avail.  Much of Trump's past career remains secret, but journalists using public records have found ample evidence that it is rife with fraud.  Congressional Republicans, of course, are indifferent.
  • Clinton's career in the White house was also thoroughly investigated for abuse of power, and none was found.  Once again, Republicans are studiously ignoring all evidence of abuse of power in the Trump White House even when it is screaming in their faces.
  • Clinton told many petty, over-technical lies, like saying that he smoked but didn't inhale, and or that he had an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky but it didn't meet the technical definition of sex.  His lies nonetheless at least (A) had some basis in fact and (B) had discernably rational motive.  Trump, on the other hand, spouts so many outrageous whoppers that it is by no means clear he has any concept of the distinction between fact and fantasy.
  • Clinton made not attempt to use the Justice Department to protect his friends and persecute his enemies.
  • Clinton did not claim that the Attorney General's proper job was to protect the President when he was accused of wrongdoing.
  • Clinton did not have extensive investments the world over that constantly created the impression of at least the appearance of impropriety.
  • Clinton never treated the federal government as his own private property.
But the most important difference is not so much in the leaders as in the followers.  No one, so far as I know, supported Bill Clinton because they admired his promiscuity and lies so much.  They supported Clinton because they liked his policies, or because they were desperate to know that some sort of Democrat could be elected President.  His lies and philandering were merely distasteful baggage that went along with the good stuff.

I realize that most of the conservative/ Republican elite feels the same way about Trump.

But his "base" are a different matter altogether. Simply put, they like Trump because all the people who they hate hate him.  They like Trump because he pisses off liberals.  They like him because he sides with Us against Them.  And in the end, championing Us against Them is all that matters.  And once it comes down to that, the only morality is maximum immorality towards one's enemies.  Every evidence of what an immoral guy Trump is is seen as a plus by his supporters because they know he will direct it all against their enemies.  In other words, they love him, not despite all the worst traits in his character but because of them, and the worse Trump is, the more his supporters like him.

And that really is something new and unprecedented.

*This includes Bill Clinton, who has been plausibly accused of rape by Juanita Broaderick, although this did not become public until after the impeachment trial.

But Her E-Mails

Look, I know I promised not to do anymore disaster pictures with the label "But her emails," at least until something disastrous actually happened (not counting Puerto Rico).  I believed  that constant threats of disaster that did not come true would just make Trump opponents look like Chicken Little saying the sky was falling.  But when you build a whole campaign centered around making the e-mails look like the most heinous offense ever committed in this history of our Republic and then go doing the same thing, there really ought to be a reckoning.

The scandal over Hillary Clinton sending State Department e-mails over a private server was two-fold.*  First, her server was not properly secured and therefore posed a risk of being hacked.  Second, she deleted approximately half her e-mails on the grounds that they were private.   She even smashed two phones with a hammer.  (Actually, a security measure)

Trump and supporters convinced themselves, in the absence of any actual evidence, that those e-mails must contain something terribly incriminating. They built an entire campaign around it, turning absolutely every conversation about anything back to that damn e-mail server.  The FBI investigated.  Voters wondered why someone under FBI investigation was even allowed to run for President -- little suspecting that both  candidates were actually under investigation.

Of course, not everyone was convinced that Hillary's e-mail server was quite so bad as any number of things Trump had done.  Conor Friedersdorf warned:
Absurdly, many seem to have convinced themselves that Trump, who won’t release his tax returns, as every presidential candidate has for decades, will be better on transparency; that a man whose finances we don’t even know, who used his charitable foundation to illegally funnel money to an attorney general investigating him for fraud, will be better on conflicts of interest; that an erratic man who blurts all manner of things out on Twitter and has shady ties to Vladimir Putin will somehow be a more trustworthy guardian of classified information. 
Trump is likely to be worse across all those metrics!
And so it proved to be.  It has been known for some time that he blurted out extremely classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.  Next it turned out that Trump regularly chats on an unsecured phone.  And that, while no proof was ever found that Hillary's server was hacked, the evidence of hacking Trump's phone is quite strong.

Granted, this is one of those cases when the rule really is that if the President does it, that means it is not against the law.  The President has unlimited discretion to decide what information is and is not classified.  If the President wants to blurt out critical information about Israeli operations in Syria to the Russians, or to talk to his advisers on an unsecured line, he has that privilege.  Still, it is not too difficult to imagine the outrage that would ensue if Hillary had been elected President and claimed that the office gave her the privilege of using an unsecured private server to send official e-mails.

And now we find out that Trump tears up every paper that crosses his desk as soon as he finishes reading it.  This time, his action really is illegal; the Presidential Records Act requires all such papers to be preserved, but Trump continued tearing them up.  So two career officials, with many years of experience and salaries over $60,000, were tasked with taping the documents back together.  Nothing in the article suggests that they found anything in any way incriminating in the records.  But for some reason they were abruptly fired this spring, stripped of their badges, and escorted off the premises with no explanation.  The article did not address whether anyone was preserving Trump's papers now.  Hm.

Oh, yes, and Sean Hannity has urged targets of investigation to smash their cell phones.

Needless to say, none of this has made even a dent in Trump's support with his followers, nor have the mainstream news media deemed any of this worthy of the endless saturation coverage that Hillary's e-mails got.  During the campaign, I have little doubt that if Trump had shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, he and his followers would have dismissed it as trivial compared to Hillary's e-mails.  Out of a country of 300 million, he killed just one, they would say, while Hillary's private server endangered all of us.  The hypocrisy now is extraordinary.

*It should also be noted that the scandal grew out of the Benghazi investigation.  Congress spend four years investigating the Libyan attack on our consulate in Benghazi in hopes of finding something scandalous on Hillary.  They failed to find any evidence of wrong-doing on Benghazi, but did discovery that Hillary had improperly sent State Department e-mails on a private server and proceeded to run with it.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

On Trump, Healthcare, and Protections for Pre-Existing Condions

So the Trump Administration is now urging the courts to strike down Obamacare's ban on discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.  I have no idea why they have picked this hill to die on.*  But if they insist on holding this hill, the slaughter will be epic.

*My guess -- Republicans appear to have decided that the most important goal in healthcare policy is assuring cheap rates for the young and the healthy.  And it is true that if insurance companies are allowed to raise their rates on older and sicker applicants, or refuse to insure them altogether, young and health policy holders can get cheap rate.  Republicans have made more than amply clear that covering people who actually need medical care is not important to them.  Besides, as economic royalists, they are confident that whatever outcome the unregulated workings of the free market reach is, by definition, optimal.  If the free market in its infinite wisdom says that sick people should be uninsurable, that must obviously be the best outcome.

On Trump, Tariffs, and Republicans

So, it would appear that at least some Republicans are standing up to Trump on the issue of tariffs.  Some people on my side of the spectrum have asked why it is this and not any of the other issues -- the egregious corruption in the administration, threats the treat the Justice Department as a political instrument, suspicious ties to Russia, etc. -- that have finally inspired Republicans to talk back to their leader.

The answer is obvious.  There are two reasons:

  1. The tariffs are Trump's first deviation from economic royalism.
  2. Republican members of Congress have constituents who stand to be hurt by the tariffs.
That is all.

A Very Short Post on Trump and Allies

Make no mistake. Trump supporters will just love the way he offended our allies.

The reason is obvious.  Donald Trump has no concept of a mutually beneficial association.  All interactions, to him, are exploitative.  The only question is whether you are the exploiter or the exploited. 

Trump appeals to people who share the same viewpoint.

To such a viewpoint, there can be no agreement that both sides walk away from happy.  The mere fact that the other side is happy is proof that they won and we lost.  The only way to be sure that we won is if the other side is unhappy.  The unhappier the other side is, the bigger the win for us. 

At the G-7 summit, Trump made everyone else seriously unhappy.  To his supporters, no further proof is needed that he was successful.

On the Korea Summit

I am certainly no fan of Donald Trump, but I am also greatly annoyed at the whole "Never negotiate till the other side surrenders" crowd.  They go on and on about how talking to Kim Jong-un, meeting with him, recognizing his government, formally ending the Korean War etc. are immense concessions that should never be made till he gives up his nuclear arsenal.

Eye roll!  We've heard this before.  We heard it with China.  We heard it with Vietnam.  We hear it today with Cuba and Iran. 

Look, when a government is in power and shows no sign of going anywhere anytime soon, facing up to that fact instead of closing our eyes and hoping that it goes away is not a concession to a hostile power.  It is a concession to reality.  Unwelcome realities must be dealt with no less than welcome realities.

Despite all the hysterics about opening relations with China and Vietnam, both initiatives went quite well.  Symbolic gestures gave way to substantive changes.  Lowering tensions preceded, rather than following, an end to an arms race.  There is no reason the same could not be done with North Korea.

That being said, I am advocating symbolic concessions only.  Certainly any reduction in troop strength in South Korea, or any weakening of our commitment to South Korea's defense should be absolutely off the table.  Like disarmament, these would follow, rather than precede, reduction in tensions.

But the insistence that we should demand the complete dismantling of North Korea's nuclear arsenal as a precondition to even a symbolic gesture is simply a continuation of the old policies that didn't work for China or Vietnam in the past and won't work for North Korea today.

A Cynical Take on the Latest Primaries

Congratulations to the Democrats in their successful primaries.  Particularly noted -- the large number of women to win.  Certainly I am in favor of more women holding office and believe it gives a more complete perspective.  I can also understand the the mission of stopping Donald Trump might particularly resonate with women. 

But may I be pardoned for having a more cynical view of why Democrats are choosing so many women as candidate.  Because men have proven that they can't be trusted.  The number of powerful men being accused of sexual (and physical) abuse is shocking.  Many people we once admired and respected are turning out to have some appalling secrets.  The difference is not partisan.  Men of both parties and all across the political spectrum have been exposed.  But is it to cynical to say that Democrats care more about abuse of power than Republicans?  And it is not cynical to say that if you are attacking Trump for his extensive history of sexual harassment and assault, you do well to make sure your side is spotless.

Hence the large number of women.  This is not to deny that powerful women and be abusive toward subordinates.  Words like diva and prima donna make clear that women abusing power is a long established.*  But at least if women are abusive bosses, we can be reasonably confident that their conduct will at least not be sexual.

*Such terms are also unfair in implying that abusive behavior is a particularly female failing, which, of course it is not.  More likely, the terms imply that alpha males are expected to be abusive, while alpha females who are abusive are being shockingly unfeminine.