Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trump: The Worst of All Possible Worlds

Sure enough, Donald Trump's fear-mongering speech is swinging public opinion in his favor.  The latest polls show him nearly pulling even with Clinton.  Nate Silver now shows his chances of winning at 42.3%, with the critical swing states of Ohio, Florida and Iowa all narrowly trending Trump and Nevada too close to call.  Whether this is merely a convention bounce or a permanent trend remains to be seen.  Panic may premature now, just as it was when Trump had his post-nomination bounce.  But we are getting into the home stretch when every little jiggle of the polls really does mean something.

But I will reiterate my view that even if the US really is in as much peril as Trump claims (which it is not), the last thing it would need would be to put Trump in charge, because Trump is utterly and absolutely unqualified to be President.  His complete unfitness for the office, whether in knowledge, temperament, or ethics, is what his opponents should be hammering on just as much as the Republicans focused on bashing Hillary.  Is our country in peril?  Then don't turn it over to a man who knows and cares nothing about any important issue facing it, who can't concentrate more than a few minutes on any subject except his own self-aggrandizement, and who hasn't shown himself competent to run a campaign, let alone a government.  Is our system rife with crony-ism?  The don't turn it over the the biggest crony of them all.  Is Hillary corrupt?  Then don't prefer instead a man whose corruption reaches unprecedented heights.  Is Hillary wrong?  Well, at least she is wrong within normal parameters.

Trump is not a normal candidate.  This was acknowledged in the primaries, but is largely forgotten now.  He is being treated as a perfectly normal candidate as the polls above show.

Sometimes Trump almost seems to be deliberately combining the capital flaws of all our previous Presidents.  Someone on a comments thread accused GW Bush of being:

  • More egotistical than Johnson
  • More vindictive than Nixon
  • Stupider than Ford
  • Less competent than Carter
  • Lazier than Reagan
  • Less honest than Clinton
(They probably had some unfavorable comparison to his father, but I don't remember what it was).  Well, in the clear light of hindsight, this is grossly unfair to Bush.  (Also to Ford, who was not stupid at all).  But it is a perfect description of Trump.  Consider:
  • More egotistical than Johnson.  Check.  Even his supporters would presumably not dispute this.
  • More vindictive than Nixon.  Again, check.  He has been openly threatening to use the power of the federal government against personal enemies if elected.
  • Stupider than Ford.  This one calls for some qualifications.  First of all, Ford got the unfair reputation of being stupid, but it was never true.  As for Trump, I certainly don't think he could have gotten so rich by being stupid.  But, as with Ben Carson, intelligence is not indivisible. Carson is literal brain surgeon, but that doesn't mean he knows anything about public policy, any more that than even our best any most brilliant President (choose for yourself which one) was qualified to perform brain surgery.  Trump is obviously highly intelligent in terms of exploiting all publicity to his advantage and capitalizing on name recognition.  In terms of parting fools from their money, he is a rare genius.  But in terms of his knowledge of public policy, he is a world-class ignoramus.  So, yeah, take whatever President was least conversant in public policy, and Trump is considerable less knowledgeable.
  • Less competent than Carter.  Let anyone who doubts this just look at the utter hash he has made of his campaign.  Granted, he easily coasted to victory in the primary despite his utter lack of a campaign structure, and my win the general election as well despite this deficiency.  But if he can't even manage a campaign, consider how well he will manage a government.
  • Lazier than Reagan.  This one, too, calls for some qualification, because it again raises the question of how Trump could have gotten so rich by being lazy.  Reagan was a notoriously disengaged, hands-off manager.  Trump certainly seems willing to work hard in terms of giving speeches, pressing the flesh, and the like.  But in terms of the nitty gritty work of actually learning about policy, Trump has made amply clear that he has no interest whatever in doing this.  In fact, he apparently intends to let his Vice President set all domestic and foreign policy while he works at "Making America great again," presumably by making speeches to adoring audiences.  There is a certain trade-off to be made in levels of engagement.  One reason for Carter's legendary incompetence appears to be that he failed to recognize just how much more difficult and complex the US government is than the government of Georgia.  As a result, he failed to delegate enough and took on more than he could handle.  Ronald Reagan, by contrast, delegated too much and let his advisers run out of control.  It led to a different kind of incompetence.
  • Less honest than Clinton.  Trump has taken lying to unheard-of heights.  Politifact rates his statements as 4% true, 10% mostly true, 15% half true, 16% mostly false, 37% false, and 17% pants on fire.  In other words, over half the things he says are completely and utterly false, and 70% are at least mostly false.
As for George W. Bush, in the clear light of hindsight, his capital flaw was his incuriosity or, if you prefer, his willingness to ignore the evidence and go with the gut.  He knew in his gut that Saddam Hussein just had to be involved with Al-Qaeda, just had to have a huge stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and just had to have re-started his nuclear program.  And he knew in his gut that we just had to be welcomed as liberators and that removing Saddam Hussein just had to work a democratic and US friendly transformation in the Middle East.  If there was no evidence to support any of these beliefs, that was simply the result of incompetence by our intelligence agencies or Saddam's skill in covering his tracks.  This certainty was matched by Bush's confidence that there just couldn't be an insurgency in Iraq when our intentions were so good.  Such confidence in his gut in the absence of any evidence proved disastrous.  But here again, Trump is more incurious, more fact-challenged, more confident that his gut instincts are superior to facts and evidence, whatever you want to call it, than GW Bush.

What is Obama's capital flaw?  Some might say when he first ran for President that it was his lack of experience, as he was only a freshman Senator.  Trump, by contrast, has no experience in government whatever, so he compares unfavorably to Obama in that regard.  

For a long time, many Republicans talked about Obama's teleprompter problem.  By this they meant that he was just an empty suit, reading lines from a teleprompter and not actually knowing what he was talking about.  Their main reason for this assumption was that Obama genuinely did stumble in debate and in more spontaneous formats.  But this was because Obama tended to over-think in those situations, rather than because he was uninformed.  With practice, he got a lot better at the more spontaneous give-and-take of debate. There was some truth in the accusation, though, that Obama was an empty suit who made people feel good about themselves without actually committing to anything, and that he thus let people project their aspirations onto him without actually standing for anything.  That necessarily meant that once in power he would disappoint.  Well, Trump has a teleprompter problem, but it is exactly the opposite.  He thrives in the spontaneous give-and-take of debate, but is not cut out for reading speeches from a teleprompter.  On the other hand, he really is uninformed.  Obama's opponents falsely accused him of reading speeches off the teleprompter without understanding them.  When Trump reads speeches off the teleprompter, he really doesn't understand them.  He has taken clear and definite, though not very practical, positions on immigration and trade.  As for other issues, he really doesn't have a position, but instead channels, not people's aspirations, but their resentments.  

So Trump is less experienced and more of an empty suit than Obama.

Clearly Trump has capitalized on corruption as Hillary Clinton's capital flaw.  But given the stories that have come out about his business practices, it is clear that Hillary is a babe in the woods by comparison.  Indeed, he seems to have no concept of the public interest as separate from his private interests.  Looking back for a point of comparison to the level of corruption Trump is promising, there is really none in US history.  Historically, our most corrupt administrations are considered to have been Warren G. Harding and Ulysses S. Grant.  But the corruption in the Harding Administration appears to have been limited to his Secretary of the Interior and not implicated the President or his appointees in general.  Grant, by contrast, ran an administration rife with corruption from top to bottom, but he personally was honest.  The only point of comparison I can think of for Trump is patrimonialism, i.e.,  "a type of rule in which the ruler does not distinguish between personal and public patrimony and treats matters and resources of state as his personal affair."  Those seem to be the terms in which Trump thinks, although I have some confidence in our institutions and their ability to prevent the worst abuses.

Throwing in other candidates in recent times, Trump seems to exceed all their flaws as well.  He is certainly less qualified for office than Sarah Palin.  I hearken back to when Paul Krugman said that anyone claiming to believe all the Republican doctrine would have to be either completely clueless or completely cynical.  He classified Romney as cynical with Bachman, Perry and Caine as clueless.  He ignored Trump's brief, ill-fated run.  At the time, I said Trump was cynical, but might manage a two-fer by being clueless as well.  Well, now we have our answer.  He is more cynical than Romney and more clueless than Bachman, Perry and Caine combined.  

The only recent candidate I have trouble comparing him unfavorably to is Ross Perot, with his insane, paranoid rantings about Republicans disrupting his daughter's wedding and circulating doctored photos of her.  The whole thing was so out there as to sound like true, clinical insanity.  And I am not yet ready to say that Trump is as clinically paranoid as Perot.  But, at the same time . . . Well, there is his flirtation with the birthers.  And with Alex Jones.  And his utterly bizarre stories about Ted Cruz's father having something to do with Lee Harvey Oswald (the main reason Cruz refused to endorse him).  So he might be giving even Perot a run for his money.

So there is my assessment of Donald Trump.  He combines all the worst features of our recent Presidents and candidates, and even of some harking back.  He is:
  • More egotistical than Johnson
  • More vindictive than Nixon
  • Stupider than Ford (who really wasn't stupid)
  • Less competent than Carter
  • Lazier than Reagan
  • Less honest than Clinton
  • More reality-challenged than G.W. Bush
  • More of an empty suit than Obama
  • More corrupt than Hillary (or Harding, or Grant . . . )
  • Less qualified than Palin
  • More clueless than Bachman, Perry or Caine
  • More cynical than Romney
  • And almost as paranoid, in the true clinical sense, as Ross Perot
And he stands almost a 50/50 chance of being our next President.

No comments:

Post a Comment