Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Running Government Like a Business

Lots of people voted for Donald Trump because they saw government as dysfunctional and wanted to see Trump run government "like a business."  This is a frequent fantasy about businessmen candidates.

There are a number of problems with running government like a business, most of which amount to that the two are not the same.  A business's goal is to make money.  Most of its decisions are about how best to achieve that goal and do not need to take ideology or complex public policy tradeoffs into account.  Businesses do not have an independent legislature or judicial system.  Their objectives are a whole lot more nebulous.  And so forth.

Nonetheless, in at least one thing running a government and running a business are similar.  They have somewhat similar demands of administrative competence.  Consider, then, how many right-wingers want to run to see government run and ask if you want to see those principles applied to a business.

The business recognizes that success means pleasing their customers. (OK).  The business also recognizes that most customers are not experts in their product and do not usually choose the product after careful deliberation, thorough weighing of the facts, and consultation of experts to guide them. Most customers choose their product on the basis of snap judgments and gut-level intuitions without extended investigation.

The leaders of the business therefore decide that in order to show solidarity with customers and properly relate to them, business leaders should do the same thing.  They should shun all expertise in the product as "out of touch" and "elitist."  They should refrain from careful deliberation and thorough weighing of the fact for fear of being "inauthentic."  They should shun all experts and tout ignorance as proof of virtue.  they should make all decisions on the basis of snap judgments and gut-level intuition and avoid any extended investigation of -- well, anything.

So, based on these principles and the need for fresh blood, they select a new CEO, one with no experience in the field whatever, no knowledge of it, and no interest in learning anything about it. Their new CEO not only knows nothing about their field of business and has neither the desire nor the ability to learn it, he deliberately sets out to "drain the swamp" of anyone who does have any knowledge or experience.  He dismisses not only knowledge and expertise, but even facts and evidence as "out of touch" and "elitist" and insists on eschewing them altogether from the decision making process.

Instead of doing anything so "elitist" and "inauthentic" as learning anything, the new CEO makes a fetish of being "strong," "decisive" and "principled."  Being "strong" and "decisive" means making decisions as quickly as possible, with as little input and preparation as possible, based solely on impulse.  Being "principled" means taking these decisions as far as possible while shunning all nuance and detail-work.  In government, that means making a travel ban take effect immediately without consulting anyone who might know anything about the details of implementation, and without any exceptions, such as current green card holders or translators for the US army.  In business, I suppose, it would mean that if you decide, say, that Atlantic City casinos are the wave of the future, building as many casinos as possible with as little foresight and advance planning as possible, while liquidating all other assets because spreading your risks shows a lack of "principle."

And anyone wanting to run government like a business and also making a fetish of "strong" leadership that ignores the experts and goes with the gut -- consider just how long a business run on those lines would last.

Would I Rule Anything Out about Trump and Flynn?

In my last post I said that so far as Trump and Flynn nothing could be ruled out.  This was based on ruling out a lot of things such as the possibility that the might be Russian spies, only to find that it wasn't as crazy as it seemed at first glance.  So nothing can be ruled out about those two.  Nothing whatever?  Well, if someone proposed the theory that Trump and Flynn were actually shape-shifting lizard people from outer space attempting to masquerade as actual human beings but not doing a very good job, I suppose I would dismiss that out of hand.  Although I must admit that it would explain a lot.

Reflections on Flynn's Departure

So let's get this straight.

Between the election and the inauguration, Michael Flynn, then Trump's prospective National Security Adviser, called the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, and urged him not to retaliate against US sanctions because the sanctions would be lifted under Trump.

Point one:  These conversations may have been a technical violation of the Logan Act, which forbids any private citizen from interfering in U.S. foreign policy.  Personally, I support the underlying purpose of the Logan Act, but no one has ever actually been prosecuted under it.

Michael Flynn
Point two:  Even if you do support prosecutions under the Logan Act, prospective Trump officials are not just any private citizens.  They were soon-to-be officials in an incoming administration who were going to be setting foreign policy in a matter of weeks.  It was therefore reasonable for them to contact officials in foreign governments to discuss what U.S. policy was to be.

Point three:  This was not just any conversation with foreign officials about future U.S. policy. The Russians had been hacking the Democrats' e-mails and publishing them in order to sway the election in favor of Trump.  The Obama administration was imposing sanctions specifically to punish them for the interference in the election.  The beneficiary of that election was proposing to reverse the punishment.  I suppose it is asking too much to expect an incoming President to punish the people who (however illegally) helped him to win.  Nonetheless, the whole thing is unsettling. Russian intelligence hacked Democratic servers and released the contents in a manner calculated to help Trump win.  Several members of the Trump campaign (including Flynn) had "repeated contacts" with Russian intelligence.  No one has proven that these things are related.  But it is hard not to be suspicious.

Point four:  Did Trump know about the conversations?  Well, duh!  Look, this isn't something like  Iran-Contra, in which rogue intelligence agents attempted to implement a policy that they knew the President wanted, but without letting him in on the details of what they were doing.  It was plausible then that these were rogue agents acting without official authorization because they were doing something secret that was supposed to be concealed.  Lifting sanctions on Russia is not the sort of thing that can be hidden.  If Flynn's proposal to lift sanctions was not undertaken with Trump's approval, then he was a rogue operative who should have been out on his ear the moment he was found out.  No President could possibly condone this type of unauthorized activity that are a direct challenge to his authority.  (Of course, I suppose given that these are Trump and Flynn we are talking about, nothing can be ruled out altogether.  But really!)

Point five:  In the current leaky-as-a-sieve administration, we now know an astonishing amount about what happened.  The conversation was monitored by the NSA, as is routine for the Russian ambassador in the U.S.  Still, the NSA has an extraordinary amount of incoming material to sort through and could easily have missed this one had Putin not refrained from retaliating against U.S. sanctions.  This drew attention to the conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador. Still- President Obama apparently learned of the conversation on January 5, seven days after it took place. Five days later, on January 12, the calls became public knowledge.  It was then that Flynn denied (to the incoming Vice President) that he had discussed anything substantive.  On January 19, FBI Director James Comey made the argument against telling Trump what they knew lest it jeopardize the investigation.  Wrap your head around that for a moment.  Comey was essentially urging that the entire intelligence community go rogue and conceal from an incoming President an important foreign policy initiative by his prospective National Security Adviser.  It was on January 26 that Trump was informed of what he (presumably) knew perfectly well anything.  The only difference was that he now knew that the intelligence community knew.

Point six:  It was not until the whole thing went public that Trump finally saw fit to move against his National Security Adviser.  Which means that either he allowed a rogue operative to defy his authority until publicly caught at it, or Flynn was acting with his authority all along.  Even granting that there is no accounting for either Trump or Flynn, I think we can safely assume it much more likely that Flynn's actions were authorized.

Point seven:  I was one of a number of people who thought for a time that Trump could not fire Flynn for fear he would spill the beans.  But its seems a safe assumption that the "beans" are every bit as incriminating from Flynn as they are for Trump, so I think he can be counted on to keep his mouth shut.

The good new is the Flynn is gone.  Michael Flynn is a functioning paranoid -- one who lives in a fantasy world and sees alarming patterns everywhere that don't actually exist.  Kevin Drum, keeping a "swamp watch" on all of Trump's nominees, rated whether they were part of the swamp, rich, crazy, or scary.  Most were denizens of the swamp and most who were not (and some who were) were filthy rich.  The good news is, only two were crazy, only two were scary, and Flynn had the dubious distinction of being the only one to be both crazy and scary.  (Steve Bannon, ranked as merely scary, wants to know why he isn't considered crazy, too).  Aside from being both crazy and scary, he also has suspicious ties to Russia -- all in all, a disaster as National Security Adviser.  We can hope to see him replaced with someone more normal.

It should also be noted that there were four members of the Trump campaign with suspicious Russian ties -- Roger Stone, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn.  Stone and Page were fairly minor figures and are now safely out.  Manafort was campaign manager for a time, but was also forced out and held no role in the Trump Administration.  With the departure of Michael Flynn, the Russia clique appears to be gone.

The bad news is that Steve Bannon is still in the White House, along with Steve Miller.  And, of course, Donald Trump.  Furthermore, Drum has also speculated on Flynn's future career.  With the Heritage Foundation?  CNN as a national security analyst?  RT?  Infowars?  The worse news here is that in some of these forums, he just might still exercise some influence with Trump.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Donald Trump's Flying Circus: Proof That He Lacks the Cunning or Discipline to Be a Fascist

Still, I think we can take comfort in at least one thing.  The combination between Trump's obsession with the size of crowds at his inauguration and the black-clad, masked, crowbar-wielding rioters have proven that he really is just a petulant 5-year-old in a 70-year-old man's body, without the cunning or discipline to be a fascist, or even a wannabe.

So what would a real fascist or at least a fascist wannabe, someone like Steve Bannon do when confronted with the combination of disappointing crowds at his inauguration and black-clad rioters burning things down?  Especially if the day after his inauguration there was a huge, peaceful protest march dwarfing the size of his inauguration crowds?  Obviously, he would turn the subject away from the respective crowd sizes and play up the rioters.  That would be especially true if he was already harping on the theme of American as a smoldering hellscape on the verge of complete social breakdown that only he could save.  Riots at his inauguration would play into this narrative very nicely.  Only a fool would decline to make use of such a gift when given to him.

A real fascist, or even a wannabe wouldn't talk about disappointing crowd sizes.  He certainly wouldn't offend the still-free press by telling the Washington new corp, many of whom had personally been present in the farther reaches of his inauguration and seen the empty stands, that they shouldn't believe their lying eyes.  He would talk about the outrageous riots that had taken place, Instead of having his press secretary make of fool of himself by claiming the crowds were of record size, he would have his press secretary show close-up pictures of the riots.  He would present peaceful Trump supporters beaten by protesters and have them interviewed as martyrs.  He would imply without actually saying (and therefore setting of fact checkers) that if his crowds were disappointing, it was only because the rioters were keeping them away and point out (accurately) that they were trying to block access to the inaugural.  And above all, he would regularly juxtapose talk and images of the Women's March with talk and images of the rioters, all creating the false impression that the Women's Marchers were the rioters while maintaining plausible deniability that he was actually making such an allegation and allowing him and his supporters to be outraged that when anyone accused him of trying to create that impression.*

But no!  Donald Trump instead becomes obsessed with proving that really he had a record-setting crowd, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.  And this isn't some short-lived obsession that he relieved the next day by having his press secretary give a statement to the press demanding that they ignore the evidence of their lying eyes, and raising it with the CIA when visiting in an attempt to mend fences.  No, he just can't seem to drop the subject, any more than his alleged Electoral College landslide, or the supposed illegal voters who denied him a popular majority.

It should by now be apparently that there is no grand strategy behind Trump's outbursts and tweets, or he would do it better.  (See above).  What you see is what you get.  And what we are seeing is a pathetic narcissist with a pathological craving for approval, utterly unable to handle the demands of the job, and too thin-skinned to take the criticism that invariably goes with it.  Trump is no fascist, just an overgrown child.

*Look, for instance, at how skillfully George W. Bush juxtaposed references to 9-11, to terrorism in general, to Iraq, to taking the fight to the enemy, and to Saddam Hussein.  He never came right out and said that Saddam was behind 9-11, but he made a very strong impression to that effect without actually saying anything that fact checkers could call him on.  Or look at David Frum still tries to conflate Women's Marchers -- peaceful and light-hearted, if a bit vulgar and raunchy for conservative tastes -- with actual rioters.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another Reason the Anarchists May Have Avoided the Women's March

Berkeley riots
So, our side has manages to maintain peace and decorum at Women's Marches across the country, and protests in international airports and at the anti-ban protests (surprisingly large and widespread, given the short notice), violence has erupted once again.  Last time was at the Inauguration.  This time was in Berkeley (naturally), at a University protest against Breitbart shock jock Milo  Yiannopoulos speaking on campus,  Protesters attempted to shut the event down.  Most were peaceful, but they were joined by the usual black-clad, mask-wearing, club-wielding thugs, who showed up after dark and proceeded to riot, smash things, and set things on fire.  This occurred against a background of violent assaults on Trump supporters on and around campus.

So, why the peaceful protests up till now, yet violent at the Inauguration and now on the Berkeley campus?  The most obvious answer is to roll one's eyes and say, "Well, that's the Bay Area for you." Oakland and Berkeley are always having riots about something.  (Seattle is no slouch, either).  But the Women's March in the Bay Area went off without a trace of violence or disturbance.

Another answer may be that the Women's March was a daytime event, while the riots happened by night.  And the anonymity of darkness does seem to attract violent protesters.  But the Inauguration Day riots were well underway in the daylight.

Another possible answer might be that people fighting for openness and inclusion are not prone to rioting and violence.  The problem with that self-serving narrative is that the anarchist thugs really do see themselves in those terms and define themselves as "anti-fascists."  Nice way of showing it, guys!

Another answer, and one I was inclined to start out with, was that Women's Marches didn't have an actual enemy on hand to fight, and so lacked appeal to people going out looking for trouble.  The Inauguration (obviously) had plenty of Trump supporters on hand to tangle with, and the Berkeley Riots had Yiannopoulos.  But there have been pro-Trump rallies going on, not large, but also undisturbed (so far).  And I note the article on the Women's March in the Bay Area mentions that the march encountered a right-to-life march, without tension.

So I am inclined to a slight variation on the theme.   The rioters seem to show up when there is not just something to protest, and not just an enemy present, but an enemy they actively want to shut down, even though engaged in a clearly lawful activity.

The several times riots broke out among anti-Trump protesters on the campaign trail occurred when the rioters were actively trying to stop a Trump event and prevent peaceful and lawful supporters from attending a perfectly lawful rally.

The demonstrations that degenerated into riots following the the election were attempts to overturn a lawful election result.

The Inauguration Day Riots included attempts to block entrances and keep lawful supporters from attending.

And the Berkeley Riots were clear attempts to shut down Yiannopoulos' lawful, though odious, speech.

I can only assume that occasional pro-Trump demonstrators or right-to-lifers are simply not seen as a danger in the same sense.

Obviously the rioters and anarchists have no concept of free speech or freedom of assembly that must be extended to even the most hateful people.  Our side cannot forget this distinction, and must keep reminding people of it as often as necessary.  Up till now, the anti-Trump demonstrators have not had to deal with counter-demonstrators.  That can't remain the case indefinitely.  Sooner or later the counter-demonstrators will show up.  When that happens, we have to be ready to keep things peaceful.  Fortunately, the police are getting good at keeping hostile sides apart.  Unfortunately, they are not infallible.

Other pieces of advice to our side to avoid trouble.  Do not schedule protests around people or events that some trouble makers might want to shut down.  Schedule them the day before, or a safe distance away.  It may cut down on the people we might want to shut down seeing us, but so what?  There will be plenty of other times and places to be seen without attracting the thugs.  No night time events.  Daylight is no sure protection, but it helps.  No masks.  We aren't afraid to show our faces.  No clubs, crowbars, or other such weapons.  And no blocking or shutting down lawful events.  That way lies the end of freedom.

Monday, February 6, 2017

To All Offended Conservatives

Doubtless there are more, but I have seen three of these now, columns by anti-Trump conservatives who have watched the Women's March and other anti-Trump protests and agree that it is right to be out protesting Trump, but just wish that the marchers would be more conservative.  They want the marchers to reach out to them and to be their kind of people and are seriously annoyed that opponents of Trump tend to be liberal.  They want a nice, conservative aesthetic and are convinced that it would draw more followers, because the number of followers these marches are getting now just aren't enough.  

On January 24 David Brooks complained that they focused on “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change,” issues that only matter to "upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities," when they should obviously be focusing on Trump-voter issues like immigration, job offshoring, and overseas commitments.  Or, better yet, on the threat to "globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order."  They should get better organized and act through institutional channels.  And they should offer "red, white and blue alternative patriotism, a modern, forward-looking patriotism based on pluralism, dynamism, growth, racial and gender equality and global engagement."  He is rather unclear on what this would look like, but presumably it would mean continuing to acknowledge that capitalists can do no wrong, fighting lots of wars overseas, flying the flag a lot, and adopting all the traditional conservative symbols.  In short, a lot like the program of the Republican elite.

On February 4, Ross Douthat wrote that just as Trump's (and Palin's etc.) claim to be the Real America omits about half the population, so too does anti-Trump protesters' insistence that "that's not who we are" omits that half of America that supports Trump.  He wants anti-Trump protesters to stop insisting on the narrative immigrants, Emma Lazarus, and civil rights and recognize that half the country still relates to the old narrative:
They still see themselves more as settlers than as immigrants, identifying with the Pilgrims and the Founders, with Lewis and Clark and Davy Crockett and Laura Ingalls Wilder. They still embrace the Iliadic mythos that grew up around the Civil War, prefer the melting pot to multiculturalism, assume a Judeo-Christian civil religion rather the “spiritual but not religious” version.
To defeat Trumpism, rather than just Trump, he says, they will have to find a way to give a more complete narrative that the other half can relate to.  Of course, he gives no suggestion whatever what such a narrative would look like.*

And now David Frum has come out with a piece of his own, very similar to Brooks' piece.  Like Brooks, he says that marching is not enough, you have to get organized.  Though he acknowledges the "orderly commitment and resolution" of the Women's March, he just can't resist equating parts that merely offend his sensibilities (the absence of conservative women like military women, police women, and pro-lifers from the lineup) with actual "black-masked crowbar thugs" of the type that rioted at the inauguration and at Berkeley -- and were totally absent among the millions who march on January 21, or at the anti-Muslim ban demonstrations since.**  Frum wants the marchers to carry the flag, to begin events with the Pledge of Allegiance and end with the Star Spangled Banner.  He recommends that members limit themselves to a single theme, one that can be fit onto a bumper sticker (actually he would allow members an entire tweet) and above all, one that "the vast American mainstream" (which tends to coincide with anti-Trump conservatives) would relate to.  In other words, nothing that could be considered partisan an nothing that your "Rush Limbaugh listening brother-in-law" would not agree with.

I think what all these guys are saying is, "Hey, what about me?  I hate Trump too, but I just don't fit into your event."  To which I can only say, there is certainly a conservative case to be made against Trump.  Many conservative intellectuals have articulated it very well.  They didn't make a whole lot of converts.  If you want a march of conservatives against Trump that dresses in red, white and blue, flies that flag, sings the Star Spangled Banner and focuses on issues that anti-Trump conservatives care about, by all means feel free.  Just don't be surprised if not many people show up.  I'm guessing that no amount of flag waving will attract that Limbaugh-listening brother-in-law.  Sorry.  In the meantime, maybe you will just have to deal with the anti-Trump movement you have and not the anti-Trump movement you wish you had.

The anti-Trump movement is organizing.  It is flooding Congressional offices with calls and showing up at events.  People are taking up the humdrum everyday tasks of getting organized.  They are expressly taking the Tea Party as a model.  But you know what about the Tea Party?  It was polarizing.  It didn't welcome liberals.  It initially claimed to be non-partisan, but that pose wasn't convincing for very long.  And it was mad as hell.  The overall mood of the anti-Trump movement has been exuberant and joyous.  It uses a lot of humor.  It is also rather vulgar at times, but then again, if vulgarity bothers you, then you should hate Trump.  This light-hearted tone appears to offend conservatives because it lacks seriousness. But they overlook its huge advantage -- it isn't threatening.

And yes, many of its central concerns are traditional liberal concerns.  What did you expect?  They are what Trump opponents care about.  And members are, in fact, splitting into sub-groups focused on different issues, but under the broad anti-Trump umbrella.  And I don't think they are as out-of-touch or liberal or elitist and anti-Trump conservatives think.

Douthat wants anti-Trump protesters to come up with a unifying narrative of this country that embraces the traditional narrative but rejects Trump.  Might I suggest, then, that instead of complaining that Trump's liberal opponents aren't coming up with such a narrative, that he work on it himself?  In the meantime, the Emma Lazarus narrative has gotten the Administration to modify its ban to let in at least green card holders and people with valid visas, to have the entire ban suspended, to convince a lot of Muslims that Americans really don't hate them, and has swung at least some public opinion in their direction.  Come back when your unifying narrative can do as much.

Brooks want protesters to stop focusing on trivia like healthcare and start addressing the threat to "globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order."  These things are so large and so abstract that he doesn't even faintly suggest what he has in mind.

Frum is more pragmatic and thinks protesters should stick to something more immediate and concrete, something that can actually be achieved by a law passed by Congress.  (Sensible).  He wants to address the unique threats that Trump poses to our system -- his unparalleled corrupting and his possible Russian ties.  I worry about those, too.  But I think it is time Frum faced facts and acknowledged that those just aren't on most people's front burner.  There was ample exposure of the corruption during the election, but that didn't stop huge numbers of people from voting for Trump because they thought he was more honest than Clinton.  And I don't doubt that our conservative elites are very concerned about Trump's Russian ties.  I share their concern.  But no one else seems to see those ties as a deal-breaker.  Either they hate Trump just fine regardless, or they shrug off the whole thing.

Actually, I think the protesters are showing a lot more political savvy than their anti-Trump conservative critics.  Financial corruption and Russian ties are just too abstract to matter to you average Trump voter.

But why are his opponents calling for women's marches, dressing in pink, and wearing pussy hats? Because the one thing that actually did hurt Trump with supporters was the tape where he bragged about grabbing women by the "pussy."  Yes, Trump whose signature trait, whose whole core appeal was that he never backed down and never apologized; Trump, who freely owned up to tax evasion, stiffing contractors, and gaming the system every way possible; Trump, who openly called on the Russians to hack his opponent's e-mails; Trump, who joked that his followers would literally let him get away with murder -- that Trump attempted to dissociate himself from his remarks about sexual assault and assured everyone that he had never actually done what he boasted about doing.

And the other issues the protesters are starting to raise are more partisan than Trump's conservative critics would care for, but also more real and concrete and likely to mean something to ordinary voters. The anti-ban protests have driven home that some of those scary Muslims Trump wants us to fear are little old ladies on walkers.  Obamacare repeal protests are opening people's eyes to all the people who stand to lose their health insurance.  If Trump makes a serious immigration crackdown and starts mass deportations, protesters will show people that many deportees are quite sympathetic people.  If Trump's protectionist policies disrupt supply chains and hurt manufacturing jobs, at least in the short run, have no doubt that his opponents will be on hand to make sure that everybody notices.

All of this may be partisan.  It may be liberal.  It may be polarizing.  It may just not be the sort of constitutional issue that anti-Trump conservatives care about.  But it is the sort of thing that will shrink Trump's popularity to the point that people might actually be willing to listen to these other, more abstract issue, and might give these more abstract issues some traction.

*FWIW, my other blog makes at least an attempt. 
**And just so we are clear, I am 100% in agreement about the need to keep out crowbar wielding thugs.  And it probably is fair to say that even if the thugs only show up at a small number of events, they can stigmatize all of them.  For that reason, I am completely completely support prosecutors who want to throw the book at rioters, bringing charges with up to a ten-year sentence.  Some on my side have protested, and I certainly do not condone prosecuting mere bystanders.  But so far as I am concerned, cracking down hard on small riots now is a good way of preventing bigger riots later on and is a good general deterrent, so I favor it.  I do think that Frum's advice on how to keep rioters out of your march, "If you see guys with crowbars in the vicinity of your meeting, detain them yourselves and call the cops," seriously underestimates the difficulty and danger of making a citizen's arrest of crowbar-wielding thugs.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why the Salacious Parts Matter

So, clearly the Steele memos contain a a lot more than just the salacious parts.  In fact, it is almost enough to cry out for an arson, murder and jaywalking joke.  As in, the Steele Dossier accuses Trump of being a Russian intelligence asset since 2008, receiving regular information on his opponents from Russian hacks, coordinating political strategy of the leaks with the Russians, paying their hackers, accepting a massive bribe (19% interest in their largest oil company) to lift sanctions, condoning Russian aggression and calling into question our commitment to allies in exchange for illegally hacked information on opponents, and peeing on the bed.

I'm pretty sure that last is the only one that does not count as a high crime or misdemeanor, yet it is the one he is purportedly being blackmailed for.  Aren't the others more than ample grounds for blackmail?

At the same time the salacious parts of the file, although among the least serious of the allegations, have a real impact in a different sort of way.  They expose Trump to mockery and ridicule.  Trump famously joked/bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose support, and there may be something to it.  He would blithely deny having done so in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  Some of his hardcore supporters would believe him.  Some would applaud him for really showing those Manhattan elitists what we think of them in the Real America.  And some would have misgivings, but when the liberals responded with outrage, they would conclude that anything that pissed off liberals so much must be good.  And that has ultimately been the source of Trump's appeal to his hardcore supporters. He is mad at all the same people they are.  He has all the right enemies.  He isn't politically correct.  He relishes giving offense to all the right people.  And  he drives liberals to all those expressions of righteous indignation that Trump supporters find so offensive.

Thus anything that provokes righteous indignation on the part of liberals is seen as good, even if Trump supporters wouldn't normally approve of it.  Egregious corruption, stirring up racism, stiffing contractors, ripping off investors, tax evasion, routine sexual assault, bragging that he could literally get away with murder, being a Russian spy -- all those things provoke righteous indignation in liberals because liberals see them as evil.  Of course, Trump supporters saw those things as evil too, at least until Trump did them.  Then, seeing how offended liberals got about them, Trump supporters decided that any evil in these things was outweighed by the offense they gave to liberals.

But hiring Russian prostitutes to whizz on Obama's bed is something that strikes liberals as not so much evil as merely gross.  And, as Jonathan Haidt et al have commented, liberals are less likely than conservatives to equate disgusting with immoral.   Instead of righteous indignation, liberals have responded with a veritable storm of pee jokes.  Like, "Donald Trump, the peeple's President." Or "He must be pissed!" and "I can't wait to see what he tweets in the wee hours."  Or my own favorite, "It's all a big mistake.  What he asked for a golden shower, he thought he was talking to his plumbing contractor."  And it turns out that the number of double entendres you can get out of this is extraordinary, much better than the small hands jokes.  Nor is this like the snobbish sort of ridicule over Trump's ignorance or bad taste that so outraged his supporters because they suspected (with some justification) that it was aimed at them.  Trump's supporters may not know any more about public policy than he does, and they may admire his vulgar display and wish they could afford it, but I am guessing that most Trump supporters don't fantasize about hiring Russian prostitutes to whizz on Obama's bed -- or if they do they certainly wouldn't admit it in public.

So, could anything hurt Trump's standing in the eyes of his supporters?  I have said, only half-jokingly, that the only thing I could think of that would hurt him would be to be caught strangling kittens.  But doing something that makes him look ridiculous, or weak, or disgusting, just might do the trick.

Now all we need are more fear of stairs jokes.