Thursday, December 13, 2018

Some thoughts on our President

Donald Trump, it seems to me, has never really succeeded at any substantial enterprises. Yes, he built some large luxury buildings many years ago, but he eventually had to give up ownership of most of them and sell lots of units to foreign buyers who apparently used them to hide their cash.  He was the person most responsible for the failure of the US Football League in the 1980s.  His Atlantic City casinos went bankrupt.  He owes his success to his ability to sell the self-image of a glamorous,. brilliant businessman, the image that got him his gig on The Apprentice, which in turn made him enough of a national figure to run for President.  He has never shown any talent for running an effective organization or attracting and retaining capable subordinates--a problem which has gotten worse since he went into politics.   He was very narrowly elected because of the disastrous failings of both of our major political parties, who have lost touch with most of the electorate and no longer generate any loyalty among tens of millions of average Americans.

When he was elected people began to fear an authoritarian dictatorship. I was skeptical about that  from the beginning, and I still am.  Having established a strong connection with both the religious right and the Koch network through Mike Pence, Trump has mostly governed on behalf of the right wing of the Republican Party, which is libertarian, not authoritarian.  He and they are enthusiastically consigning the Progressive era, the New Deal, and much of the Great Society and its aftermath to the ash heap of history, but they want less government, not more.  The Trump Administration is treating illegal immigrants very cruelly, but that situation, once again, has arisen because of the cowardice of our political establishment, which for about three decades has refused to educate the people about the real economic needs of our nation and the source of the labor that feeds our economic growth.

Meanwhile, Trump has cast himself, from January 20 onward, in a particular role: the savior of the country, who copes fearlessly with terrible problems in the face of the treacherous opposition of the Democrats, the media, and a few Republicans.  Yet in fact, he has emerged as a coward and a wimp, especially on the world stage.  Just as he did in his business career, he repeatedly declares victory after sustaining defeats.  After threatening a nuclear attack on North Korea, he reached a deal with Kim Jong Il that lacked any safeguards, and now refuses to admit that Kim is ignoring his vague pledge to denuclearize.  He denounced NAFTA, but the new agreement he has reached does not differ from NAFTA in any fundamental way.  American corporations are ignoring his attempts to keep jobs in the US.   I expect something similar to happen in the China trade controversy--Trump will announce huge Chinese concessions that turn out to be illusory.  He is also telling the country that his famous wall is indeed being built, and that Mexico really is paying for it.  All this will, I think, continue to take a toll on his popularity, although some supporters will remain loyal.

I am even beginning to wonder if Trump enjoys the drama of the Mueller investigation, which allows him to portray himself as an embattled victim, and to keep his supporters riled up against Democrats and the Washington establishment.  He still may, in the next few weeks, try to shut down that investigation, asking his acting AG Matthew Whitaker to fire Rosenstein and Mueller to shut the investigation down.  I didn't see any other reason why he would have installed Whitaker in the first place, but time is running out, now that Trump has announced plans to replace him quickly with a mainstream Republican figure.  On some days Trump also seems to be preparing the country for pardons for Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, too.  But perhaps he really is ready to let the drama of the investigation continue indefinitely, as a useful distraction from his policy failures (and perhaps, it seems from some major economic setbacks that might be just around the corner.)  An argument over a presidential indictment could easily tie up the courts through next year, and there's a good chance that the Supreme Court would side with Trump.  Impeachment would fill up most of the news cycle for many months, and the Republican Senate would never convict, and might even refuse to respond to an impeachment in the House.

The real question the nation faces is whether in the 21st century we can do without a government based on Enlightenment principles of reason and the public good,. something which, at the moment, we do not have.  To get it back the Democrats have to offer it convincingly, and focusing merely on the president's many shortcomings won't do that.  The New York Times still runs excellent news feature stories on what the Republicans are doing to the country and the economy--most recently on how the Koch brothers have persuaded Trump's EPA to roll back and maybe even eliminate mileage standards for automobiles, on the grounds that the nation has more than enough oil for our SUVS and pickups.  But such stories do not penetrate the public consciousness in the cable news/social media era.  Trump is indeed a symptom, not the cause, of our problems.  Focusing on that symptom to the exclusion of all else will not solve them.

2 comments:

Bozon said...

professor
Great post for the special moment we are in.

It seems to me that we have a system and a President based on Enlightenment principles, reason, and on the public welfare or public good.

These principles, of the so called Enlightenment, were already largely passe at the time of the founding of the American republic. But they enshrined them as remnants here.

Our system, our remnants, was not really based on the European Enlightenment as such, which required the old European Order to even make it make sense as an intellectual system, but rather a bastardization of it.

In my view, the enlightenment in its original meaning, ended more or less around the time of the French Revolution, with the challenge which that revolution posed to the old European Order, only within which did the concept of enlightenment even make sense.

It certainly did not begin with it, or continue long after it, although the Old European Order limped along for another hundred or so years in the post enlightenment.

What you call enlightenment, and the age of reason, have a different meaning, one which I call post enlightenment. It is an age of many isms, but enlightenment and the age of reason was not one of them.

All the best

Ed Boyle said...

Lame duck? If all parties, nationally and internationally get used to his tactics and adapt then his 'art of the deal' could become useless like 'shock and awe', turning into 'Sh*t happens'. I.e. when someone takes power with a bag of tricks, which turn out to be limited in value then the results become quickly apparent. Middle management jerks get promoted due to 'peter principle'. But if eveyone is so incompetent I suppose somebody has to get the job like after Brezhnev died, each old man took his turn before dying. If a true generational switch takes place, changing of guard perhaps something real will happen. The boomers are destructive, egoistic, not missionary generation or Washington's cohort. Scorched earth to Atlanta is what we can expect. Post war order is dissolving based on confidence in America, which attempts to maintain authority based on economic, military, population clout that doesn't exist any more percentagewise. An old chinese saying goes that once you need force to keep order you've already lost the game. People police themselves best when rulers are just. The tighter the screws get tightened the hotter the pot will boil.

I mixed so many metaphors here to be in bad literary form. But a picture is worth a thousand words.

Perhaps Billary and The orange one can play poker in the penitentiary together in their twilight years. This won't help the country except for getting equal revenge without massive bloodletting. I think it will all subside when bigger problems come to the fore. How can one hate one's neighbour when you desperately need his help to survive. What circumstance could bring Americans together? They got dealt such a good hand, like prodigal son, they had to blow it. Sometime soon we will be in the pigsty and come to our senses, but when? Market crash, dollar, US treasury default, military defeats too many? Common sense was back then but it got wasted on us. God forgot to give us our portion. Maybe we need more farmers in the population. Dirty hands and sweaty brows don't make truck with nonsense. Read more Yogi Berra. Eternal wisdom ain't found in Boswash corridor or Hollywood. Where did he get the title for 'grapes of wrath', was it Shakespeare or Bible? Hard times a coming, then we'll all pull together. 'We shall overcome some day'. I gotta go buy my Christmas tree now. Happy yuletides.