Sunday, January 14, 2018

My favourite recent anti-Trump reading

Well it's been a busy couple of weeks in Trump conversation in the media.  

Here are some recent passages and links that I thought rang very true:

Mike Allen at Axios made the case that, even though Fire and Fury is a book very high on "truthiness" rather than pinned down journalistic accuracy (and fellow Axios writer Jonathon Swan has complained long and hard about that aspect of the book), it does paint a big picture which Allen and other journalists fully accept as accurate.   How could it not be so when so many people in the White House were leaking against Trump to the press right from the start of this woeful presidency?:
...there are two things he gets absolutely right, even in the eyes of White House officials who think some of the book's scenes are fiction: his spot-on portrait of Trump as an emotionally erratic president, and the low opinion of him among some of those serving him.
But read the whole thing, if you missed it.

 * David Frum's summary of why Trump has supporters at all is spot on:
In 2016, there were voters who genuinely, in good faith, believed that Donald Trump was a capable business leader, moderate on social issues, who cared about the troubles of working class white America—and would do something to help. There may well still be some people who believe this—but nowhere near enough to sustain a presidency.

What sustains Trump now is the support of people who know what he is, but back him anyway. Republican political elites who know him for what he is, but who back him because they believe they can control and use him; conservative-media elites who sense what he is, but who delight in the culture wars he provokes; rank-and-file conservatives who care more about their grievances and hatreds than the governance of the country.
*  Also in the NYT, Nicholas Kristof summarises Trump's threat to democracy, which has always been clear to those not blinded by culture war point scoring and conspiracy think:
Two political scientists specializing in how democracies decay and die have compiled four warning signs to determine if a political leader is a dangerous authoritarian:

1. The leader shows only a weak commitment to democratic rules. 2. He or she denies the legitimacy of opponents. 3. He or she tolerates violence. 4. He or she shows some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media.

“A politician who meets even one of these criteria is cause for concern,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both professors at Harvard, write in their important new book, “How Democracies Die,” which will be released next week.

“With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century,” they say, which sounds reassuring. Unfortunately, they have one update: “Donald Trump met them all.”

We tend to assume that the threat to democracies comes from coups or violent revolutions, but the authors say that in modern times, democracies are more likely to wither at the hands of insiders who gain power initially through elections. That’s what happened, to one degree or another, in Russia, the Philippines, Turkey, Venezuela, Ecuador, Hungary, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Poland and Peru.
Kristof says he is not saying that he thinks American institutions won't successfully thwart Trump's anti democratic tendencies, but he does worry:
It matters when Trump denounces the “deep state Justice Department,” calls Hillary Clinton a “criminal” and urges “jail” for Huma Abedin, denounces journalists as the “enemy of the American people” and promises to pay the legal fees of supporters who “beat the crap” out of protesters. With such bombast, Trump is beating the crap out of American norms. 

And the most distressing thing about Trump is the demonstration of how many people for selfish and often shallow reasons (Ha! look at how he sticks it to Leftists) will happily live - and even endorse - such anti-democratic rhetoric and behaviour in the so-called leader of the free world.  

*   I was surprised about the extent of some of the relatively moderate commentator push back arising from the deficiencies as journalism of  Michael Wolff's book:  in particular David Brooks in the New York Times actually coming to Trump's quasi-defence, noting that many people have had meetings with him where he at least came across as something less than a drooling madman.   Great!   Jonathan Chait makes a somewhat snarky, but accurate, response:
Four days ago, David Brooks broke the news in the New York Times that President Trump is actually a sober-minded and competent public servant. “People who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised,” he reported. “They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by.”

It is safe to say that this column has not aged well in the short time since its publication.
Chait goes back over the remarkable story of how Trump demonstrated with certainly how he takes his lead on issues from Fox News, when he tweeted against his own administration's policy when someone on Fox News breakfast encouraged him to do so.  

How absurd and dangerous is this?   The only good thing to be said about Trump's tweeting habit, I suppose, is how the public knows directly what an empty headed, easily manipulated, narcissist person he is.  No need for historians to tell us.
 Chait also notes the many bizarre claims in Trump's WSJ interview of last week, including claims of treason for an FBI agent having political views.  Chait concludes:
It is obviously true that, in a large country, a broad spectrum of opinion will inevitably produce excesses on every side. Even a president as deranged and racist as Trump will be talked about, by somebody, in excessively harsh terms. Yet Brooks’s conclusion that Trump critics have on the whole exaggerated his flaws, that Trump is in fact reasonably well informed, affable, and sane, does not seem to be a reasonable conclusion at all. Instead it is an expression of Brooks’s unavoidable tendency to impose a sheen of normality on a political party that is anything but.
William Saletan made the obvious point in Slate about Trump's boasting of his intelligence:
 What Trump doesn’t understand is you don’t convey intelligence by asserting it. You convey it by demonstrating it. The more you talk about it, the more suspicious people become. They wonder why you’re vouching for yourself instead of doing your job and letting others vouch for you. And they wonder why you feel the need to keep talking about it. The real message of your constant boasting isn’t that you’re smart. It’s that you’re insecure.
Saletan is pretty good on Trump being a bigoted racist, too.  Lots of other writers have written a similar sort of piece, citing many examples from Trump's life.  But Saletan does it with many more links and in greater detail than most. 


Anonymous said...

All fake news. Every bit of it including the editorializing.

Steve said...

Yes, like you would know.

not trampis said...

it is opinion fool not news!

If only Catallaxians understood english. Of course if they did they would not be Trumpists!