Friday, July 22, 2016

The problem with Trump

There are many.

 But after his RNC speech, there are a couple that jump immediately to attention:

 • His use of "I" language. Most presidential candidates — even the most narcissistic — use "we" language, precisely to avoid charges of narcissism and incipient strongmanism. "I alone can fix it" suggests that there aren't any principles that can guide America toward solutions, only the application of Trumpian will. It's very cult-of-personality strongman type stuff. "I am your voice," too, sounds like a way of assuming the people's sovereignty into the Trumpian person.

 This is scary stuff.

 • Too, there's the assumption — the promise — that problems will bend themselves to the Trumpian will. There are no hard problems, no messy and sometimes contradicting ideals. Opposing forces will bow down before him, or be wiped out. Nothing is hard. On Jan. 20, 2017, he promises, the world will go, Wizard of Oz-like, from black-and-white to color, transformed instantly into a Trumpian wonderland of "law and order."

 All politicians overpromise. This is something different. Wariness is recommended.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How Republicans helped cause Hillary's email scandal

The relationship between Republicans and Hillary Clinton is akin to that of the one between Captain Ahab and Moby Dick. One has relentlessly pursued the other across the decades, and in the process things have gotten messy. Should Hillary Clinton win the presidency — an outcome much to be hoped for given the other likely possibilities at this point — the hunt will continue.
Republicans have pursued every misstep and unfortunate occurrence by the Clintons as though each and every incident was in and of itself an IMPEACHABLE OFFENSE, a high crime and something almost certainly more than a misdemeanor. Sometimes there was more there than at other times, but it didn't matter: Every bad thing that occurred in proximity to the Clintons became worthy of a years-long Congressional investigation, or inquiries by off-the-reservation independent counsels who exceeded their mandates to find something, anything, that would put a final nail in the coffin. (All of this sprang from a pre-determined conclusion: The Clintons — and Democrats more broadly — had no legitimate place at the head of government and thus could not be tolerated. The same process has been at work during the Obama years, but the President Obama has — perhaps owing to a lifetime of being a black man working his way up through white institutions — been much more circumspect in his behavior, giving critics much less to latch onto.) Time and again, the overreach failed.
The Clintons have helped feed this process over the years through carelessness and occasional inability to stop following their — his, really — own worst impulses. They never seemed to understand that the appearance of a conflict of interest can be just as bad as an actual conflict. The email scandal is easily seen as the result of all this: Hillary knew Republicans would sooner or later come after her email and mine it for scandal because it's what they do; she tried to build a wall around that email and in the process played a bit fast and loose with the law — an attempt to elude her tormentors instead became the latest tool they used against her.
So it's both the case that the Clintons have been overzealously pursued by Republicans and the case that they were dumb enough not to let it force them to cling to the highest standards of appearance and conduct. 
Everybody's guilty and nobody has hands clean. But most of us have been reinforced in either our cynicism or self-righteousness, and at this point, that's probably the best we can hope for.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Charles Kesler's half-baked case for Donald Trump

Charles Kesler is in the Washington Post this morning, making the case for Donald Trump to NeverTrump conservatives. It's a case made with some speculative leaps, some prayers for luck, and a bottom line suggestion that the devil you don't know — Trump — might be better than the devil you do know.

Here's Kesler on Trump's virtues:
Here Trump’s populism, or what Walter Russell Mead calls his Jacksonianism, comes to bear: He trusts the American people, not the special interests or the governing elite.
I'd say we're terribly short of evidence on that front. True, Trump's been pretty down on the special interests and governing elite — but his rhetoric isn't that "the American people are smarter than that." It's "I'm smarter than that." This glorification of self doesn't suggest a trust of Americans does it? It really only means that Trump thinks he's smarter than all the folks who already think they're the smartest people in a given room.

Kesler on the devil you know....
Liberalism’s century-old effort to turn the president into a “leader” who can rise above constitutional constraints such as federalism and the separation of powers might, under certain circumstances, be music to Trump’s populist ears. But what he might be tempted into is what Clinton is committed to on principle, as a self-described progressive. How could a vote for Clinton be defended as a vote for greater constitutional safety, much less integrity?
But where's the evidence a President Trump would acknowledge the restraints of the Constitution or the law? His promise to force the military to torture terror suspects in violation of the law? His attempts to strongarm news organizations into good coverage?  His encouragement of violence against protesters at his rallies? His illegal solicitation of campaign contributions from overseas? There's no indication Trump has any philosophy regarding the Constitution of governance. Yeah: I think it's more than possible that from a conservative standpoint that Hillary Clinton will hew more closely to Constitutional governance than trump.

Kelser also suggests that Trump's critics make two unresolvable charges against him: That he's a buffoon with control issues and that he's also a "monster, a racist, a wily demagogue, a proto-fascist or full-fledged fascist, a tyrant-in-waiting."
The two arguments are in some tension, insofar as the first implies that Trump doesn’t know what he is doing or is not serious about it, and the second that he knows precisely what he is doing and is deadly serious about it.
I don't know. Seems to me the first argument is that Trump is a fool and the second is that Trump might be an evil fool. There's nothing in conflict there, I don't think. History is full of such fellows.

Kesler's best argument is that conservatives shouldn't so lightly dismiss a candidate approved by millions of their fellow Republican voters. Maybe. But that makes popularity its own justification. Unfortunately, that's the best justification for Trump that Kesler offers.