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Posts published in “Trump”

Trump 84: Midnight in America

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Not even minutes were needed to draw the obvious comparison between the 1984 presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan, centered around the happy theme of "morning in America," and the nomination acceptance speech this year by Donald Trump.

This new Republican candidacy, a mere 32 years from Reagan's, was swiftly described as "midnight in America."

And rightly so. In his telling this is a dystopian country, at imminent existential peril, overrun with vicious criminals and invaders and dangerous people. You step outside the front door at your peril . . .

And the GOP convention ate it up. For those of us who recall Reagan's two successful runs for the presidency, the scene was astonishing.

When he ran in 1980, Reagan was not an incumbent and therefore had no incentive to argue that things were fine as they were; and he didn't. But his tone, mood and persona projected optimism. It was a tonic. The 70s were a time of disappointment for many Americans, from Watergate to the energy crisis. President Jimmy Carter, trying to confront some of this, delivered an address widely called the "malaise" speech (though that word never appeared in it). Reagan spoke to positives, to a Pollyanna image really, but one many people wanted to hear and responded to. Republicans particularly, in those days, loved it. And they loved it even more when he could run an unalloyed "morning in America" message for re-election.

One of the things only a president can do is to use that singular pulpit to rally the country. Reagan did that. It was one of his best services to the country: He lifted up a country that was feeling down.

This year, Donald Trump, whose campaign book is titled Crippled America (recently retitled Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America, presumably on the advice of some campaign aide), seems bound to do exactly the opposite of Reagan: Take a nation that is essentially sound and moving toward peace and prosperity, and lower it, depress it, diminish it.

There are many more stirring orators than Hillary Clinton (even at her own convention), but listen to her speech alongside Trump's and the contrast is stark: It speaks at least to the goodness and even greatness of the country, and to better days ahead. Trump offered none of that.

Crippled America? Midnight in America? Some of our presidents have lifted us up. We can ill-afford one that would slam us down. - rs

Trump 85: Surveillance

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This ought to give us some pause about anyone we entrust with the job of president: They will have at their disposal the most sophisticated and sweeping surveillance network the world has ever known, getting more elaborate by the day.

We know what the law is, but realistically, on a day to day basis, we're reliant on having a president who will to some reasonable degree at least exercise enough self-control not to put that system to use for bad reasons. We can debate what the outer margin of that may be, but we could at least say that it should not include the use of the system for anything less than serious national security reasons. There are laws in theory restricting how that system might be used, but in practice, if an order comes down from the White House . . .

If you say that giving this kind of surveillance power to anyone makes you uneasy, join the club. There is at least some reason to believe, though, that at least in recent years, as the system developed the sweeping capacity to grab, store and analyze great masses of communications has come into place, in the last quarter-century or so (the technology was simply less advanced before that), the presidents over this time - Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton - seem to have shown some restraint in using it.

Some restraint. An article in Vox has pointed this out too: "The NSA, of course, is supposed to focus these resources on hostile foreign governments and terrorist groups. But in principle, a future president could turn those capabilities inward, using them to spy on domestic political opponents, journalists, and activists. As we learned during the early years of the George W. Bush administration, there are few practical limits on the president’s surveillance powers. When lawyers advised Bush that a proposed dragnet surveillance program exceeded the NSA’s authority under the law, the president ordered the NSA to do it anyway."

Anyone coming into the job is legitimately the subject of some concern in this area. But so far as we know, Hillary Clinton, who was in a position to have pressed for abuse of the system if she'd sought it, never did. There isn't evidence of abuse in periods when it could have occurred.

We have no such experiential base to draw on with Donald Trump. The main cause for worry might simply be his shoot from the hip style, his lack of an internal governor stopping the execution of a bad idea.

But there is a little more. Every so often, in his speeches and other public places, you see an indication of the itchy trigger finger, the willingness to, as Nike promotes, Just Do It.

In a rambling answer to a question about who hacked the email server of the Democratic National Committee, he remarked, "Honestly, I wish I had that power. I’d love to have that power."

Yeah, he probably would. Which is why he shouldn't. - rs

Trump 86: Incurious

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The last time we had a president who was widely described as "incurious" - that is, not terribly interested in learning about new things, or simply learning more - this country experienced, let's say, a wide variety of problems.

Presidents may run for office based on a collection of ideas or proposals, or subject areas, that are of particular interest to them. That's normal and may be unavoidable. But what's also unavoidable is that, once in office, any president is going to be confronted with a whole bunch of problems unforeseen before the inauguration, but which cannot simply be ignored. A president has got to stretch and grow, and a capacity to learn more, and to learn outside of one's comfort zone, is an important qualification for the presidency.

Many of our presidents, maybe in part because politicians tend to be social animals and do need to absorb and use a good deal of information, have had this quality to some degree. The absence of it is a problem.

How often does Donald Trump indicate he's learned something new? Since his whole persona is based on the idea that he knows it all already, he rarely does that. You could put it down to a campaigning style, but there are other indicators as well.

Maybe the best is this: How often does he read? Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, George H.W Bush and Richard Nixon, among others, read extensively, have been strongly self-educated in addition to their formal educations. Trump does not seem to be a reader - at least not of books.

He has said so himself, that he doesn't "have the time" to read books.

He is said to have kept a book by Adolf Hitler (accounts differ on which) on his night stand for some years, but there are also indications he never read it.

Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for Mr. Trump’s best seller “The Art of the Deal,” said in a recent interview, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” (Or write one: You didn't really think he sat down at a typewriter to work on any of those books bearing his name, did you?)

Others who know him well have made similar allusions. And columnist George Will remarked in a July 30 writing, “It would be fanciful to suggest that Trump read a book.”

But then, why read if you already know everything there is to know?

Just to be clear, that last sentence was sarcasm. - rs

Trump 87: Trump University

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Lest it not be forgotten - since it first came to light many months ago - Trump University constitutes a useful comprehensive disqualifier for Donald Trump as president.

Consider what happened here: He sold a lot of people a bill of goods, said he would do for them many things he never did and had no intention of doing. Surely we can consider this ample warning of a Trump presidency.

The Wikipedia account seems a reasonable, and reasonably dispassionate, description of TU:

Trump University LLC (formerly the Trump Wealth Institute; later named Trump Entrepreneur Initiative LLC) was an American for-profit education company that ran a real estate training program from 2005 until 2010. (A separate organization, Trump Institute, was licensed by Trump University but not owned by the Trump Organization.) After multiple lawsuits, it is now defunct. It was founded by Donald Trump and his associates, Michael Sexton and Jonathan Spitalny, in 2004. The company offered courses in real estate, asset management, entrepreneurship, and wealth creation.[3]

The organization was not an accredited university or college. It did not confer college credit, grant degrees, or grade its students.[4] In 2011, the company became the subject of an inquiry by the New York Attorney General's office for illegal business practices that resulted in a lawsuit filed in 2013, which remains ongoing.[5][6][7][8]

Trump University is also subject to two ongoing class action lawsuits in federal court. The lawsuits center around allegations that Trump University defrauded its students by using misleading marketing practices and engaging in aggressive sales tactics. The company and the lawsuits against it have received renewed interest due to Trump's candidacy in the 2016 presidential election.

That's the situation in outline, but the closer you look, and them more you hear about individual cases, the slimier it appears.

By the way, the point to know when someone suggests there's a political component to the lawsuits against TU, is to recall that the suits were launched in 2013 - long before Trump became or was seriously considering a presidential candidates. These cases got to court on their own steam.

One sample among many: "In his affidavit, Richard Hewson reported that he and his wife “concluded that we had paid over $20,000 for nothing, based on our belief in Donald Trump and the promises made at the [organization’s] free seminar and three-day workshop.” But “the whole thing was a scam.” (That one appeared in the conservative National Review magazine.)

New Yorker writer John Cassidy signed off one article outlining a stream of TU outrages by suggesting, "If the revelations about Trump University don’t do any damage to Trump, it’s time to worry—or worry even more—about American democracy."

There you are. - rs

Trump 88: The elusive statements

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In political (and diplomatic) circles there's a certain amount of slipperiness, lubrication, that goes with the territory. Officials in and representatives of a democracy need a certain amount of space to negotiate and compromise and meld alliances. That doesn't explain all the dissembling that goes on, and doesn't excuse all of it either, but it does point to the reality that "telling it like it is" in politics is at best a near matter, not an absolute. Forget about honest George Washington and the cherry tree; George was a spymaster during the revolution, a pretty good one too, and he understood the realities of dealing in a human society.

But there's such a thing as the occasional necessary lie, and the lying that becomes so constant that memory starts to fail. The toughest thing about lying is keeping the lies straight, remembering what the story is supposed to be. It's a tough task under the best of circumstances. When the lies pile up (check out the story of an undercover cop sometime, for example), the difficulties can become overwhelming.

That's a problem Donald Trump has encountered, and his fabrications - which often as not have to do with not just facts but ideas, positions, stances - have come so fast that the conflicts crop up at startling speed. Watch a Trump speech from anywhere in early spring 2016 on, and you'll probably be able to find easily enough a flat contradiction, if not of fact then of idea. He's rapidly losing track of his own ideas, what he's said here and there, even just minutes ago.

Here's an example.

On July 23, at 3:42 am, Trump tweeted that "Pocahontas [Senator Elizabeth Warren] wanted VP slot so badly but wasn't chosen because she has done nothing in the Senate. Also, Crooked Hillary hates her!"

Exactly 13 minutes later, Trump tweeted about the Wikileaks email release at the Democratic National Committee and the internal criticisms there of Bernie Sanders which, Trump said disapprovingly, "mock his heritage."

So he tut-tuts about the heritage mocking of Bernie Sanders exactly 13 minutes after mocking Elizabeth Warren over her heritage.

Presidents need to keep track of what they're saying. Their words are parsed everywhere, and the kind of daily slips Trump delivers would not go unnoticed. - rs

Trump 89: The Cohn connection

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Those old enough, or historically-minded enough, to spot out the similarities in style and approach between Donald Trump and long-ago Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy have pinpointed a live connection. The link between the two is less-known, but just as significant.

He is Roy Cohn, an attorney by profession, who served as a behind the scenes key advisor for both Trump and McCarthy.

Cohn was born in New York, son of a politically well-connected Democrat who became a judge. (Perhaps because of his father's connection, Cohn self-identified as a Democrat but generally supported Republicans in local and national politics.) After earning his law degree, he worked briefly in the U.S. attorney's office, working on cases involving alleged Soviet spies. That brought him to the attention of McCarthy, then just coming to national attention as an anti-Communist crusader.

That description, of course, doesn't begin to cover what McCarthy did, spreading fear and suspicion as he took on witch hunts across the range of the federal government, among other places. Cohn was in the middle of it all, maybe most especially the famed Army-McCarthy hearings (wherein came the famous line addressed to McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"). McCarthy crashed, and Cohn returned to New York.

There he thrived professionally, in a specialized way. A profile in the Daily Beast captured it: "But instead of fading into obscurity, Cohn became a socialite with a roster of high-powered, famous, pious, and allegedly murderous clients. He represented Andy Warhol, Studio 54, Roman Catholic Cardinals Francis Spellman and Terence Cooke, and mafia leaders Carmine “Cigar” Galante and Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno. Cohn’s tactics were thought to be so unethical and dishonest by the legal establishment (he was eventually disbarred) that Esquire dubbed him 'a legal executioner'.”

Trump met up with him in the early 70s at the exclusive Le Club, and they became tight - kindred souls, evidently. Cohn did legal work for him, and Trump's take on that presumably was captured in his quote by the Associated Press: “If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent, you get Roy." The young man just getting started in New York business got quite an education from Cohn.

The New York Times, which has written extensively on the connection, described Cohn's influence on Trump this way: "If Fred Trump got his son’s career started, bringing him into the family business of middle-class rentals in Brooklyn and Queens, Mr. Cohn ushered him across the river and into Manhattan, introducing him to the social and political elite while ferociously defending him against a growing list of enemies. Decades later, Mr. Cohn’s influence on Mr. Trump is unmistakable. Mr. Trump’s wrecking ball of a presidential bid — the gleeful smearing of his opponents, the embracing of bluster as brand — has been a Roy Cohn number on a grand scale."

Joe McCarthy hit a wall in time, before the damage he could do would become really massive. We'll see soon enough whether Donald Trump hits a similar wall. - rs

Trump 90: Easily baited

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The presidency isn't the only job where a certain cool and steadiness is necessary. A lawyer in a trial, a surgeon in the operating room - at such times, such people simply cannot allow themselves to be rattled or baited. It happens, unfortunately, and when it does lives can be ruined or ended. But capable professionals strive hard to keep a clear head, to do what's necessary and not be thrown into doing what isn't - or what might be harmful.

The presidency can be the same, on a far more vast scale. One of the most praised attributes of Barack Obama has been his cool, his resistance to being rattled, to do what he thinks he needs to do in his own time and his own way. Rarely is he provoked into a sharp response.

Donald Trump is easily baited.

On the last day of the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton said during her acceptance speech that Trump should not be trusted with the nuclear arsenal because he is "a man who can be baited with a tweet." Just that had after all happened already during the campaign, as both sides well knew. And you would expect that with that near-warning - an implicit threat that we'll be trying to bait you and waiting for your reaction - that Trump would have been cautious enough to avoid fulfilling the prediction. Surely most candidates would have; it would have been an easy enough test for him to crow later about passing.

But the Clinton people knew their opponent. They knew he couldn't help but respond to a smackdown. And just as predicted, as if they could see the future - or at east predict Trump perfectly - he took fresh bait the very next day.

Shortly before Clinton's speech one of the DNC orators was former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a fellow NYC billionaire but no fan of Trump. He took some pungent shots at Trump, and Trump could not help but tweet the next day, July 28: "'Little' Michael Bloomberg, who never had the guts to run for president, knows nothing about me. His last term as Mayor was a disaster!"

What if anything useful Trump thereby accomplished for his campaign is unknown. But what he revealed about himself was plain enough. As writer James Fallows put it on the Atlantic: "Think of the strategic outlook you are seeing demonstrated on Trump’s side. On national TV, a woman has said that it is easy to get under his skin — after a much richer real billionaire has made fun of him with, 'I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one.' And Trump’s response is … to take the bait and show that it has gotten under this skin."

Only hours later, he did it again in a much more explosive way, snarking at the Gold Star Khan family, which lost a (Muslim) Army captain in action on the far side of the globe. Republican Matt Mackowiak commented: “Trump is proving that Hillary’s criticism of his temperament has merit. He can’t even pretend when lashing out was predicted. Took bait.”

He would be the most easily manipulated president in the history of the United States. - rs

Trump 91: Assassination?

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This dog whistle sounds pretty clear from here.

He can in the kerfluffle afterwards, as he so often does when he steps in it in a big way, call it a joke, as he already has, or he can maintain that he simply was walking about political activism by an interest group.

No sale.

On August 9, Donald Trump was talking at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, when the subject turned to Hillary Clinton and the Supreme Court. If Clinton becomes president, he warned, she will appoint liberals to whatever court appointments come up. (True enough.)

Then: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.”

Only slight translation is needed here. "The Second Amendment people" would mean most generally people especially motivated by the subject of their rights to own and use firearms; that is to say, gun enthusiasts. He did not say the "gun lobby" (or the National Rifle Association) or "gun owners voting in large numbers," or something similar. He spoke of individual people highly motivated to action on the subject of gun rights, and he spoke of them in the context of being the last hope to avoid the specter of "liberal" (presumably, anti-gun) Supreme Court justices.

Just what do you think he's referring to here?

There's no need to get too cute about this. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: "Don't treat this as a political misstep. It's an assassination threat, seriously upping the possibility of a national tragedy & crisis."

Trump backers, and even some others who aren't supporters (Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, for example) write it off as a wisecrack. But as security officials were noting soon after the statement, words spoken at the presidential level are taken seriously, by people who may interpret them in many ways.

"Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" called out, legendarily, England's King Henry II. He meant it rhetorically, not as an order of execution; but Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, did not live much longer anyway.

This is no mere Shakespearean construction. Here's the reaction from the New York Times' Thomas Friedman:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin got assassinated.

His right-wing opponents just kept delegitimizing him as a “traitor” and “a Nazi” for wanting to make peace with the Palestinians and give back part of the Land of Israel. Of course, all is fair in politics, right? And they had God on their side, right? They weren’t actually telling anyone to assassinate Rabin. That would be horrible.

But there are always people down the line who don’t hear the caveats. They just hear the big message: The man is illegitimate, the man is a threat to the nation, the man is the equivalent of a Nazi war criminal. Well, you know what we do with people like that, don’t you? We kill them.

The Secret Service has said it was closely monitoring the situation. Let's hope so.

No major presidential candidate in this country's history has ever spoken in terms like this. Never. Imagine what terms he might employ if he actually got into the White House. - rs

Trump 92: Endless lawsuits

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Our legal system is supposed to be put to use, but this is ridiculous:

Donald Trump has been a plaintiff in at least 1,900 lawsuits and a defendant in 1,450 more, according to an analysis by USA Today.

That's 3,350 legal cases, assuming some aren't duplicative: Which would mean he is both plaintiff and dfendant in a single case, which somehow doesn't seem out of the question when it comes to these kind of number.

The paper had a lot of work to do in tracking it all down; the lawsuits were all over the country and over quite a few years. But think about it: Over the course of a third of a century or so, that's about 100 lawsuits filed either by or against him every year, on average.

Who gets into that many fights? Only someone whose standard for getting into legal battles is almost unbelievably low. Most of us would have no interested in this kind of thing - certainly not if we have any interest in accomplishing anything else in our lives.

This is the kind of thing that apparently preoccupies Donald Trump. The productive work of a presidency would presumably be of distinctly lesser interest. - rs