Writings and observations

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When can something be both awful and chaotic and wonderfully good news at once?

Donald Trump has provided an answer. Just because he’s been running for the last year and a half for the presidency doesn’t mean that, you know, he’d actually take the job.

Given the other 99 items on this list, this could stand as terrific news. Of course, he could decide to take the job too, so that’s a limited boon.

At the same time, a decision that he would not take the job would be a matter of sheer chaos. The departure of a prospective president – or a new president – under such conditions would leave the country in a mess.

“I’ll let you know how I feel about it after it happens,” Trump said to the New York Times. Great timing. – rs

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You can’t quite say that Donald Trump is completely unable to draw a connection between his approach to an issue and the way it would affect real people. His first answer in the last presidential debate (though none of his answers afterward), on trade, did contain some linkages along that line. But left alone, without the advice of staff ringing in his ears (even a half-hour after the debate’s launch), he loses the plot.

Among many examples of how he has lost the connection between policy ad presidential decisions on the one hand – which is to say, his preferences – and real impacts on the other, you need go no further than one recent comment about a recent incident.

Last month an apparent political coup was launched in Turkey, shortly after renewed conflict in the Kurdistan area.

JF The morning after an attempted coup in Turkey — a country that is a NATO ally, where U.S. nuclear weapons are based, which is at the center of international tensions over refugees and the struggles within Islam and dealing with ISIS and dealing with Syria — Trump’s comments, as potential commander in chief, were, in toto: “So many friends in Turkey. Great people, amazing people. We wish them well. A lot of anguish last night, but hopefully it will all work out.”

Such a broad view of international relations: It goes no further, in the mind of Donald Trump, than the handful of people he personally knows. Nothing else is a factor. – rs

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Up to now, every candidate for president of the United States has been in deadly earnest about taking the office campaigned for. Sincerity in the desire to do that job has never been a question.

Until now.

It is true that in some records Donald Trump has said that of course he wants to serve.

But he also said, responding to a scenarioTrump has scoffed at criticism that he is not serious about becoming president, suggesting that his businesses have not benefited from his controversial presidential campaign and that he is truly in the race to “make America great again.” about his winning the election and then declining to serve, that “I’ll let you know how I feel about it after it happens,” Trump told The New York Times.

As CNN reported, “Trump has scoffed at criticism that he is not serious about becoming president, suggesting that his businesses have not benefited from his controversial presidential campaign and that he is truly in the race to ‘make America great again.” –

    rs
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We often are reminded in this season that one of the most important roles of a president is that of commander-in-chief: The top-ranking, the ultimate, leader of the military of the United States, which by orders of magnitude has the most powerful and effective military in the world. It is a military formidable enough that, as Donald Trump once put it, no one is going to mess with us.

Well, that almost was his point. Our military really is so powerful that any frontal attack on it would be an outright suicide mission, one reason the attacks we have seen amounted to sneak attacks from guerrillas and terrorists. Which sometimes have had a certain amount of effectiveness (you might remember that incident from years ago called Vietnam), but none of which existentially threatened it. And the years since Vietnam have seen our military transformed into a professional and technically spectacular force beyond the imagining of Americans from a couple of generations ago.

So it’s hard to see what Trump uses as evidence that – to extract from his actual statements – our military is so weak and ineffective it invites attack. Nothing remotely like that is true, and in itself such a conclusion represents so drastic a misreading of the real world as to amount to a presidential disqualifier.

But it goes further. Trump, who took five deferments to stay out of the military, believes he understands our military and our military options better than the officers and enlisted military who live and work with the reality every day. “I know more about ISIS than the generals do,” Trump said at the national security forum hosted by NBC.

And it goes much further than that. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank said in a September 9 column, “Trump later implied that he would fire current generals — who, in the American tradition, are avowedly nonpartisan — and replace them with retired generals who have supported him politically. His advisers on defeating the Islamic State will ‘probably be different generals’ from the current ones. My former Post colleague Tom Ricks, author of ‘The Generals’ and four other books on the military, tells me that would be ‘banana republicanism.’”

Little wonder the bipartisan core of national security experts and advisors – Republicans as much as Democrats – sounds scared out of their wits by the prospect of a Trump presidency. They have good reason. – rs

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One of the many (other) things that long has separated American politics from those of countries in chaos, undergoing violent revolution or in the throes of dictatorship, is that we don’t imprison the political loyal opposition.

We don’t call for it, either, at least not much. Some people, largely unassociated with organized political activity, have made such calls on occasion in the last 15 years or so. But it’s not been part of the campaigns of major candidates, and those major candidates haven’t offered support for the idea . . . until this year.

The National Republican Convention was an almost endless chorus of “lock her up!” – her referring to Hillary Clinton (the name hardly needed to be said), and the for what? being, well, unclear. Lock her up for something, apparently.

Actually, something intended to be a bill of goods was once presented, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie positioned himself as prosecutor and the convention delegates as jury – there being, evidently, no need for a judge or for a defense – seeking to build a case against her. It wasn’t much of a case. But even if it were, the sense of what was going on here was stunning: A national party convention turned into a pitchforks-and-torches mob, seeking not what party delegates usually do – electoral victory for themselves, defeat for the other guys – but imprisonment, conviction. In the case of those insisting on a conviction for treason, more than that. This was a national party convention turned into a lynch mob.

The peak of that activity preceded Donald Trump’s acceptance speech, but it was all of a piece, and it has replicated, over and over, at Trump rallies. We don’t want to defeat Hillary and the Democrats. We want to destroy them.

For a while Trump seemed to distance himself, a little, from the “lock her up” business.

But then, speaking on July 29 at Colorado Springs (as reported by CNN), he said: “I’ve been saying ‘let’s just beat her on November 8th’. But you know what, I’m starting to agree with you. . . . You know, it’s interesting. Every time I mention her, everyone screams ‘lock her up, lock her up.’ They keep screaming. And you know what I do? I’ve been nice. . . But after watching that performance (by Clinton at the Democratic National Convention) last night – such lies – I don’t have to be so nice anymore. I’m taking the gloves off.”

Actually, that was a return to what he had been saying for some time. As the Washington Post noted, “In reality, Trump has made comments for months on the campaign trail about Clinton belonging in prison.”

And – oh yeah – he called for Hillary Clinton’s imprisonment in his rally on October 1.

Remmber Nixon’s enemies lists? How quaint. – rs

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The Phoenix Arizona Republic, which in its more than a century of publication has never endorsed a Democrat, has done so this year, backing Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump. The endorsement was positive for Clinton as well as a negative commentary on Trump.

But in recounting the chain of events that led the Republic to its startling change this year, Editorial Page Editor Phil Boas began with a specific incident from last November:

“. . . when an African-American man was beaten at a Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama. As Boas recalled, Trump, at the lectern, following the man’s beating, said, ‘Get him the hell out of here.’ Shortly afterward, Trump went on Fox News and said of the man, ‘Maybe he should have been roughed up.’ This prompted a series of editorials in the Republic that were critical of Trump. ‘We found, in that event, the bass notes of authoritarianism,’ Boas told me. ‘It kind of raised the siren or the alarm for us: that this is a dangerous type of behavior we’re witnessing here, somebody who would incite political violence.’”

Authoritarianism, the strongman approach to government this country was founded in opposition to, has a number of components, but one of the most basic is the use – and the threat of – violence by people in power against the political opposition. That has been the main course for every tinpot dictator in human history, from the beginning of civilization right up to know.

And Donald Trump encourages, incites, even revels in political violence, in a way no major political figure in American history has done before.

Trump himself, of course, has denied this: “I certainly don’t incite violence,” he said to CNN in March, after he cancelled a Chicago rally after threats of violence had surfaced.

But the site Mashable, in an article published a few days later, noted that “Trump, however, has a history of calling for violent acts against those who protest at his events that goes back until at least August of last year.”

Only days after the Chicago incident, Trump said in St, Louis, after another protester surfaced, “You know, part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore, right?”

Days after that, he said in Florida – speaking of another incident of audience violence – that “The audience hit back and that’s what we need a little bit more of.”

Then in North Carolina: “In the good old days this doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough.”

And so on, and on, and on.

Democracy has survived in America in large part because we – metaphorically – check our guns at the door. We may argue, but we don’t beat each up because of which candidates we support.

Thanks to Donald Trump, in 2016 that is changing. And he most certainly is inciting it. – rs

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In a recent column, New York Times writer Nicholas Kristoff reported on how, in the small community of Forest Grove, Oregon (about 15 miles from where Kristoff grew up, and about 18 from where I live), a number of incidents have sprouted in the local schools. A group of white students chanted “Build a wall! Build a wall!” at Latino students, and elsewhere chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

Kristoff wrote, “We need not be apocalyptic about it. This is not Kristallnacht. But Trump’s harsh rhetoric tears away the veneer of civility and betrays our national motto of ‘e pluribus unum.’ He has unleashed a beast and fed its hunger, and long after this campaign is over we will be struggling to corral it again.”

This set of incidents is, needless to say, only one among many erupted all over the country.

He’s right, on both counts: This isn’t cause for panic, but it is time to recognize a serious problem, and its source.

The problem has been widely recognized. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and hate incidents around the country, saw cause to issue a review on Trumps campaign, which among other things said this:

“Our report found that the campaign is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported.”

“It’s producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported. Other students have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric in the campaign. Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail. Educators are perplexed and conflicted about what to do. They report being stymied by the need to remain nonpartisan but disturbed by the anxiety in their classrooms and the lessons that children may be absorbing from this campaign.”

That’s happening in the course of a few months. Imagine the impact of this extending year after year after year. – rs

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Public figures who have substantial money often make charitable giving a part of their financial picture. It can help at tax time, it can cement relationships in the community (whatever the community may be), it can simply feel good or plainly be intended to do something positive. And charitable donations can help communities.

The list of people, local and national, who give to charities and set up non-profit charitable foundations of their own is vast, and it’s a list of people who help our society even while doing good of some sort for themselves.

Donald Trump has a charitable foundation, or at least so it called: It is the Trump Foundation. But you probably will have to look hard to find many other foundations much like it.

Washington Post reporter David Farenthold has been looking into it, and said in an interview on NPR, “Trump hasn’t actually given it any of his own money since 2008. Other people have supplied all the money in that time, which you don’t normally see with a rich person’s private charity. Those things are usually just filled up with a rich person’s money. So we wondered, well, why does anybody give money to prop up Donald Trump’s personal charity? And we learned an answer to that, which is that in – as you mentioned, in some cases, Trump has people who owe him money either for business dealings or they buy tickets that he has rights to. They pay the Trump Foundation and not Trump himself. Now, you can do that. That’s totally legal. But Trump would have to pay income tax on that – those donations because they’re his income. He directed where they went. So I’d also like to know – was Trump complying with that law? Was he paying income tax on this money he was sending to his foundation?”

And then there was this: “a lot of the times you see a wealthy person will help one group year after year, one cause – cancer research, for instance, autism research, a particular college or university. There’s nothing like that in Trump’s foundation. Instead, the main theme in the gifts seems to be that they help Trump’s personal life or his business life. Trump owns a lot of facilities, including the Mar-a-Lago Club down in Florida, that do a lot of business with charities that can cost up to $270,000 to rent out – for a charity to rent out Mar-a-Lago for one night. And so you see a lot of cases in which Trump gives – donates money to other people who then just give it back to him by renting out Mar-a-Lago for a lot of money.”

There is much, much more. New York state is investigating; whether the Internal Revenue Service is, is unknown.

But that’s only one piece of the Trump-charities picture. Trump has said that he’s a big donor to charities; he said in May, “I’ve given millions away.”

But a June 28 Farenthold story in the Post story said “Trump promised millions to charity. We found less than $10,000 over 7 years.” In his context, that’s pocket change.

An article in 2011 by The Smoking Gun said that Trump “may be the least charitable billionaire in the United States.”

And you think this would-be president actually cares about people in the rest of the world? – rs

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Many of the same people who so liked George W. Bush for taking a rock-hard, steady position during his administration, also plan to vote for Donald Trump.

It beggars belief.

Scarcely any stance or position, on anything, has remained steadfast through the Trump presidential campaign. Many politicians change positions over the years. Hillary Clinton has changed several. Politicians sometimes do it for principled reasons – new information, or a serious reconsideration of a point of view. Sometimes it happens for political advantage, or to stay in tune with changes in a group.

But until Donald Trump, probably no politician in history, ever, has taken so many stands so unreliably – not even in the ballpark close.

Not long ago NBC News compiled a list of Trump’s varying stands on major issues. It is a very, very long list. The major point to be drawn from it is that anyone who thinks they know where Trump stands on anything, is wrong.

If Trump is foremost identified with any one issue, that probably would be immigration; he is known mostly for taking what’s perceived as a “hard line” on it. See what straight line you can draw through this (if you’d like references on any of these, I refer you to the original NBC article):

1. Trump opened his campaign with a pledge to build a wall on the United States’ southern border, and quickly deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants.

2. Weeks later, in July 2015, he said he still wanted deportations but planned to retrieve “good” ones: “They have to be in here legally”.

3. His next statement, in late summer, called for the wall and deportation, and two new elements: triple the corps of immigration officers, and end the birthright citizenship guaranteed in the constitution.

4. In November, he said he’d undertake the mass deportation apparently not with the existing immigration agency but with a “deportation force”.

5. In February this year, during the primaries, Trump sounded as if he was reversing course on the deportations. NBC noted “that in off-the-record talks with The New York Times, Trump admitted this was just bluster and a starting point for negotiations, saying he might not deport the undocumented immigrants as he’s promised. Trump has refused calls to release the transcript, despite furious requests from his rival candidates.:

6. Next, in June this year, he returned to a call for deporting undocumented immigrants, but would label it something other than “mass deportations.”

7. In August – last month – Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway said the whole deportation idea is up in the air, and the plan for a deportation force is “TBD” – to be determined.

(Note: Take a deep breath. We’re barely a third of the way through the changes in position on immigration. Actually, on just one aspect of immigration . . .)

8. On August 22, President Barack Obama announced a policy of expelling as a top priority undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes. Asked about this, Trump said, “I’m gonna do the same”. He didn’t address what he’d do about other immigrants.

9. One day later, Trump announced that he was amenable to “softening” his policy on immigration, though he didn’t say how.

10. The day after that, still in late August, Trump (as NBC noted) “outlined an immigration plan that sounded an awful lot like the kind of path to legalization championed by Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio — the very people Trump excoriated for weak immigration plans while he campaigned on a promise of mass deportations.” Speaking on a Fox TV program, he said, “No citizenship. Let me go a step further — they’ll pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there’s no amnesty, as such, there’s no amnesty, but we work with them,” Trump said.

11. Three days after that, on August 27, Trump said, “On day one, I am going to begin swiftly removing criminal illegal immigrants from this country. We are going to get rid of the criminals, and it will happen within one hour” of his swearing-in.

12. All of this have resulted in considerable confusion, Trump’s surrogates appeared on television the next day (Sunday) to say that Trump hadn’t changed his immigration policies at all. Their statements, however, conflicted with each other.

13. Conway next said that the idea of a deportation force was not – or was no longer? – under consideration.

14. Over the next few days, a flat statement was repeated that there had been no changes in the immigration plan.

15. On August 30, Donald Trump, Jr., possibly trying to clarify, said that all undocumented immigrants were to be deported: “That’s been the same, correct. But again, you have to start with baby steps. You have to let ICE do their job, you have to eliminate sanctuary cities, you have to get rid of the criminals certainly first and foremost, you have to secure the border. These are common sense things.”

16. On September 1, just after an afternoon stopover in Mexico City, Trump spoke at Phoenix said reiterated his hardest-line stances, including creating a deportation force and demanding Mexico “pay for the wall.”

17. Later that evening, Trump was asked whether his policy really was “softening,” and he said, “Look, we do it in a very humane way, and we’re going to see with the people that are in the country. Obviously I want to get the gang members out, the drug peddlers out, I want to get the drug dealers out. We’ve got a lot of people in this country that you can’t have, and those people we’ll get out. And then we’re going to make a decision at a later date once everything is stabilized … I think you’re going to see there’s really quite a bit of softening.”

18. On September 6 he said he might be agreeable to a “path to citizenship.”

This doesn’t include the at least four difference positions on dealing with Dreamers – the undocumented people who grew up in the United States, many in college or beginning adult lives.

NBC also notes nearly endless policy changes (if you can call them that) on subjects ranging from the minimum wage to ISIS to taxes, guns, nuclear weapons on much more.

What would a Trump presidency seek to do? Are you for or against his stand? Who can say for sure? Certainly Donald Trump cannot. – rs

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Donald Trump’s run for the presidency seems to be singularly oriented around Donald Trump; the drop from him to the next figure of real significance is steep. Theoretically, the secondary figure might be Mike Pence, the vice presidential nominee. But we mostly hear from him, it seems, when he’s disagreeing with some oddball statement by his principal. There may be good reason we don’t hear more from him.

Aside from family, political figures and other celebrity types, the one other notable figure at the National Republican Convention this year, the one other that Trump might actually think of as something of a peer, is Peter Thiel, who did get a convention speaking slot, and a prime one, shortly before Trump’s own acceptance speech.

Much of the attention went to the point that he was “the first person ever at a GOP convention to declare from the stage that he is gay.” Besides that, he is a major tech industry figure, a central leader in the development of Facebook and Paypal.

No problem with any of that. But when word began to circulate widely that Trump was interested in appointing him to the Supreme Court – Thiel is a lawyer – some reviews of Thiel’s views were prompted. Thiel seems to be one of the few people whose views Trump has sought out for reference and maybe implementation, and could take a major place in a Trump administration, so they are well worth the review.

And some of them, if turned into some form of reality, could be well into the range of scary.

Some sound simply creative and out of the box, such as his co-founding of the Seasteading Institute, which has the fascinating (for libertarians) idea of establishing cities relatively free of government out in the oceans. Other initial enthusiasts appear to have backed away as the details of making such a thing happen proved hard to pin down.

It’s the kind of thinking you might expect and – in its creativity – work for a high-tech executive, but not so much for a person tasked with running an actual, real-world government. (Which Thiel isn’t – yet.)

Of more concern are some more philosophical thoughts he has let loose, which again are fine coming from a private citizen but would be scary if put into office.

In 2009, he wrote this for a Cato Institute publication: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. […] Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women—two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians—have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.” He leaves no doubt that in a conflict between the two, his sympathies lie with capitalism, not democracy.

Red flags should shoot up all over the place on reading this, and some did in 2009. Thiel partially walked back his statement to say he didn’t want to take away anyone’s right to vote. He has also added, “We’re living in a representative republic, but then that’s modified through a judicial system. Of course, that’s been largely superseded by these very unelected agencies of one sort or another, which really drive most of the decision-making.”

When the Wall Street Journal ran a piece about Thiel, Trump and the convention, a commenter named Tom Channing offered this by way of putting the pieces together:

“Peter Thiel is explicitly against the concept of democracy. This isn’t something people concluded about him, it’s something he proudly said himself. This is a conclusion he came to after a lot of deep thought. Unlike Trump, who is personally stupid and child-like, Peter Thiel is a very smart guy and doesn’t say or do things without understanding their full implications.”

The Guardian newspaper put it this way: “Trump isn’t just a flamethrower for torching a rotten establishment, however – he’s the fulfillment of Thiel’s desire to build a successful political movement for less democracy. A Trump administration would diminish democracy, lending credibility to white supremacy and ultranationalism. Trump is openly campaigning on the idea that American democracy should belong to fewer people. . . . Such an outcome would fit Thiel’s purposes well. For Thiel, a smaller, more easily manipulated mob is preferable to a bigger one. If democracy can’t be eliminated, at least it can be shrunk through authoritarianism. A strongman like Trump, by exploiting the racial hatred and economic rage of one group of Americans, would work to delegitimize and disempower other groups of Americans.”

A quarter-millennium of progress toward expanding democracy, voting participation and human rights in America could stand on the edge of reversal in this coming election. – rs

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