Archive

December 25th

Lessons Learned From Two Battle Strategies

    President  Barack Obama and Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina don’t agree on many policy questions. But they have found themselves facing a similar political situation this year. And their very different reactions capture the deep — and alarming — differences between our two political parties right now.

    Both Obama and McCrory essentially had their accomplishments on the ballot. McCrory, a Republican, was running for re-election. Obama wasn’t, but his chosen successor was running against a candidate who had personally demeaned him and promised to repeal his agenda.

    As you’d expect, Obama and McCrory each campaigned hard. There, however, the similarities stopped. The differences have played out in three acts.

    In the first act, before Election Day, Obama was faced with evidence that Russia was trying to help Donald Trump win. Obama erred on the side of nonpartisan caution, opting not to announce the CIA findings on Russia’s motives. He was willing to use the presidential bully pulpit to criticize Trump, but not the levers of presidential power to disadvantage him.

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Kudlow is a troubling economics adviser for Trump

    Donald Trump has picked Larry Kudlow to be the chair of his Council of Economic Advisers. This will doubtless annoy many economists and policy wonks because Kudlow isn't an economist -- he didn't even major in econ in college. He's an econ commentator, much like me, but without the academic training.

    But the general public probably won't even notice or care that he lacks a doctorate in economics. Unlike "physicist" or "biologist," all you have to do to be considered an "economist" is to declare yourself one. This lack of faith in academic credentials might have to do with the low regard in which much of the public holds the econ profession. But in any case, it means that to most people, Kudlow's bona fides are just as burnished as those of Alan Krueger, Christina Romer, Ben Bernanke or any of the other former holders of the position.

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China's drone seizure was definitely about Trump

    Spring has come early to the South China Sea. Many analysts had assumed that China would do something to test the newly elected president once he was in office. George W. Bush faced an earlier incident when a Chinese frigate nearly rammed the USNS Bowditch in March 2001 and the spy plane collision a few weeks later, months after he was inaugurated. Barack Obama had the USNS Impeccable incident in March 2009. But for President-elect Donald Trump, China's seizure of an underwater drone, affiliated with the Bowditch, has come ahead of schedule.

    We can only speculate why. Perhaps this was a response to Trump's controversial phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and subsequent comments about changing America's stance toward the "One-China" policy. Perhaps it was something that was going to happen anyway.

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Trump: This Is Not Normal!

    This is my last column of the year.

    In 2015, my last column was a roundup of the year’s biggest social justice stories as ranked by intellectuals and activists.

    I thought that I’d make that a year-end tradition for the column, but this year Donald Trump has intruded.

    That is not to say that issues of social justice have receded. They haven’t, at all. But the election of Trump poses such a significant — and singular — threat to this country that for me all other issues are unfortunately, temporarily I hope, subsumed by the unshakable sense of impending calamity he presages.

    The nation is soon to be under the aegis of an unstable, unqualified, undignified demagogue and with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, there is little that can be done to constrict or control his power and unpredictability.

    It’s like seeing an ominous weight swinging toward a limb, sure to break it, while you feel utterly helpless to prevent the fracture.

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Trump needs to stop celebrating and start healing

    President-elect Donald Trump needs to heal, not revel. That is, he must work on healing the divided country he is about to lead, not continue to revel in his victory with a round of thank-you rallies.

     Instead, we see: Trump griping about the political correctness of being named "person of the year." Quieting, but not really, chants of "lock her up." Revving up the crowd against the "very dishonest" media. Thanking African-Americans who "didn't come out to vote." Jabbing at the "foolish" White House press secretary for daring to point out that candidate Trump had encouraged Russian hacking.

    Crybaby, the Trump supporters will tweet. He won, get over it. But the president-elect is the one who seems to be having a hard time getting over it, or rising above, or inhabiting the responsibility -- the majesty -- of his new role.

     "Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won," a newly sworn-in President Obama said eight years ago. So I accept: Trump won, Hillary Clinton lost. That has consequences for personnel and policy.

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Trump is on target to violate the Constitution the moment he takes the oath of office

    We have had smart presidents and dim ones, effective ones and incompetents, successful ones and unaccomplished ones. Until now, we have never had one for whom it was legitimate to question at the onset of his presidency whether he could fulfill his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

    As things stand now, President-elect Donald Trump has suggested he will not divest himself of a myriad of businesses around the globe that pose serious conflicts of interest, nor will he liquidate even foreign holdings, the proceeds of which would put him in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

    In an academically sound and federal court brief quality paper, Norman Eisen, Richard Painter and Laurence Tribe conclude:

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Trump has made Russia top foreign policy issue

    For 40 years after World War II, the dominant national security issue for any new U.S. administration was dealing the Soviet Union. After a quarter-century hiatus, it's deja vu.

    Donald Trump has praised President Vladimir Putin and nominated a secretary of state and a national security adviser with Russian connections. The president-elect has consistently rejected most criticism of Putin, including high-level intelligence reports that Russia illicitly hacked into private e-mails to try to affect U.S. elections.

    This has overshadowed the most pressing short-term challenge -- battling Islamic terrorism -- and the biggest long-term concern, dealing with China, the other 21st century superpower along with the U.S.

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The creeping tyranny of Donald Trump

    On the evening of Dec. 7, minutes after a local Indiana union leader, Chuck Jones, criticized Donald Trump on CNN for falsely claiming that he had kept 1,100 Carrier jobs in the United States, Trump tweeted, "Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!"

    Since that tweet went out, some news organizations have reported that Jones has received death threats.

    A few days before, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was quoted in the Chicago Tribune gently chiding Trump for being against trade.

    Soon after, Trump tweeted: "Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!" Later, he added, "We want Boeing to make a lot of money but not that much money."

    Boeing shares immediately took a hit. As it turns out, Boeing does not even have a $4 billion order to make Air Force One planes.

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Russia wins in a retreat on battling climate change

    President-elect Donald Trump has signaled ambivalence about many policies, such as Obamacare and infrastructure spending. But on at least one issue, his attitude is crystal-clear: climate change. Trump has vowed to withdraw from the Paris agreement designed to limit fossil-fuel use, and presented himself as a champion of the coal industry. His transition team even demanded that the Energy Department make a list of names of employees who worked on climate change. U.S. national policy seems set for an epic shift away from alternative energy and carbon reduction.

    That alone probably won't be enough to change the planet's course. The biggest carbon emitter, by far, is China, and all of the increases in emissions are coming from the developing world. Meanwhile, U.S. states and cities will continue efforts to curb carbon, and the steady improvements in solar and battery technology are unlikely to grind to a halt. But if other countries follow Trump's lead, the nascent effort to beat back global warming could suffer big setbacks.

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How Republics End

    Many people are reacting to rise of Trumpism and nativist movements in Europe by reading history — specifically, the history of the 1930s. And they are right to do so. It takes willful blindness not to see the parallels between the rise of fascism and our current political nightmare.

    But the ‘30s isn’t the only era with lessons to teach us. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the ancient world. Initially, I have to admit, I was doing it for entertainment and as a refuge from news that gets worse with each passing day. But I couldn’t help noticing the contemporary resonances of some Roman history — specifically, the tale of how the Roman Republic fell.

    Here’s what I learned: republican institutions don’t protect against tyranny when powerful people start defying political norms. And tyranny, when it comes, can flourish even while maintaining a republican facade.

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