Archive

February 20th, 2017

Trapped in Trump’s Brain

    Donald Trump is stuck in his own skull.

    He’s unreachable.

    “He lives inside his head, where he runs the same continuous loop of conflict with people he turns into enemies for the purposes of his psychodrama,” says Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio.

    Because Trump holds Thor’s hammer, with its notably short handle, we must keep trying to figure out his strange, perverse, aggrieved style of reasoning. So we’re stuck in Trump’s head with him.

    It’s a very cluttered place to be, a fine-tuned machine spewing a torrent of chaos, cruelty, confusion, farce and transfixing craziness. Of course, this is merely the observation of someone who is “the enemy of the American people,” according to our president.

    President Trump likes maps. Once it was John King’s analysis of the CNN electoral map that Trump obsessed over. Now he wants policy papers heavy on maps and graphics and not dense with boring words.

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How Can We Get Rid of Trump?

    We’re just a month into the Trump presidency, and already so many are wondering: How can we end it?

    One poll from Public Policy Polling found that as many Americans — 46 percent — favor impeachment of President Donald Trump as oppose it. Ladbrokes, the betting website, offers even odds that Trump will resign or leave office through impeachment before his term ends.

    Sky Bet, another site, is taking wagers on whether Trump will be out of office by July.

    There have been more than 1,000 references to “Watergate” in the news media in the last week, according to the Nexis archival site, with even some conservatives calling for Trump’s resignation or warning that he could be pushed out. Dan Rather, the former CBS News anchor who covered Watergate, says that Trump’s Russia scandal isn’t at the level of Watergate but could become at least as big.

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Can this White House cancer be managed?

    On March 21, 1973, White House counsel John Dean confronted President Richard Nixon about the growing Watergate scandal. "We have a cancer -- within, close to the presidency, that's growing," Dean warned. "It's growing daily."

     Dean's famous metaphor is relevant to the Trump administration -- not because the risk is precisely analogous but because it isn't. In Nixon's time, cancer was apt to be a death sentence. The tools to combat it were crude and brutal. Today, even as cancer remains a leading cause of death, for many people it can be managed as a chronic illness, capable of being kept under control with an arsenal of treatments.

    That view of cancer -- not as a metastatic killer but as a dangerous problem requiring vigilant control -- may be the best way of understanding, and dealing with, the Trump administration. In the alarming month since he took office, it has become clear, if it were not already, that President Trump is dishonest, unprepared and undisciplined. His presidency poses an enormous risk to the country -- to its safety, standing in the world, and relations with allies, just for a start.

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White House fumes over document-based AP immigration story

    Far-fetched though it may seem, there may come a day when the White House needs to rely on the credibility of the U.S. media. Who knows what the situation will be. Perhaps a foreign power will level some extravagant allegation at the Trump administration. The White House will vehemently deny it, using the strongest of language -- such as, "This is 100 percent false!"

    At that point, perhaps President Donald Trump's folks will learn that tone matters.

    Example: The Associated Press (AP) today came forth with a scoop: " The Trump administration is considering a proposal to mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants, including millions living nowhere near the Mexico border, according to a draft memo obtained by The Associated Press," reported the wire service.

    Big deal, considering that presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke of a massive "deportation force" -- though, like many of his more extreme proposals, he softened it after eyeing the outrage that it prompted.

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Trump's 'fine-tuned machine' is going haywire

    President Trump is flailing like a man who fears he's about to go under, and he hasn't even been in office a full month. His instinct is to flee to the warmth and comfort of his political base -- but he will learn that while presidents can run, they can't hide.

    Trump's administration faces two acute, interlocking crises: serious questions about his campaign's contacts with official and unofficial representatives of the Russian government, which U.S. intelligence agencies believe made concerted efforts to help Trump win the election; and appalling levels of dysfunction in the White House that make self-inflicted wounds the rule rather than the exception.

    The president's response has been to rant on Twitter and schedule a campaign-style rally Saturday in Florida -- all of which may boost Trump's morale but will do nothing to make his problems go away.

    It is unclear whether Trump is trying to fool the nation or fool himself. Witness one of the angry tweets he sent out Thursday morning: "The Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election, and so badly (306), so they made up a story -- RUSSIA. Fake news!"

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Why Donald Trump really is a populist leader

    The word "populist" is regularly applied to President Donald Trump. Is it because his politics, and policy, tend to be crude and crowd-pleasing? Because he built a political base on division and resentment? Because he strikes poses reminiscent of previous populists, from Alabama Gov. George Wallace to billionaire Ross Perot, with a dash of Juan Peron and Andrew Jackson?

    "What is Populism?" is the title of a 2016 book by Jan-Werner Mueller, a politics professor at Princeton University and a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Austria. I interviewed Mueller, via email, to get his views on Trump, populism and what's in store. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

 

    Q: In the U.S., we've often had a somewhat benign view of the term, recalling William Jennings Bryan and other figures who appealed to the little guy but never gained sufficient power to show us what they would do. How do you define populism, which has the sound of something oh so pleasantly popular?

 

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Trump administration is mired in incompetence

    The Trump presidency continues to unravel, as a transparent mixture of denials and dissembling has plunged its credibility into free fall, after less than a month in power.

    The rapid-fire accumulation of executive and communications crises in both domestic and foreign policy already has plunged President Trump and his young administration of inexperienced political operatives into nonstop damage-control mode.

    As Trump himself and his team of explainers, apologists and distorters maintain their assault on reality and truth in the wake of their serial misrepresentations, questions of their competence and trustworthiness have taken center stage.

    The firing of Michael Flynn as Trump's national security adviser for lying about mysterious talks with the Russian ambassador has, rather than acting as a safety valve, instead fueled much greater public concern over the Kremlin's effort to affect the outcome of the 2016 election that put Trump in the Oval Office.

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Resistance is not enough

    Resistance is the appropriate and necessary impulse of Democrats at this strange and raucous inception of the Trump administration. It is also woefully insufficient to address the monumental existential threats Democrats confront.

    Resistance alone will not defeat the Republicans' stranglehold on political power in 30 states, will not affect redistricting in 2020, will not defeat Republican congressional majorities and will not advance an affirmative progressive agenda.

    That is because President Donald Trump is not the cause of Democratic travails. Rather, he is the unfortunate consequence of Democrats' failure to build the modern political machinery necessary to compete effectively with Republicans in key battleground states. Until that happens, Republican dominance will continue.

    As Republicans have understood and acted on for years, it simply is not possible in these times to consistently win elections and advance policy without well-managed and well-financed state-based efforts, particularly in states with diverse populations distributed throughout rural, urban and suburban communities.

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Three reasons to worry about Trump's cable news habit

    In his remarkable news conference Thursday, President Donald Trump received scrutiny on his claim to have secured "the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan." When a reporter pointed out that this claim was very easily disproved and raised issues of trust, Trump responded, "Well, I don't know, I was given that information. I was given -- I actually, I've seen that information around."

    Later in this rambling affair, Trump showed greater command of programming values on the 10 p.m. hour of CNN. "You look at your show that goes on at 10 p.m. in the evening," said Trump in response to a question from CNN correspondent Jim Acosta. "You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit. The panel is almost always exclusive anti-Trump. The good news is he doesn't have good ratings. But the panel is almost exclusive anti-Trump and the hatred and venom coming from his mouth. The hatred coming from other people on your network."

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Market failure is the likely culprit in rising costs

    Two years ago, I suggested that the U.S. economy is riddled with strangely high costs in key sectors of the economy. Now, more and more people seem to be zeroing in on this problem. On Slate Star Codex, blogger Scott Alexander has a long, excellent rundown of high costs in five areas --- K-12 education, college, health care, infrastructure and housing.

    He's right. Americans pay much more for a university education than do people in Europe or East Asia. They pay about twice as much for health care and infrastructure, without any clear difference in quality.

    I'd add one more sector: finance. Retirement saving is dominated by managers who charge fees that seem small but end up taking a huge chunk of people's lifetime savings. Real estate agents typically get commissions equal to about 5.5 percent of the sale price of a home, compared to smaller commissions in most other rich countries - 1.5 percent in Sweden, Singapore and the Netherlands, for instance.

    The glaring difference between the U.S. and its peers in all of these areas casts doubt on the two usual suspects -- government intervention and Baumol's cost disease.

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