Friday, December 09, 2016

An American Disgrace (Part 3): Trump Continues to Disappoint Even My Low Expectations

Every day the circus that is the Trump transition provides us with more news of its ineptness, corruption and loose relationship with the truth. In fact, in the wake of his victory, a new phrase has become popular – the “post truth” era. After Obama won eight years ago, hopeful social critics and op ed writers claimed a “post racial” era, just as a few claimed a “post irony” era after 9/11. The latter two were, of course, greatly exaggerated, but the newest “post” seems a lot more realistic.

Since my last post, there has been too much chaos and poor decision-making to catalog in anything less than a novella, but I’ll try to hit some of the low lights here. Before doing so, it is worth noting the general tenor of the transition so far. While much of the mainstream media continues to normalize the burgeoning Trump era, MSNBC and a few other outlets have tried to temper any temperance with the reality that the President Elect seems intent on living up to our worst fears about his having the levers of power at his disposal. The themes that have emerged so far include a corporate takeover of the government at the Cabinet level, a diverse array of conflicts of interest that border on the level of a banana republic old CIA operatives might have covertly propped up, no coherent economic of foreign affairs policy beyond serving Trump’s interests, lying as a daily occurrence and hiring right wing ideologues and, pretty ironically, many of those generals he excoriated throughout his campaign.

For those interested, my analysis of the election itself is available here (a three-part series).

1. The Bush Administration Starting to Look Milquetoast in Retrospect: Right from the onset, with the hiring of Steve Bannon, Trump announced that there was a place for white supremacists and the far edges of right wing conspiracy theorists in his White House, but he hasn’t stopped there. Next we got Michael Flynn for national security advisor, a fervent anti-Muslim who has been connected with some of the most wacky right-wing conspiracies, including the Sandy Hook truthers, through his son (Politico). Of course, he looks downright pleasant in comparison to the racist, anti-immigrant, anti-disability-rights Jeff Sessions, who was once turned down for a judgeship by his own party, for his racist behavior (Salon).

We also get the constant crazy of Ben Carson to deal with in HUD (Think Progress). And these are but four examples of an administration that will be packed with white men who seem to have little regard for anyone but other white men (though only the wealthy variety), separation of merch and state, and anything that gets in the way of their radical right-wing agenda. The Bush Administration gave a huge windfall to the wealthy, deregulated industry and markets, added two radically pro-business Supreme Court justices who gifted us Citizens United, got us involved in a costly and unnecessary war, actually made the world less safe in the process and, for fun, almost destroyed the global economy. But they look like a rather sane, if iniquitous bunch, compared to this gang of right-wing, conspiracy theory selling corporatist thugs.    

2.  Fear of Corporate White House Intensify: There is plenty of crazy in this administration, but there are also a number of choices that, while saner, appear to be intent on serving the interests of corporations rather than the people. This starts with Trump’s choice for the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, a strident opponent of Obamacare who wants to transform Medicaid to block grants for the states Enacting these two reforms would be a boon to the insurance and medical industries, but substantially less so for consumers (USA Today).

On the environmental front, the new head of the EPA Scott Pruitt is a global warming doubter who might as well be a paid lobbyist for the Oil and Gas industry (NYT). The right-wing education policy plans of billionaire Betsy DeVos should be a boon to business interests in education as well as anyone who think the poor and minorities should be kept ignorant and fleeced (NEA). And most recently, a Labor Secretary (Carl’s Jr. CEO Andrew Puzzler) who doesn’t believe in the minimum wage, overtime rules, gender equality, common decency, unions or, really, anything that might actually help labor in America (Common Dreams). There are plenty of other examples here as well, but these few serve to indicate that Trump has little interest in keeping the campaign promises he made to get the white working class vote. Instead, he will be paying back the corporate interests that helped underwrite his run to the White House, as he has already with many of his cabinet choices (big donors to his campaign themselves).

3. Conflicts of Interest, Schmonklicts of Interest: Donald Trump is the most dangerous of powerful figures – an arrogant narcissist who is also ignorant. By ignorant, I don’t mean stupid or even incurious, I mean that Trump’s arrogance is so pronounced that he simply assumes whatever he believes is inherently correct. This unwillingness to even hold his ideas up to the smallest scintilla of scrutiny means he believes he knows more about ISIS than generals, more about the economy than Nobel Winning economists, more about foreign policy than people who have spent decades working in that complex field, more about climate change than Nobel Winning scientists and more about governance than those who have, you know, ANY experience within the political realm. A fascinating character study of Trump appeared in the New Yorker in June, with the ghost writer of his bestselling biography The Art of the Deal warning that Trump was an egomaniac who believe truth was an inconvenient fact to be avoided whenever possible, who cared for little else but power and money, who had a fragile but relentless need for attention and positive reinforcement and how dramatically exaggerated his own abilities and successes. He was portrayed as a bully and sociopath who said or did whatever was necessary to serve his own interests and seemed to have no interest in improving the life of anyone but himself (TNY).

Much of this is of little surprise to those who have been terrified by the prospect of a Trump presidency from the beginning. But most assumed, rather naively it appears, that the one campaign promise Trump would keep would be to extricate himself from his business interests while in the Oval Office. That has turned out to be the farthest thing from the truth, as Trump is now purportedly even backing out of his post-election promise to create his rather shady “blind trust” with his own family. Now he might openly keep his business interests, claiming he can govern and run his vast empire at the same time (NYT). As I mentioned last week, there is already all sort of conflicts of interest that have emerged from real estate deals in Turkey, Scotland, Argentina and now Taiwan to Ivanka Trump’s Japanese business ventures that made major inroads a week after she sat in on a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister. There are also stories emerging every day of groups using the Trump Hotel in Washington DC or elsewhere for huge events that funnel money directly into the Donald’s pockets while arguably getting a seat at the table as latter decisions are made (the very definition of pay to play). Finally, as if the endless array of business interest that could affect both domestic and foreign policy aren’t enough, Trump is apparently going to serve as the executive producer of a new Celebrity Apprentice that is coming out early next year with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the host. One just can’t make this stuff up …

4. Post-truth World by the Numbers: I will write a separate post on the culmination of a four-decade assault on truth and science, but it is worth exploring the most recent polls that exemplify the level of “truth” immunity that Trump supporters appear to adhere to. In a PPP poll that will be released tomorrow morning, we learned some startling facts about Trump voters. Overall, Obama has a favorability level of 50% (to 45% unfavorable rating), but among Trump voters it stands at 5/90%. Under Obama, the Dow has risen from 7,946 to 19,615 and unemployment has fallen from 7.8 to 4.6 percent. Most Americans know this, but not Trump voters. Among them, 39 percent say the Dow has dropped under Obama and 67 percent believe unemployment has risen. On top of this, 40 percent of Trump voters believe he won the popular vote, 60 percent believe millions voted illegally, 73 percent believe George Soros is paying protestors against Trump and an astounding 53 percent somehow believe California’s votes should not count in the popular vote count. 

Beyond Trump voters, of course, the country is far less sanguine. Another poll for Pew Research center found only 26 percent seeing Trump as a “good role model,” 31 percent “moral,” 37 percent “well qualified,” 62 percent say he has “poor judgment” and 65 percent think he is “reckless.”

It is worth considering, as you read these numbers, that those Trump voters do not make up anywhere near half the country, but half of the half of eligible voters. It was actually around 62.8 million voters who cast their choice for Donald J. Trump, compared with 65.4 million for Clinton, which is approximately 26 percent of eligible voters (versus the 28 percent or so for Clinton). This is not the consensus that Trump is now pretending he has, nor is it reflective of the demographics of the country at large. Yes, Trump won the election fair and square, but he won it by a tight margin in a few swing states, largely along the lines of race (whites), location (rural, suburbs and exurbs) and education (the less educated, in general).

5. Recklessness and Fecklessness: Many hoped that Trump would soften the harsh rhetoric that defined his long campaign for the presidency. And after the meeting with Obama there was a sense that he might. Yeah, that hope is now all but gone. We have the twitter fights with the Saturday Night Live crew, the Hamilton cast, the CEO of Boeing (whose stock dipped rather precipitously before rebounding) and a whole host of others. We have the petulance with which he has claimed he actually won the popular vote, a fact that many of his supporters now blindly believe. We have the absence of any news conferences as our new President, I mean emperor, refuses to deign to actually speak to the media who he believes wronged him. And we have him apparently tricked into taking a call from Taiwan that could have easily started a global crisis (though it probably was good for Trump Taiwan!). Trump is a vindictive, vain, a**hole who appears unwilling or unable to actually act presidential and now stands a mere month and a half from ascending to the most powerful position in the world. The potential for him to do irreversible damage to the country and world is a very real threat and one that many will be hoping he somehow avoids as they prepare for the worst. Many of those people appear to be in his own transition team, sounding the alarm bells at a particularly high pitch (NY Magazine). The emperor truly is without clothes, but what does that mean for the rest of us …

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