With word of President Trump’s decision to conduct a missile strike against a Syrian airfield in the news (the Tomahawk cruise missile strike occurred on Thursday April 6, 2017), so much of my social media and Twitter feed is filled with uninformed bravado and fist pumping that is reminiscent of the scene in ‘Gone With The Wind‘ where young, hot-headed southern gentlemen learn of and celebrate news of war with the north:
In stark contrast to the impetuous Sons of the South stand Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler, two world-wise and even-keeled men who know something of the negative impacts on society wars cause and the horrors of bloodshed. Wilkes and Butler are a welcome counterbalance to the mansion full of young men with heads full of misconceptions of the glory of battle.
I am in favor of President Trump’s decision to conduct a tactical, limited missile strike on the air field reported to be where the aircraft that dropped the chemical weapons came from – Bashar al-Assad is a evil man and Russia and Iran are propping him up and are also our enemies.
But I am worried about our untested, impetuous president, while also thankful for his superb military leadership and our superb military.
Fun as it may be to engage in it, this isn’t the time for swagger and whoopin’ and hollerin’, but prayer, deliberation, and serious-mindedness.
A quote attributed to William Tecumseh Sherman, an actual Union general in the Civil War, sums up his view of war:
I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.
Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!
War is hell.
There are three legs to the Trump/Russia controversy stool:
- Russians meddled in our electoral process
- Trump’s ties to Russia
- Obama administration’s politicizing/leaking intelligence on Team Trump.
On March 30, 2017, Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and Russia expert, testified to Senator James Lankford (R, Oklahoma) that the Russians targeted Donald Trump with fake news and conspiracies at times they knew he was browsing/tweeting on-line.
Watts testified Donald Trump parroted the same fake news and conspiracies as known Russian propaganda outlets ‘Sputnik’ and ‘RT’ (election “rigged”, voter fraud, denying U.S. intelligence, Obama not a citizen, Ted Cruz not a citizen, etc.)
“I can tell you right now, today, grey outlets that are Soviet pushing accounts Tweet at President Trump during high volumes when they know he’s on-line and they push conspiracy theories.” (1:48, in the below video).
During the campaign, people speculated that Trump’s conspiracy mongering might just be a showman’s shtick and/or throwing red meat to his fervent base – but not any more.
Now we know this is who Trump is: a profoundly disordered man of low character who has a proclivity for believing in and spreading fake news and conspiracy theories.
The estimable Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center described Donald Trump as follows during an appearance on C-SPAN in the summer of 2016:
Now it appears Trump is deserving of another title for believing in and helping spread Russian fake news and conspiracies: ‘Useful Idiot‘.
Putin and his cronies are laughing at Trump and at us. I don’t think even Putin could have seen how wildly successful his espionage/active measures have been to roil and divide Americans and cause us to lose confidence in our democratic institutions.
There are a lot of bad actors in this story, and President Trump certainly has his share of the blame for this lamentable state of affairs.
While President Trump’s approval numbers sink and his disapproval numbers rise, Republicans in Congress have to be worried about Trump becoming an albatross around their neck that will hurt them in the 2018 midterm election and beyond.
Trump appears to be failing to fully make the transition from being a reality television star to being president.
During the campaign, Trump said he would stop Tweeting once he was in office and he would become “so presidential”.
But like his pledge to release his tax returns, Trump has gone back on his pledge to stop Tweeting.
On March 4 2017, Trump, via Twitter, accused former President Obama of wiretapping him, calling him “bad (or sick) guy”, showing once again Trump’s proclivity to believe in and spread conspiracies.
Then, through his press secretary Sean Spicer, he raised the possibility that British intelligence helped Obama “tapp” him.
Since Trump’s Saturday morning tweets, multiple congressmen, including enthusiastic supporters of Trump like Devin Nunes, have stated emphatically there is no evidence of Obama wiretapping Trump, either with or without help from British intelligence.
While Trump’s conspiracy-mongering will likely have little effect with his rock-solid base, Trump’s suggestion that the British were somehow involved with former President Obama in wiretapping him has created an international incident with one of America’s staunchest and most important allies.
While Bill Clinton was in office, his surrogate Betsy Wright coined the phrase, ‘Bimbo Eruption’, to describe when women would go public with accounts of Clinton groping and/or sexually assaulting them.
Similarly, Trump’s tweets are keeping White House staff fully occupied cleaning up after their boss’ intemperate and ill-advised remarks, offering explanations for what Trump meant and the like.
During the campaign, Trump said “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, Okay?”
Trump may be right, but campaigning/throwing red meat to your base is entirely different from responsibly governing, advancing a legislative agenda, and leading the free world in increasingly perilous times.
Hopefully these latest dismal approval/disapproval numbers will be the equivalent of Republicans getting hit upside the head with a half-frozen tuna, because if Trump doesn’t stop tweeting and spreading conspiracies, the Republicans – and their agenda and electoral prospects – could be heading in the same direction as Trump’s approval numbers.
In the midst of vertigo-inducing spin by those on the left and right, the matters of President Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that former President Obama was somehow involved in wiretapping at Trump Tower and Trump’s ties to Russia continues to be investigated.
In the meantime, the House intelligence Committee, chaired by Devin Nunes (R), and Adam Schiff (D) as ranking member, requested the Trump White House to provide evidence of Trump’s explosive wiretapping charge by last Monday March 13, 2017, but got no response from Trump. Shocker, I know.
Now, a week and a half after Trump tweeted his wiretapping allegation, Nunes, a Trump supporter, said today (Wednesday March 15, 2017): “We don’t have any evidence that took place . . . I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.” Knock me over with a feather.
We live in crazy political times.
On the left, there’s the snarky Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, claiming last night to be in possession of Trump’s tax returns, which, if true, would certainly have been big news; the only problem was that what Maddow actually had was alleged to be two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax return that showed his tax rate was around 25%. This left many on the left, hoping for something big with which to whack Trump, or even a coup de grace, disappointed and criticizing Maddow for pulling a stunt seemingly designed more for a bump in ratings, along with actually helping Trump’s case that there’s no ‘there’ there, re, his tax returns. Insert sad trombone sound here.
On the right, Trump surrogates continue with their narratives/talking points that the American people simply don’t care about Trump’s tax returns/Russia ties, and that what they do care about are jobs and the economy; the only thing Trump surrogates didn’t say was that it’s time to ‘move on’, the phrase made famous by Bill Clinton’s surrogates when they tried to change the subject from Clinton’s disgraceful episode with a young intern named Monica Lewinsky (for those who may not be familiar with the story: 49-year-old President Clinton received oral sex from 22-year-old Lewinski in the Oval Office, resulting in a semen stain on Lewinski’s dress.) Sorry about that.
On the left, we have the folks who have lost their mind and continue to overplay their hand re, attacks on Trump, complete with comparisons to Hitler or even ‘ol Scratch himself (a.k.a., El Diablo, a.k.a., Satan).
On the Right, we have the Ever Trumpers doing their imitation of police Lieutenant Frank Drebin in the movie, ‘The Naked Gun’, where he stands between the gathering crowd of onlookers gawking at a fireworks factory exploding like a grand finale and telling the crowd, ‘Alright, move on, nothing to see here. . .’.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am.
Trump’s Speech to Congress was Better Than Expected, But He Didn’t Address Systemic Problems like the Federal Debt:Posted: March 2, 2017
I was pleasantly surprised by President Trump’s speech to Congress on February 28th, 2017. If I were to give it a letter grade, I’d give it a solid ‘B’.
Mostly because he stayed on-teleprompter and I could tell that whoever had sway in the content of Trump’s speech tried to be more aspirational and ‘presidential’ in tone.
Judging by this standard (and lower expectations), Trump’s speech was a success.
But make no mistake: Trump is still Trump, and one good speech isn’t enough to tell if this was more a one-off good performance or whether Trump has had something like a political Damascus Road conversion that months and years from now we’ll all be saying, ‘Trump’s first speech to Congress was the turning point’. . .
And while the moment where the widow of the fallen Navy SEAL received an extended (and very well-deserved) standing ovation was wonderful and genuinely powerful and moving, Trump’s policy prescriptions still leave much to be desired.
Political commentator Amanda Carpenter was right in pointing out the “Populism” of Donald Trump is very much like the “Compassionate Conservatism” of George W. Bush’s presidency, in terms of both being fiscally irresponsible.
And political commentator Ben Domenech’s point that if you’re a fiscal conservative, Trump’s speech leaving you feeling uneasy (to say the least) hits the bulls-eye.
When Barack Obama was campaigning for election in 2008, he said it was “unpatriotic” that the federal debt increased $4 trillion while George W. Bush was president.
But while Obama was president, the federal debt skyrocketed another $10 trillion dollars (does this mean Obama is 2.5 times more “unpatriotic” than Bush?)
The current federal debt is about $20 trillion dollars.
Trillion. $20 TRILLION dollars.
Think about that.
This is madness on stilts on roller-skates, and it’s unsustainable.
We’re mortgaging the future flourishing of Millennials and subsequent generations of Americans so this generation can feel good now.
It’s immoral and reprehensible.
Republicans and the Republican Party (at least some of its members) used to be known as the people and party of fiscal discipline.
But in the age of Trump – in the glow of victory and wielding power in Washington D.C. and ‘Make America Great Again’- will Republicans now become party to committing profligacy?
Is this how shallow and blinkered Republicans have become in so-called Trumpian ‘victory’?
Have Republicans and the Republican Party become the political equivalent of Belshazzar’s Feast, living high on the hog and sneering at reality until the handwriting appears on the wall when it’s too late?
Boy, I sure hope not, but the current signs are not encouraging.
On Thursday February 23, 2017, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Donald Trump’s top adviser, Stephen Bannon, advocated for what he calls ‘Economic Nationalism’.
‘Economic Nationalism’ may sound innocuous, but in reality it is deeply misguided.
‘Economic Nationalism’ means the government picks economic winners and losers, instead of letting people compete for your business.
Another name for ‘Economic Nationalism’ is ‘Protectionism’, where the government ‘protects’ certain American industries it chooses from foreign competition by imposing tariffs on products made outside of the U.S. so the ‘protected’ industry can compete.
But government ‘protecting’ certain American industries also means Americans will pay more for products.
And the Americans most affected by rising prices caused by ‘protectionism’ such as what Bannon and Trump are talking about are the working poor – the folks who can least afford to pay more for things because of stupid government economic policies.
Watch Daniel Hannan, a British lawmaker who explains why ‘Protectionism’ doesn’t work and how free trade brings about higher standards of living for everyone in a free market:
Although I’ve been a registered Republican since 1980, I’ve never been a big political party man; for me a political party is a means to an end.
When Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, he was instrumental in transforming the Republican Party into the home of conservative values, principles, and policies.
Since Reagan, the labels ‘Republican’ and ‘conservative’ were usually taken to mean the same thing.
No longer. Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s current leader, is the man who said, “This is called the Republican Party, it’s not called the conservative party“.
And now in the age of Trump, the Republican Party that used to be the home of rule of law, small government, free markets, and a certain modesty about the scope and competence of government has been up-ended.
Trump is wasting no time in making it clear he is no conservative, by openly advocating for and pursuing anti-conservative, anti-free market, crony capitalist, big government, president-centric policies.
Will constitutional conservatives in congress at some point find their voice and push back against the current Trumpian zeitgeist?
It’s a good question. Some conservative political pundits like radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt is currently busy hyping his latest book, ‘The Fourth Way – The Conservative Playbook for a Lasting GOP Majority’ where he lays out a road map for governance that if I understand correctly includes an attempt to integrate Trump’s populist/nationalist perspective with a more traditional constitutional conservatism he claims stands the best chance of giving the Republican Party a position of political dominance for the foreseeable future.
In terms of some policy box-checking and personnel, constitutional conservatives will likely find themselves in the dilemma of largely approving of many of Trump’s conservative-friendly policies and picks for the Supreme Court and other government positions, while strongly disapproving of his crony capitalist, protectionist economic approach that concentrates the economic benefits to a favored few at the cost of the many.
But for constitutional conservatives who believe that character is destiny, the wild card and area of greatest concern will always be Trump *the man*.
Peter Wehner, a conservative who served in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush White Houses said of Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries:
“I don’t oppose Mr. Trump because I think he’s going to lose to Hillary Clinton…my opposition to him is based on something completely different, which is first I think he is temperamentally unfit to be president. I think he’s erratic, I think he’s unprincipled, I think he’s unstable, I think that he has a personality disorder, I think he’s obsessive…I think the main requirement to be President of the United States isn’t where you check the boxes on policy…but it is temperament, it’s disposition, it’s the idea of whether you have wisdom and judgment and prudence. Not only do I think that Donald Trump is worse than Hillary Clinton on that score – and that is a low bar – I think he is worse than anyone I’ve ever seen in public life.”
Will good – or even superb – Supreme Court and cabinet picks, along with great policies like de-funding Planned Parenthood and strengthening border security, be enough to compensate for Trump *the man*?
I’ll let Wehner answer: “This isn’t going to end well.”
Please see this piece from American Enterprise Institute’s Mark J. Perry:
I’ve heard not a few of my friends and colleagues in person and on social media make the claim that Donald Trump is a “pragmatist” who, as a businessman, is only interested in doing “what works”.
But on closer examination, the claim that Trump is a “pragmatist” doesn’t hold up when it comes to economic policy.
It may be that because Trump is plain-spoken and a novice to political office that heretofore he hasn’t fully fleshed out and articulated his views and philosophy on economics.
But now with the presidential campaign and election behind us, it’s clear what Trump’s economic philosophy is: ‘Economic Nationalism’, also known as ‘Protectionism’.
Trump’s top adviser, former Goldman Sachs executive and former editor of the right-wing website ‘Breitbart’, Steve Bannon, describes himself as an ‘Economic Nationalist’.
But will ‘Economic Nationalism’ (i.e., ‘Protectionism’) ‘Make America Great Again’?
No. But it will benefit a few at the expense of the many.
It will also give Trump the opportunity to do what he loves to do: get in front of the cameras and talk up how his intervention saved a few hundred jobs here and a few thousand jobs there.
Interestingly, the relatively few that stand to benefit from Trump’s ‘Economic Nationalism’ appear to be those areas of the country where there was a high concentration of Trump voters (Obama did virtually the same thing with his ‘stimulus’, shoveling taxpayer’s money to folks who voted for him and donated to his campaign).
I am only half-joking when I say I’m considering putting together a GoFundMe drive to buy a few hundred copies of Thomas Sowell’s textbook, ‘Basic Economics’ and send them to the Trump White House and to Congress.
That’s because the bottom line of Trump’s/Bannon’s ‘Economic Nationalism’ is that it’s a recipe to ‘Make America Expensive and Poor Again’, not ‘Great Again’.
Remember when Trump said he’d release his tax returns?
Appearing on a Sunday show, Conway said Trump is not going to release his tax returns.
Speculation as to why Trump didn’t want to release his tax returns includes the possibility he isn’t as wealthy as he claims.
But more relevant than Trump’s ego is his unusual ‘bromance‘ with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, a known thug and murderer who is arguably this country’s main geopolitical adversary.
In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” and “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
By not releasing his tax returns, Trump broke a decades-long precedent where presidential candidates from both parties released their tax returns to the American people.
Understandably, Team Trump wants to change the subject, but the bi-partisan Senate intelligence committee is planning to interview senior Trump administration officials as part of its inquiry into Russian meddling in the US electoral process.
Trump was successful in blustering and playing out the clock on not releasing his tax returns before winning the election. Had he released them as he originally pledged he would, many of the questions now being raised would either have been answered or not raised in the first place.
Similar to how Hillary Clinton was dogged for months about her unauthorized email server, Trump’s refusal to release his taxes, his unusual praise for Putin, his son’s comments about “money pouring in from Russia” and other questions threaten to put a lingering cloud of troubling questions and uncertainty over the Trump administration.
I’m truly happy for the Carrier employees in Indiana who kept their jobs because Vice-President-elect Pence and President-elect Trump intervened to keep Carrier from moving their operation to Mexico.
But all politicians Pence/Trump did was put off the inevitable.
Largely because of ‘Creative Destruction’, a concept economist and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter coined in 1942:
“The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation—if I may use that biological term—that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.”
‘Creative Destruction’ describes the process in a free economy where constant product and process innovations and new production techniques constantly replace older, outdated, less efficient ones.
‘Creative Destruction’ is a big reason why we enjoy increasingly higher quality products and services at less cost.
Computers, big-screen TV’s, appliances, home electronics, automobiles, medical treatment breakthroughs – the list of inventions and innovations is virtually endless that have become widely available to society because of entrepreneurs and inventors being free to create new, better products and services that people want.
It would not be possible for a society to increasingly flourish with the ever-increasing quality in the products and services it enjoys if it also did not eliminate the older, outdated, less efficient ways of providing products and services.
And this is where Pence/Trump’s Carrier deal comes in.
It’s not for nothing that Carrier considered moving their operation to Mexico. Of course, there will be those who will say it’s because Carrier executives were greedy, etc, but more typically corporations think of taking action such as this because they’re trying to create and keep a competitive edge against others who are competing for customer’s business – in this case, it’s reported Carrier would’ve saved $65 million in labor costs by moving to Mexico.
What Pence/Trump did with this Carrier thing was they focused on the tree and lost sight of the forest. Yes, it makes political/short-term sense in that Pence/Trump could claim they saved American jobs and they got positive media attention and it gave them the chance to spike the football in the end zone.
But the forest is this: to survive, Carrier must successfully compete against other manufacturers of heating and air conditioning units. Pence/Trump’s action has the effect of putting off the inevitable, which is that Carrier must do what it must do to remain competitive, or they will become the part of the ‘Creative Destruction’ process that eliminates those entities that can’t or won’t successfully compete for customers.
Most everyone remembers the ballad of John Henry, a brawny man competing against the steam drill to drive railroad spikes. It’s a romantic song extolling the virtues and dignity of mankind against pitiless technology.
Any time there is some innovation, scientific breakthrough, or technological advance, it affects how work gets done, and hence it affects real human beings. For those making top-shelf buggy whips when the Model ‘T’ came along, it meant they needed to adapt, or perish. For those working in Blockbuster Video stores when Netflix came along, it meant they needed to re-tool themselves and find another job, because, ‘Creative Destruction’.
And this is where Pence/Trump get it wrong with their Carrier deal: they’re trying to keep John Henry on the job driving railroad spikes when there’s a steam drill than can do the job better/cheaper/longer/etc.
Instead of simply putting off the inevitable for immediate political and media gain, it would be wiser for government, businesses, institutions of learning/training, and individuals to recognize the reality of ‘Creative Destruction’ and re-tool themselves to become more adaptable, more able to respond to changes and disruptions, and modify the social safety net to more effectively respond to those in their time of need while avoiding the mistake of the safety net becoming a long-term safety ‘hammock’.
The future flourishing of our society depends on us answering these questions the right way. We citizens must always remember that regardless of whether a politician has a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after their name, they flourish more by telling us what they think we want to hear, not what is the truth/what we need to hear.
‘Creative Destruction’ is the economic equivalent of gravity and the sun rising in the east. To continue to flourish, we need to fashion our societal institutions and personal values and behavior in recognition of this fact, regardless of what the latest politician wants to try to sell us.