Sunday, July 2, 2017

Week Links

Last week I contemplated suspending Weekend Roundup. Partly I was having grave computer problems that made surfing the web ever more painful, and partly I was just disgusted with all the insane things Trump and the Republicans are doing. Since then I tried Google's Chromium browser and it's working better (although not perfectly, and without NoScript I'm seeing a lot of annoying JavaScript I never had to deal with before).

So I figured I'd compromise by just jotting down a few links without comments, although sometimes I couldn't help myself. Also because shit's happening so fast, I figured I should jot down a date for each linked page (when I remembered to do so). Then I wrote an introduction.

Meanwhile, I slogged through Noam Chomsky's essay collection, Who Rules the World? I didn't learn a lot I didn't already know, but I started out in a bad mood about America's many wars, so I didn't mind Chomsky being even harsher than I would be. Still, I wanted something lighter next, and settled for Bernie Sanders' post-campaign book. Only about 100 pages into it -- still pre-Iowa, when he was a very longshot, yet still no more improbable than the mess we wound up with. I talked to a friend last week who was still complaining about "Bernie or bust" -- people who held out for something more while most of us were willing to settle for much less (damn near nothing).

Five months in, I think we can draw some clear conclusions about Donald Trump as President. One is that he's a lot more ignorant about everything a national political leader does (or should do) than pretty much anyone imagined -- including those of us who have long feared what we thought would be the worst. One manifestation of this is that he has no clue how to get anything done, and his ideas about what to do rarely rise above his sociopathic prejudices.

The second, which was easier to predict from his campaign, is that his shameless disregard for truth is orders of magnitude beyond anything Washington -- a notorious haven for dissemblers -- has ever encountered. The media literally have no idea where to begin, because there are no fixed points to navigate by.

The third is that Trump has belied every intimation he made on the campaign trail that he might break with Republican Party orthodoxy and forge a new direction: nationalist, for sure, but giving government a more humane role at home and a less aggressive one at home. This not only didn't happen; as many of us suspected, it never had a chance. Trump's trifecta of ignorance, incompetence, and dishonesty (for lack of a better word -- mendacious implies he's somewhat clever, and even bullshit suggests a hidden agenda) has left his administration in the malevolent hands of Republican apparatchiks and their billionaire masters.

His only authentic (in the sense of things he personally decided) moves so far have been hiring relatives and touring his personal properties -- things he's been doing for decades. And when he's not indulging his oversized ego, he's doing what he's always tried to do: make money. He's not responsible for creating Washington's ubiquitous culture of graft, but he exemplifies it, especially by making sure he's getting his cut.

Still, since Mitch McConnell unveiled his hitherto secret health care bill (the BRCA, like the breast cancer gene -- it seems immune to adding a "Care" suffix because it clearly doesn't), Trump's own personal garishness has taken a back seat (despite eruptions like the Mika Brzezinski flap) to his adopted party's crusade not just to coddle and elevate the rich but also to demean and hurt the poor (and anyone else they can organize their disdain against). This should have been clear years ago, but centrist Democrats and the bought-and-aid-for media have perpetuated the myth that they can work with moderate counterparts among the Republicans. But while Clinton and Obama never pointed to the obvious, Trump inadvertently made the point when he complained of not having a chance to get a single Democratic vote for his "repeal-and-replace Obamacare" bill. At least this answers the thought experiment: how bad does a bill have to be to not get a single sell-out Democrat?

Still, Republicans are using their thin Congressional margins, the conservative-leaning Supreme Court, and anything that can be done through executive orders (or not done by turning a blind eye to enforcement on matters like civil rights, environment, and antitrust), to push its anti-popular (and frequently downright unpopular) agenda through. Just this last week, Trump's travel ban order got a reprieve from the Supreme Court, and the House passed two anti-immigrant bills (certain to fall short of the 60 votes the Senate used to require, but McConnell may still get creative there).

It's hard to say whether Trump's chaos (for lack of a better word, although I was tempted by "insanity") is making their efforts easier or harder. Matthew Yglesias sums this up in Why Donald Trump can't make deals in Washington:

It seems paradoxical that you could combine the party discipline needed to push controversial and unpopular legislation through on a party line vote with total disengagement on the part of the party's top leader. But the Trump administration seems to feature just the right mix of chaos and conventionality to make it work. Both Vice President Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus are very conventional Republicans with deep ties to the congressional party. That seems to be good enough to ensure that Trump will take his cues from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell regardless of his personal instincts. Trump triumphed over the GOP's leadership during the 2016 primary, but he has largely surrendered to them on policy questions.

The result is that deals get done -- or not -- by the party's congressional leadership. The ability to legislate hinges on Ryan and McConnell being able to agree among themselves. Trump serves as an ineffectual figurehead, talking tough but not really being able to engage with the policy details enough to properly negotiate an unprecedented rollback of the welfare state.

Here's another writer who understands that no matter how personally noxious Donald Trump may be, his administration is doing pretty exactly what any Republican administration would be doing given the same powers: Alex Pareene: This Is Normal:

What most of the worst people in Donald Trump's administration have in common is that they are Republicans. This simple fact is obscured sometimes by the many ways in which Trump is genuinely an aberration from the political norm -- like his practice of naked nepotism rather than laundering the perpetuation of class advantage through a "meritocratic" process -- and by the fact that many of the most vocal online spokespeople for "the resistance" ignore the recent history of the Republican Party in favor of a Trump-centric theory of How Fucked Up Everything Is.

But it is necessary for liberals, leftists, and Democrats to actually be clear on the fact that the Republican Party is responsible for Trump. The Democrats' longterm failure to make a compelling and all-encompassing case against conservatism and the GOP as institutions, rather than making specific cases against specific Republican politicians, is one of the reasons the party is currently in the political wilderness. . . .

Next time you boggle at the sight of the president's unqualified son-in-law flying to Iraq to get briefed by generals on the facts on the ground, remember that George W. Bush sent a business school chum to privatize Iraq's economy and a 24-year-old with no relevant experience to reopen the Iraqi stock market.

The worst members of Trump's cabinet -- Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos -- are Republicans. Their analogues in any possible alternate Republican presidency would've been basically identical in how they carried out their work. Jeb Bush would've signed the AHCA. Marco Rubio would've sold arms to Saudi Arabia. John Kasich would've abided the theft of a Supreme Court seat and selected a justice just as conservative as Neil Gorsuch, if not Gorsuch himself.

None of those men would've lobbed crude personal insults at cable show hosts. They wouldn't have been as cartoonishly, personally corrupt in their business dealings (though scores of their appointees would have been). But even the most consequential way in which Trump differs from a hypothetical alternate Republican president, his blatant obstruction of the investigation into whether or not he is somehow compromised by or in league with the Russian government, has almost no real-world consequences, compared to his (bog-standard Republican) international and domestic policy agendas. When Mitch McConnell's underhanded legislative maneuvering is included in a list of ways in which Trump is normalizing authoritarianism, you give the president far too much credit and the Republican Party far too little.

Meanwhile, here are links (mostly without comments) to some stories I noticed:

Note: It was impossible for me to follow various links that loooked interesting due to aggressive gatekeeping. This included Business Insider, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal. Also annoying: The Guardian, The Nation. I subscribe to The Nation, so should be able to work around that, but the new browser doesn't have the right account info.