Sunday, December 22, 2019


Weekend Roundup

I didn't feel like doing a Roundup this weekend, but found a piece I wanted to quote at length, and figured that might suffice: Andrew Sullivan: What we know about Trump going into 2020. I haven't been a fan of Sullivan's lately (well, ever), and don't endorse his asides on the moral superiority of conservatives, but his assessment of Trump hits a lot of key points, and is well worth reading at length (I am going to add some numbered footnotes where I have something I want to add):

So reflect for a second on the campaign of 2016. One Republican candidate channeled the actual grievances and anxieties of many Americans, while the others kept up their zombie politics and economics. One candidate was prepared to say that the Iraq War was a catastrophe, that mass immigration needed to be controlled[1], that globalized free trade was devastating communities and industries, that we needed serious investment in infrastructure, that Reaganomics was way out of date, and that half the country was stagnating and in crisis.

That was Trump. In many ways, he deserves credit for this wake-up call. And if he had built on this platform and crafted a presidential agenda that might have expanded its appeal and broadened its base, he would be basking in high popularity and be a shoo-in for reelection.[2] If, in a resilient period of growth, his first agenda item had been a major infrastructure bill and he'd combined it with tax relief for the middle and working classes, he could have crafted a new conservative coalition that might have endured.[2] If he could have conceded for a millisecond that he was a newbie and that he would make mistakes, he would have been forgiven for much. A touch of magnanimity would have worked wonders. For that matter, if Trump were to concede, even now, that his phone call with President Zelensky of Ukraine went over the line and he now understands this, we would be in a different world.

The two core lessons of the past few years are therefore: (1) Trumpism has a real base of support in the country with needs that must be addressed, and (2) Donald Trump is incapable of doing it and is such an unstable, malignant, destructive narcissist that he threatens our entire system of government. The reason this impeachment feels so awful is that it requires removing a figure to whom so many are so deeply bonded because he was the first politician to hear them in decades. It feels to them like impeachment is another insult from the political elite, added to the injury of the 21st century. They take it personally, which is why their emotions have flooded their brains. And this is understandable.

But when you think of what might have been and reflect on what has happened, it is crystal clear that this impeachment is not about the Trump agenda or a more coherent version of it. It is about the character of one man: his decision to forgo any outreach, poison domestic politics, marinate it in deranged invective, betray his followers by enriching the plutocracy, destroy the dignity of the office of president, and turn his position into a means of self-enrichment. It's about the personal abuse of public office: using the presidency's powers to blackmail a foreign entity into interfering in a domestic election on his behalf, turning the Department of Justice into an instrument of personal vengeance and political defense, openly obstructing investigations into his own campaign, and treating the grave matter of impeachment as a "hoax" while barring any testimony from his own people.

Character matters. This has always been a conservative principle but one that, like so many others, has been tossed aside in the convulsions of a cult. And it is Trump's character alone that has brought us to this point. . . .

The impeachment was inevitable because this president is so profoundly and uniquely unfit for the office he holds, so contemptuous of the constitutional democracy he took an oath to defend, and so corrupt in his core character that a crisis in the conflict between him and the rule of law was simply a matter of time. When you add to this a clear psychological deformation that can produce the astonishing, deluded letter he released this week in his own defense or the manic performance at his Michigan rally Wednesday night, it is staggering that it has taken this long. The man is clinically unwell, preternaturally corrupt, and instinctively hostile to the rule of law. In any other position, in any other field of life, he would have been fired years ago and urged to seek medical attention with respect to his mental health.

Footnotes:

  1. Restricing immigration is a favorite talking point of other "never Trump conservatives" (e.g., David Frum), one thing that helps them keep their identity distinct from liberals. There is a case to be made that low-wage immigrants undermine American workers, but Trump and anti-immigrant Republicans only frame the issue in racial and cultural terms.
  2. Of course, this is sheer fantasy: the "conservative" mindset allowed Trump no room to maneuver toward giving even his white middle class supporters a break from the government, let alone more leverage against their employers and the predators who have been stripping wealth at every turn. They couldn't even imagine a government that helped balance the scales (although that's exactly what the New Deal did, with a bias for white people that Trump might admire). Thus, for instance, the infrastructure bill offered nothing but privatization measures.

Sullivan also has an appreciative piece on his old chum's win in the UK elections: Boris's blundering brilliance, including this bit:

The parallels with Donald Trump are at first hard to resist: two well-off jokers with bad hair playing populist. But Trump sees himself, and is seen by his voters, as an outsider, locked out of the circles he wants to be in, the heir to a real-estate fortune with no political experience and a crude sense of humor, bristling with resentment, and with a background in reality television. He despises constitutional norms, displays no understanding of history or culture, and has a cold streak of cruelty deep in his soul. Boris is almost the opposite of this, his career a near-classic example of British Establishment insiderism with his deep learning, reverence for tradition, and a capacity to laugh at himself that is rare in most egos as big as his. In 2015, after Trump described parts of London as no-go areas because of Islamist influence, Johnson accused him of "a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him, frankly, unfit to hold the office of president." Even as president, Trump is driven primarily by resentment. Boris, as always, is animated by entitlement. (The vibe of his pitch is almost that people like him should be in charge.)


Some scattered links this week: