The Man Who DIDN’T Know Too Much

From Talking Points Memo, some of the things he didn’t know:

February 26th: “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

April 12th (conversation with President Xi of China): “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy. You know I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power over [North Korea]. But it’s not what you would think.”

April 23rd: “They had a quote from me that NATO’s obsolete. But they didn’t say why it was obsolete. I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn’t in government. People don’t go around asking about NATO if I’m building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf … asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO’s obsolete — not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO — NATO is obsolete.”

April 23rd: “I’m saying to myself, “You know, this is more than just like, 79 (sic) missiles. This is death that’s involved,” because people could have been killed. This is risk that’s involved, because if the missile goes off and goes in a city or goes in a civilian area — you know, the boats were hundreds of miles away — and if this missile goes off and lands in the middle of a town or a hamlet …. every decision is much harder than you’d normally make. (unintelligible) … This is involving death and life and so many things. … So it’s far more responsibility.”

April 27th: “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

the man who knew too much

100 Days


First, the good news from the New York Daily News: After first 100 days, a President Trump impeachment seems like a safe bet.

What a relief! (Tip of the hat to Vasari, for sharing.)

Another good read for this very special day: 100 Days, 100 Horrors. And here, for your delectation, are a few selections from The 100 most Donald Trump quotes about his first 100 days:

“I really just see the bigness of it all, but also the responsibility. And the human responsibility.” (AP)

“I thought it would be easier.” (Reuters)

“I’d give us an A.” (Washington Examiner)

“Not since Harry Truman has anybody done so much. That’s a long time ago.” (Washington Examiner)

In The Pond-Skater Presidency David Brooks enlarges on the theme that Trump is far too incompetent to be an effective fascist. That’s right, as far as it goes, but David Remnick in The New Yorker provides a fuller picture:

Trump has never gone out of his way to conceal the essence of his relationship to the truth and how he chooses to navigate the world. In 1980, when he was about to announce plans to build Trump Tower, a fifty-eight-story edifice on Fifth Avenue and Fifty-sixth Street, he coached his architect before meeting with a group of reporters. “Give them the old Trump bullshit,” he said. “Tell them it’s going to be a million square feet, sixty-eight stories.”

This is the brand that Trump has created for himself—that of an unprincipled, cocky, value-free con who will insult, stiff, or betray anyone to achieve his gaudiest purposes. “I am what I am,” he has said. But what was once a parochial amusement is now a national and global peril. Trump flouts truth and liberal values so brazenly that he undermines the country he has been elected to serve and the stability he is pledged to insure. His bluster creates a generalized anxiety such that the President of the United States can appear to be scarcely more reliable than any of the world’s autocrats. When Kim In-ryong, a representative of North Korea’s radical regime, warns that Trump and his tweets of provocation are creating “a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment,” does one man sound more immediately rational than the other? When Trump rushes to congratulate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for passing a referendum that bolsters autocratic rule in Turkey—or when a sullen and insulting meeting with Angela Merkel is followed by a swoon session with Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the military dictator of Egypt—how are the supporters of liberal and democratic values throughout Europe meant to react to American leadership?

Trump appears to strut through the world forever studying his own image. He thinks out loud, and is incapable of reflection. He is unserious, unfocused, and, at times, it seems, unhinged.

In sum, folks, our fellow citizens have given the world’s most difficult job to a person with a serious mental illness. It does not take Nostradamus to predict that this will not turn out well.

And apart from that, I hope you and Mrs. Lincoln are enjoying the play.


Trump Will Accomplish Little, Because You Can’t Do Business with Him


Even if your negotiating partner is a bad actor, sometimes you can do business with her, because some of her interests may coincide with some of your interests. There may well be a basis to do a deal, even if there is little mutual trust or mutual respect.

On the other hand, there are some folks that you just can’t do business with.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo sometimes goes for the capillary instead of the jugular. At other times he writes masterfully. Today, in How Trump’s Religion of ‘Winning’ Is Sabotaging His Presidency, Marshall allows as how,

Yes, Trump made his threat [on Obamacare and on the Mexican wall]. Then he caved. But while threatening and caving he was here and there un-threatening and un-caving. It wasn’t just bluster followed by fail in some normal linear fashion. It was impossible to now what Trump and the White House were doing or about to do. It was and is impossible to know what was trying to do. So congressional Republicans seem simply to have stopped trying.

As of last night, they were simply negotiating a deal to keep the government open and largely ignoring the President. In a sense, Trump has brought back the actual give and take of legislating by dint of his inability to act like a grown up or even a President.

As with every new White House and administration, we see a constant effort to see who at the White House is calling the shots, who is really speaking for the President or which one of the President’s advisors is screwing things up. Who really speaks for the President out of conflicting advisors who sometimes make contradictory statements or signal lesser or greater levels of confrontation?

What seems clear with Trump is that the exercise is likely mistaken in itself. There’s no Trump viewpoint or thinking or goal to represent. There’s no actor at the center of the machine, at least not one who remains constant enough in any aim or view to matter. So there’s no point figuring our which advisor speaks for the President or represents his thinking. Because, fundamentally, there’s no thinking to represent. …

President Trump seems fundamentally different. He just want wins – virtually anything that is doable and his constellation of advisors and supporters at the moment can count as a win.

This may seem like it dramatically opens the opportunities to pass legislation: since Trump will sign basically anything that counts as a ‘win.’ In practice, just the opposite is the case. Since the President is only concerned with wins, there is no policy agenda or policy specificity, regardless of how malleable, for legislators to grab on to or work with. If they did, it’s just as likely it might change for any number of reasons. As we’ve noted, the presidency is the centripetal force of American politics. Without that force to wrap legislative strategies around it’s very difficult to operate. …

Trump’s winning-centric approach to the Presidency has been slapdash, erratic and impossible to predict. Hill leaders seem more likely to govern around him, if not necessarily in spite of him. Because there’s simply no there there to negotiate with or to follow.

Aardvark’s final word: one of life’s axioms is that if a thing cannot happen, then that thing will not happen.

You cannot do business with Trump.

Therefore, it follows as the night the day, that no business will be done.

Quick!! Look Busy!


Trump Is Writing Fake Executive Orders Because He Doesn’t Know How to Be President

From Jonathan Chait:

If Republicans wish to pretend that Trump is really making America great again by signing pieces of paper asking people who work for him whether they have any ideas how to make America great again, more power to them. I can think of worse outcomes for this presidency than a theater of pseudo-action.

To wit,

A closer look at Trump’s latest executive orders, which Jonathan Swan has obtained, shows that the effort proves the opposite of its intended message. One of the new orders will create an office at the Department of Veterans Affairs that will “identify barriers to the Secretary’s authority to put the well-being of our veterans first.” Another will “review prior monument designations [of federal lands] and suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monument proclamations.” Another orders “a review of the locations available for off-shore oil and gas exploration.” And then there is “an interagency task force to examine the concerns of rural America and suggest legislative and regulatory changes to address them.”

These steps are not evidence of a government working productively. They are the kinds of steps that ought to have been taken two years ago by the president when he started his campaign. …  Trump has the vague idea that there are laws that are making life too hard for veterans, and fossil-fuel operators, and people in small towns, but he has no idea what those laws are. His “executive orders” are actually just using the government to start the process of designing his campaign platform for him.

And the Wall Came Tumbling Down

From the Washington Post:

In the face of fierce Democratic opposition to funding the wall’s construction, White House officials signaled Monday that the president may be open to an agreement that includes money for border security if not specifically for a wall, with an emphasis on technology and border agents rather than a structure.

Trump showed even more flexibility Monday afternoon, telling conservative journalists in a private meeting that he was open to delaying funding for wall construction until September, a White House official confirmed.

And from Politico: Congress set to deny Trump wall money.

Here’s a hint, numbnuts: don’t take a hostage unless you are prepared to pull the trigger. Because unless you are prepared to pull the trigger, you aren’t negotiating, you’re just shooting the shit.


Congratulations, France!

Belated congratulations to the people of France on Sunday’s election results. Hans reports that he has tossed his cup of hemlock down the sink. Meanwhile, Vasari, directs us to this column from David Leonhardt, remarking—possibly with tongue in cheek, or possibly not—that it’s nice to have the world explained in one column. Leonhardt writes,

The details are different in every country, but a theme cuts across much of the industrialized world. In France, Britain, Germany, Japan and the United States, the political left is struggling. It is struggling, in particular, to win over many working-class voters who were once its loyal supporters.

Yes, the French left — and much of the rest of the world, including me — is breathing a sigh of relief this morning, because Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, emerged from yesterday’s first round of the presidential election as an underdog to win. But Le Pen still has a path to victory, and that’s terrifying for many reasons.

She has a path partly because working-class French voters who supported the Socialist Party in past decades have drifted away from it. …

Beyond France, center-right parties have dominated politics recently in both Germany and Japan. The British Labour Party is so dysfunctional that it fumbled a chance to prevent Brexit, as Jonathan Freedland has explained in The New York Review of Books. One of the few exceptions to the left’s losing streak is Canada.

n the United States, of course, Democrats control neither the White House nor Congress. If you’re tempted to excuse this by noting that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, I’d point out that Democrats also hold only about one-third of state legislatures and governorships.

And an observation by yours truly, Aardvark, from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious: as return on capital increases globally and return on labor decreases globally, of course the working class will turn to tribalism and political charlatanism, unless and until the allegedly more responsible among the political class address the real economic concerns of the working class.

All that said, congratulations, France, on having dodged the bullet this time.



A Big Disappointment


In Georgia’s sixth congressional district progressive Jon Ossoff got 48.1 percent of the vote and will face a runoff against Karen Handel, who received 19.8 percent.

Running third was Bob Gray, who achieved a whopping 10.8 percent by sucking up bigly to the Trumpster. Bruce LeVeil, who gave Gray a run for his money in Trump suckupery, earned zero point two percent of the vote, leaving him tied with someone named Mohammad Ali Bhuiyan, not to mention a bunch of other also rans.

Among the latter, also at zero point two percent, was Amy Kremer, the preferred candidate of Sean Hannity. Happily, Georgians were not buying whatever Hannity was selling.

Marco Rubio and Newt Gingrich—who formerly graced the Sixth District with his legendary legislative legerdemain—were for one Judson Hill, who went nowhere. Joining Mr. Hill on his journey to nowhere was Dan Moody, who was Senator Purdue’s man.

In short, the progressives were united, the Republicans were badly divided, and those among them who made a point of supporting Trump suffered humiliating defeats.

Greg Sargent gives progressives some fairly persuasive reasons to feel good about all of this. If you want to feel good too, please read what he has to say.

As for me, one, I am badly disappointed. But, two, building a border wall and doing away with affordable health care are not really popular in Cobb County. Ms. Handel will have to (1) embrace some very unpopular positions, (2) disavow Trump’s approach, and thus risk Trump supporters’ sitting on their hand, or (3) shuck and jive. Ms. Handel, whose ambition greatly exceeds her stature, will surely adopt the shuck and jive approach. It will be a sight to see.

Two of a Kind

Trump Congratulates Erdogan on Turkey Vote Cementing His Rule

 WASHINGTON — President Trump called President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Monday to congratulate him on winning a much-disputed referendum that will cement his autocratic rule over the country and, in the view of many experts, erode Turkey’s democratic institutions. …

The White House was also silent about the long-term implications of the referendum, which some experts have likened to a deathblow to democracy in Turkey. Mr. Erdogan’s narrow victory, in effect, ratifies his authoritarian rule. The change to Turkey’s Constitution will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system

“But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep.”

promise keepers

Majority in US No Longer Thinks Trump Keeps His Promises

 by Jim Norman

Story Highlights

45% say Trump keeps his promises, down from 62% in February

President loses ground on five other key characteristics

Less supportive groups declined most in belief that Trump keeps his promises

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump’s image among Americans as someone who keeps his promises has faded in the first two months of his presidency, falling from 62% in February to 45%. The public is also less likely to see him as a “strong and decisive leader,” as someone who “can bring about the changes this country needs” or as “honest and trustworthy.”

Yes, ladies and germs, the fans are beginning to leave the stadium in large numbers now.

Meanwhile, on the PBS Evening News Dr. Aardvark and I learned that the stock market had a nice rally today on news that World War III has been put on hold, temporarily.

A-League Rd 8 - Melbourne v Adelaide

And the Winner Is …

smiling man

There were three entries in the recent Why is This Man Smiling? caption contest. They were,

1) “I’M SMILING BECAUSE I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

2) “I’M SMILING BECAUSE I’m still tasting that outrageous chocolate cake I was eating when he told me about the missiles he had fired at a country he couldn’t remember.”

3) “I’M SMILING BECAUSE I’ve got this nitwit by the short hairs.”

And the winner is …

Everyone who submitted an entry.

There are no winners and losers anymore.

short hairs

Little Method in the Madness; Much Pain in the Laughter


At the end of eleven weeks in office Trump congratulated himself on the spectacular success of his first thirteen weeks. The man is truly a legend in his own mind.

It is April 17, the beginning of the actual thirteenth week of the Trump presidency. In Mr. Trump’s 10-Second Convictions the New York Times Editorial Board first itemizes, more completely than my recent post, Trump’s many flip flops. It goes on to say,

To attribute the president’s pirouettes to personal growth would … require ignoring what’s actually staring us in the face — that there is no foundation to this presidency. With his all-important ratings tanking, the reality-TV maestro is rewriting the script, enthusiastically swapping out any position in pursuit of a “deal.” He is revealing himself to be a tactical, transactional president, with no guiding convictions or principles beyond “winning.” Not winning for everyone, as he so famously promised. Winning for Mr. Trump.

Democrats or House Freedom Caucus members, NATO members or Middle East dictators, potential allies or adversaries — all must be deeply unsettled by the one clear pattern emerging here, a pattern that is consistent with Mr. Trump’s treatment of others in private life, from his stiffing of his creditors to his swindling of students at Trump University: betrayal.

As I said, this is not a man you can do business with, because he will sell you down the river as surely as God made little green applies.

We laughed about “Bush’s brain.” And some of us, of a certain age, will remember yucking it up when the Gipper claimed that trees cause pollution. But now the laughter has a darker tone. Trump’s unfitness for office is hilarious, but the laughter sounds a lot like whistling past the graveyard.

Ellis Weiner imagines Ivanka’s Notes for the Babysitter:

My daughter is five, and should go to bed at eight-thirty. She can watch a half hour of TV beforehand, but that’s it. And you have to watch her to make sure that she actually brushes her teeth.

The three-and-a-half-year-old will go down pretty easily around seven. …

Donald is seventy. His normal bedtime is two or three in the morning, but don’t worry, we’ll definitely be back by then. He can watch Fox News as much as he wants. If he starts yelling at it (smh), just ignore him. The kids are used to it and their rooms are soundproofed.

But here’s the most important thing: There is to be NO TWEETING AFTER 9 P.M. When you tell him that, he’ll yell stuff like “People have said that I’m a tremendous tweeter!”; “It’s only eight—all the clocks are fake!”; and “I’m not tweeting, I’m sending a text message to 26.4 million people!” Don’t bother arguing. Just make him hand over his phone. If he whines that “you’re being very unfair,” remind him that if I find out he’s been bad he’ll be sorry.

Sometimes, while he watches Fox News, he has “really brilliant ideas,” and he thinks he can just command you to execute them. Three weeks ago, he told Alexandra—in a single night—to “order a team of skywriters to write ‘ISLAM SUCKS’ above Kabul”; to “use eminent domain to have the government take over Hollywood”; to “have the Pentagon require all U.S. servicemen to wear Trump ties and Trump combat boots”; and to “get Eric started on a Trump combat-boot line.” Alex promised she’d look into it in the morning. Of course, by then he’d totally forgotten about everything 🙂

Happy 150th Birthday, Eternal President Kim Il-Sung!

no idea

But, then, neither does our guy. See, for example, Brian Beutler, Trump’s Chaos is Causing Lasting Damage: The terrifying impact of the president’s permanent uncertainty:

In the realms of health, immigration, and foreign policy, Trump has managed to leave stakeholders on all sides of issues—consumers, providers, civilians, enforcers, diplomats, and entire countries—completely befuddled in ways that threaten to cause great harm. …

Perhaps even more alarmingly, though, the Trump administration has allowed this same kind of incoherence to bleed into the foreign policy realm, where Trump has also touted the merits of being mercurial. Not having any clear sense of the country’s international priorities or a clear presidential worldview to use as a north star is a practical nightmare for foreign service officers and others engaged in the day-to-day work of holding alliances together, warding off crises, and making sure that other nations are clear about U.S. intentions.

But it’s also a great way to get us into a war.

Nice planet, while it lasted.

Flip Flop

As I write, it is Good Friday, 2017, at the end of the twelfth week of the Trump Administration. This was the week of the great flip flops. I don’t purport to have any definitive list, but here are some of them:

  • NATO is no longer obsolete
  • China is no longer a currency manipulator
  • China can easily “take care of” North Korea, but, after listening to President Xi for ten minutes, the North Korean problem is really hard
  • Projection of American military power for humanitarian ends unrelated to an immediate national interest is OK
  • He may reappoint Janet Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve
  • Russia is a now a bad actor
  • Ryancare must be passed; I’ll move on from Ryancare to tax reform; but we have to do Ryancare before we can do tax reform; I’ll sabotage Obamacre; I won’t sabotage Obamacare; maybe I’ll work with the Democrats on health care
  • The Ex-Im Bank is a good thing
  • Climate change is a hoax, but maybe human activity has something to do with it
  • There will be a federal hiring freeze; there won’t be a freeze

All this in the context of Trump’s celebration of unpredictability and chaos as tools of negotiation.

How are we to understand this bizarre behavior? For me, four points stand out.

First, though Trump is profoundly ignorant of policy matters and lacks actual views on many subjects on which a president should have views, he does have some persistent attitudes, and will default to policies that are consistent with those attitudes. Foremost among these is a fear of alien influences: germs, black and brown people, foreigners, foreign competitors, Muslims.

But, second, his ultimate goal  is not to advance any policies but instead to aggrandize himself. Thus, where a  policy grounded in his deeply entrenched attitudea conflicts with his goal of self-aggrandizement, he will choose self-aggrandizement over instinct. Thus, he chose to bomb Syria to aggrandize himself, contrary to his instinct to avoid foreign entanglements and promote America First.

Third, lacking the ability to distinguish reality from delusion, unable to reason logically from a complex set of facts,  failing to grasp the difference between strategy and tactics, Trump latches onto inconsistency and surprise as a substitute for actual strategy. In Trump’s distorted mental world, the assertion that consistency is for wimps and losers explains away the fact that he cannot form a rational strategy.

Fourth, for these reasons and others, Trump is not a person with whom you can do business. You cannot do business with him because his word cannot be trusted, and if you place any reliance on it, if you think he will not throw you under the bus at the first opportunity, then you will deserve the result you will get.

He is a liar and the truth is not in him.

seriously dude

Trump Versus Hitler

Trump Hitler

It is becoming clear that, while Trump’s incoherence is bad news on a wide variety of fronts, it is very good news in this respect: he would never be able to create an authoritarian state, even if so inclined, as he very well be inclined.

So let’s be grateful for that.

Even so, the article in the current issue of the New York Review of Books on Lessons from Hitler’s Rise (Christopher R. Browning, emeritus history professor at Chapel Hill, reviewing Volker Ulrich, Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939) remains of interest.

Prof. Browning itemizes, in a detailed, balanced, and persuasive way, many comparisons and contrasts between Trump and Hitler, and their respective historical contexts. And what lessons ought we to draw? Browning concludes this way:

First, there is a high price to pay for consistently underestimating a charismatic political outsider just because one finds by one’s own standards and assumptions (in my case those of a liberal academic) his character flawed, his ideas repulsive, and his appeal incomprehensible. And that is important not only for the period of his improbable rise to power but even more so once he has attained it.

Second, putting economically desperate people back to work by any means will purchase a leader considerable forgiveness for whatever other shortcomings emerge and at least passive support for any other goals he pursues. …

Third, the assumption that conservative, traditionalist allies—however indispensable initially—will hold such upstart leaders in check is dangerously wishful thinking. If conservatives cannot gain power on their own without the partnership and popular support of such upstarts, their subsequent capacity to control these upstarts is dubious at best.

Fourth, the best line of defense of a democracy must be at the first point of attack. Weimar parliamentary government had been supplanted by presidentially appointed chancellors ruling through the emergency decree powers of an antidemocratic president since 1930. In 1933 Hitler simply used this post-democratic stopgap system to install a totalitarian dictatorship with incredible speed and without serious opposition. If we can still effectively protect American democracy from dictatorship, then certainly one lesson from the study of the demise of Weimar and the ascent of Hitler is how important it is to do it early.