Morning BLO and the Power of Horseshedding

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On Morning BLO this morning they played a  clip of Trump’s cabinet nominees systematically rejecting all of Trump’s foreign and defense policy positions. Following which, Morning Joe delivered the Morning BLOviation along these lines: Well, all those witnesses were prepped for their testimony by the Trump transition team, therefore what they said must represent the true Trump position on foreign and defense policy—not the bullshit Trump was peddling in the campaign and the bullshit he continued to spew in his press conference—and therefore, per Morning BLO, it follows as the night the day that we all can and should all breathe a great sigh of relief.

Joe was implicitly addressing a broader question: how much of his own bullshit does Trump actually believe?

Joe’s line of argument this morning was too much even for the sock puppets. They pushed back, arguing in words or substance that we still don’t know how much of his own bullshit the man believes. Joe was reduced to arguing that, well, at least you have Mattis and Kelly, not Bolton and Giuliani, and isn’t that better? And so it is.

Joe was wrong for an additional reason not addressed during the Morning BLOviation session. It is this. As a retired shyster, Aardvark well knows that, when they take the stand, witnesses are frequently unwilling or unable to spit out the words that you forced down their throats during the horsesheddinig session the night before. What the witness actually says at the deposition is a pretty unreliable indicator of what he was told to so–especially where the witness is a strong individual with strong views on the topic of his or her testimony.

* * *

And one more thing. Many have commented on Rex Tillerson’s lack of credibility regarding what he knows and what he remembers. As a retired shyster, Aardvark thinks Mr. Tillerson was applying what he thinks he learned about how to bullshit his way through a deposition.

Six Clusterfucks in Search of a Presidency

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Aardvark writes midday January 11, nine days before the inaugurattionl

You need to read David Brooks’ column yesterday, titled Bannon Versus Trump. My summary does not attempt to do it justice. That said, these are my takeaways:

  • The similarity, in many important respects, between the ideology of Steve Bannon and that of “Putin’s ideologist Alexander Dugin”—both “populist ethno-nationalists” opposed to the current “international order” of globalism,
  • How reports of Russian hacking are bringing the conflict between “Republican regulars like John McCain,” who like globalism and the prevailing international order, and the populist ethno-nationalists to a boiling point,
  • How “Trump planted himself firmly in the [populist ethno-natuibakust[ camp, and dragged Fox News and a surprising number of congressional Republicans with him,” but
  • How the ethno-nationalists are unlikely to carry the day in the US because, while Putin is “theological and cynical, disciplined and calculating, experienced and knowledgeable,” Trump is “inattentive, unpredictable and basically uninterested in anything but his own status at the moment.” In short, although Trump may be temperamentally inclined toward a war of civilizations, he lacks the skill set to pull it off.

My friend Hans, citing Josiah Strong’s 1885 call for racial, religious, and civilizational conflict, fears that Brooks’ populist ethno-nationalists will fulfill this awful promise and unleash civilizational conflict. But Brooks would tell Hans not to worry so much: Trump is just too incompetent to get us in that kind of trouble.

As Brooks peers into his crystal ball, he sees Trump becoming distracted, enjoying the company of the Davos crowd, writing “a million astounding tweets,” but unable or unwilling to bring about “terrible policy-making.”

Alas, the last year shows that David Brooks, for all his insight, has a cloudy crystal ball—the biggest cloud of all being a bias toward optimism.

So let Aardvark say this about that. Aardvark deplores our current tendency toward hyperbole. He cringes when someone describes a medium sized disappointment as a “tragedy”—because, when a real tragedy takes place, what word do you use for it? He winces when a medium sized setback is called a “crisis.” He hides his head when a kid’s performance is praised as “awesome,” when an accurate description would be “minimally acceptable, all things considered.” If the kid ever does do something awesome, what word would you use?

Having made that point of personal privilege, I have to say—though I might be wrong—that multiple clusterfucks seem to lie just over the Horizon, whether or not Brooks is right to presict that it won’t rise to the level of a conflict of civilizations:

The Ethics Crisis. The Morgan Lewis firm has tried to lawyer their way out of this, but Aardvark recalls those times when he had to say to a client, “Sir, I am a competent lawyer, but you do not need a competent lawyer; what you need is Merlin the fucking magician.” Merlin the fucking magician is not a Morgan Lewis partner.

The Health Care Crisis. Push is rapidly coming to shove. In this morning’s news conference, Trump sounded as if he and his boys might conceivably have come up with a tweaked form of Obamacare that they can sell as Trumpcare. If they have done that, then Obama says he would support it, and so would I. But the Republicans won’t pass it, and there will be hell to pay.

The Roosian Crisis. Pretty clearly, we have only just begun.

The Environmental Crisis. That’s the one that will ensue once the EPA begins to side with the polluters.

The Infrastructure Crisis. That’s the one that will occur when the Republicans don’t support Trump’s infrastructure plans. And, probably not last, and not necessarily least,

The Fiscal Policy Crisis. That’s the one that will erupt when the Republican congressfolk try to rob from the poor and give to the rich.

Methinks yon David Brooks had better go ahead and retain a highly competent clinical psychologist, skilled in the treatment of depression.

WAS HE LYING THEN OR IS HE LYING NOW?

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In a recent post I drew one point of comparison and contrast between Trump and George Wallace: Wallace, though despicable, engaged in rhetoric that drew bogus conclusions from actual facts, and thus had some mooring in reality. Trump just makes shit up—and then comes to believe his own lies.

So which one, Wallace or Trump, would probably make a worse President?

Depressing, isn’t it?

In Politico this morning we have another important comparison and contrast—between Trump and Berlusconi. Aardvark—noting that, in Italy, they appear poised to elect an actual real life clown, not just someone who plays a clown on TV—highly recommends the article.

Also highly recommended is Garrison Keillor’s latest rant on the stupidity of the Trump electorate, “Thank you, Trump voters, for this wonderful joke.”. It begins with this ditty:

He promised the swamp would be drained,

Was elected, said “Rain!” and it rained

And the old crocodiles

Wore flesh-eating smiles

And the turtles were well entertained.

Keillor’s entertaining screed is an example of exactly what the Politico writer, Gianni Riotta, warns against as highly counterproductive: sneering at the unwashed masses. That said, I doubt that many of the unwashed are reading Garrison Keillor, and I hope he keeps it up, if for no other reason, just to make Aardvark feel a little better.

Finally, not to be missed is “Pizzagate: From rumor, to hashtag, to gunfire in D.C.,” which tells the story of poor Edgar Welch and how he came to believe the bogus story about Hillary’s pedophile ring at the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant.

And so, what is to be done about this mess? What do we do, and what do we say to acquaintances, friends, and family who supported Trump?

I don’t know, but I am pretty sure that there are two approaches that will not work. One is to sneer and yell. Another is to try to have a rational conversation.

We’ll have to improvise. Many are victims of a cult of personality, and so we have to ask ourselves what might break the grip of the cult. For example, most of them hate Obama. We might point to his recent friendly comments about our outgoing President.

If your Trump supporting friend responds by saying that Trump is just being a hypocrite when he says a few nice things about Obummer, try asking that most devastating of questions: Was he Trump lying then about Obama, or is he lying now?

 

“Oh noes!” said the Business Roundtable

first-they-cameFirst he came for the Mexicans, but we were not Mexicans, and we yearned for a tax break, so we did not speak out.

Then he came for the Muslims, but we were not Muslims, and we wanted go get on with entitlement reform, so we did not speak out.

Then he came for the pharmaceutical companies and other global corporations.

This time it’s getting SERIOUS!

oh-noes

 

“A Voice for the Voiceless,” or, the Putative Genius of Donald J. Trump

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As is his wont, early this morning, over coffee and toast, Aardvark took in Morning BLOviator and his merry band. Inter alia, a guest appearance by Michael Lewis, author of a new book entitled The Undoing Project, led to an abstract schmooze over the relative merits of reason and data versus gut instinct in making decisions—and to a more specific discussion about whether The Donald’s performance in the recent election exemplified a kind of gut instinct genius in connecting with the masses.

Well, there is one thing that we now know about The Donald’s peeps, and that is that they are really, really pissed. Among those of us who can detect the difference between a charlatan and a tribune of the people—in other words, among elite snobs—there is still some degree of puzzlement about why they are really, really pissed. (For one of many insightful articles, check out this interview with Prof. Kathy Cramer.)

But royally pissed they are. And gullible, too.

My father—a good and decent man whose memory I revere, but a man of his time and place—was mightily pissed when the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education back in 1954. In the evening, he would sit at the dinner table in his work stained clothes and proclaim in a loud voice that all nine members of the Court were getting generous monthly checks from Moscow.

Lots of people were saying that. And some of them were very reliable, in his opinion.

Now, in 1954 my father didn’t get his “facts” about the monthy Soviet cash subsidy to the Court from Twitter or Facebook, because those means of communication did not exist. Nor, interestingly enough, did he get them from George Wallace, as far as I can tell. George make a big deal about the fact that “Communist sympathizers” were among those supporting the civil rights movement. That was actually true. This, Donald, is an example of advocacy: taking actual facts, and drawing tendentious conclusions from them. Obnoxious as it was, Wallace’s claim was not a fabrication concocted from whole cloth.

The Donald’s alleged genius does not, in my view, lie in gut instinct as such. It lies in a complete lack of boundaries—even the boundaries that George Wallace observed—and an ability to put together a coalition of the royally pissed and the deeply gullible. Bush and Rubio and the rest of that crew could have done the same thing, had they so chosen. What held them back was a shred of decency.

You could call a really successful embezzler a genius at accounting, but that would be a very idiosyncratic way of viewing the situation.

Satan is said to be the Father of Lies. This is his son, in whom he is well pleased.

On Paul Krugman, and a Little Bit o’ Populism

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Paul Krugman weighs in today on the subject that has to be uppermost in the minds of progressives: why did so many Trump supporters vote against their own interests?

Was it because of our message? Or because they didn’t hear our message because the news media didn’t convey our message? Because they have hate in their hearts? Or because, in their delusion, they bought into Trump’s magical thinking and his cult of personality? Some of all of these things?

Krugman concludes on a tepidly pessimistic note:

One thing is clear . . . : Democrats have to figure out why the white working class just voted overwhelmingly against its own economic interests, not pretend that a bit more populism would solve the problem.

Aardvark begs to differ. He is unaware of the identity(ies) of those who “pretend that a big more populism would solve the problem.” My opinion is that the only course of action that might work is full throated advocacy of a program to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Not, in other words, a bit of populism, but instead, a lot of populism.

Let’s war game out the alternative, folks. Krugman focuses on coal country, where Trump has promised magically to bring back the mining jobs that he has no way in hell of actually bringing back.

What happens who he fails, and the former miners grasp that their savior has deserted them? “Maybe a Trump administration can keep its supporters on board, not by improving their lives, but by feeding their sense of resentment,” Krugman writes. I don’t know whether he can do that, but I am highly confident he’s going to try–aided and abetted by his buddies in the Kremlin, who will ramp up their already successful fake news program.

Resentment? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

The question is which way the mob will march, and who will be in front of it.

Smiting the Pointy Headed Postmodernists

pointy-head

A few weeks ago the Aardvarks were dining here at Happy Acres with their learned friend Iakovos Fahrbahn and Mrs. Fahrbahn. I regaled them with the story of how, many years ago, I took a course at Ivy University from Professor Richard Rorty. I think it was about metaphysics. Whatever it was about, Aardvark grasped nothing, absolutely nothing, of what Rorty was trying to convey to the unwashed. How surprised I was to learn last year that Rorty was to be found among the Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition. That discovery explained a lot about my experience back at Ivy U.

Now, after the election, Iakovos has kindly shared these observations from Rorty, writing in 1998:

[M]embers of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. … All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

Alas, these thoughts are all too understandable.

But here’s what we don’t understand. When—not if, but when—the unskilled workers of whom Rorty spoke grasp that they have been conned yet again in the greatest political con of all times, will they once again retire from politics? Or will they elect someone worse in 2020—a truly competent authoritarian?

No more water. The fire next time.

 

Inside Trump’s Mind—13 Working Hypotheses

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Aardvark finds it highly distasteful spending time inside Donald’s mind. If Donald lived here at Happy Acres, he is not the sort of person whom the Aardvarks would invite to sit with them in the dining room. We would not invite him to our next cocktail party. If he showed up anyway, we would both develop stomach flu and declare the party over. If we saw him walking toward us in the hallway, we would turn quickly and escape down another corridor.

All that said, he is the president of all of us, Aardvarks included, and we have to spend some time trying to figure out this disturbed person whom we have unwisely elected. So, as Aardvark writes on November 23, 2016, the day after the New York Times interview, he offers these 13 working hypotheses about the mind of Minority President-Elect Trump.

  1. Trump is a breathtakingly insecure person, who craves adulation and validation like an addict craves booze or heroin.
  2. Trump craves wealth, but mainly as a means of getting veneration.
  3. Trump craves beautiful women, but mainly, in all probability, more for the purpose of stroking his ego than for stroking his penis.
  4. Trump craves power, but mainly for the purpose of receiving adoration, as distinguished from actually doing any particular thing with that power.
  5. Trump is credulous, devoid of intellectual curiosity, and possessed of a minute attention span.
  6. In consequence of the above points, Trump has a very strong tendency to believe the last person who spoke to him.
  7. To achieve his unwisely chosen life goals, Trump views an essential tool in his toolkit as the spreading of bullshit indiscriminately and in all directions.
  8. He believes, accurately, that all “winners” (in his definition of “winners”) are bullshit artists, but inaccurately believes that all “winners” spread bullshit shamelessly and indiscriminately, 100 percent of the time. Like a color blind person who cannot tell the difference between red and green, Trump cannot tell the difference between evidence based advocacy and just making stuff up.
  9. In consequence of this mental deficiency, Trump feels shock and surprise, combined with a deep sense of grievance, when called out on his bullshit. That’s because he thinks he is just doing the same thing everyone else does—or at least what every “winner” does.
  10. Despite all of this, Trump believes some part of what he says. But because of all of this, one cannot say what part he deeply believes, what part he knows is bullshit, and what part he thinks might be true, at least based on what he was told by the last person he spoke to, before he speaks to someone else who will tell him differently. His changing views on the efficacy of waterboarding being an example of the latter.
  11. Because we cannot know what Trump will likely do, based on what has come out of his mouth, we must instead be guided by scripture. Paraphrasing Matthew 7:16, by his fruits shall ye know Trump.
  12. If a thing cannot possibly happen, then that thing will not in fact happen. Bannon, the Trump Whisperer, wants to improve the economic lot of the working class and thus build an enduring constituency for ethno-nationalism. Ryan and his merry band of Ayn Rand disciples want to adopt drastic changes in public policy whose objective effect would impoverish the working class—whatever the merry band may believe, or claim to believe. Both policies cannot happen. Therefore both policies will not be implemented.
  13. What policies will actually be adopted is unknown and unknowable at the present time. However, Trump may well figure out that the Ayn Randers would be highly counterproductive to his desire for working class adulation. If Aardvark were a betting man, he would bet on Bannon, the Trump Whisperer.

Breaking News! Breaking News!

crooked-money

From God’s lips to Morning Joe’s ears: TRUMP WON’T PROSECUTE CROOKED HILLARY!

Here’s a thought for progressives. We need to do what we can to separate Trump from his base. So, this Thanksgiving, when your crazy uncle Bill starts basking in Trump’s triumph as he chows down, ask him about Trump’s breaking his promise to appoint a special prosector.

Remind him that Marco Rubio said that Trump is a con man. Remind him that Little Marco was right: Trump is a con man.

Ask uncle Bill how many more of Trump’s promises are likely to be broken. Ask him how many broken promises he would forgive—and which broken promises he would not accept.

While you’re at it, ask uncle Bill if it’s OK for Trump, Giuliani, and Flynn to make money from their dealings with foreign governments. Ask him why they’re not like Crooked Hillary. Does he think maybe Trump was concerned that sauce for the goose might turn out to be sauce for the dander?

If he yells, don’t yell back. Listen. And check out Fellow Trump Critics, Maybe Try a Little Listening.)

Tell uncle Bill you look forward to continuing the conversation.

George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport

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Gentlemen:

While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

What Do We Tell the Children?

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After the election my old friend Lobo Loup sent an email blast containing A Special Message for the Children of America, giving a sarcastic earful of advice from Trump on how to become president. I reproduce it below.

Thinking along the same lines, my friend Vasari shared this Post-Election College Paper Grading Rubric by Daveena Tauber. It’s a hoot, and a must read.

With no children of their own, Aardvark and Dr. Aardvark are, naturally, great experts on child rearing. So here is my opinion. When all else fails, tell the truth, even to children.

And here is the truth, or at least I think it is the truth. Lying, bullying, and other despicable behavior can sometimes lead to great success, at least for a time. But people like that will inevitably wear out their welcome. And the problem with habitual lying is that in time no one will believe you, even when you are telling the truth.

Not only is truth telling the right thing to do, but it is also, as Lincoln liked to say, the best policy.

* * *

Dear Children of America,

Gather round and heed my words, for now we have seen they are true. 

As you go through life:

DO:

  • lie
  • cheat
  • exploit your fellow man, including people you might hire
  • spew racist venom and carry out/promote/enforce racist policies, as an employee or employer
  • engage in illegal sexual predatory behavior
  • consort with and welcome the support of anti-Semites, anti-Muslims, anti-ANYBODY ‘OTHER’
  • encourage your supporters, if you ever run for an election — even in school! — when they cry out, “kill [the opponent], string [him/her] up” because that will whip them up into a fury and drive up your vote
  • declaim your views in sound bites with absolutely no substance, verification or regard for the truth, because winning at all costs is ‘all’
  • hold yourself above the law in all other respects, and aspire to one day loudly declaim that you ‘could stand on Fifth Avenue and kill somebody and get away with it’, because people will admire that as a sign of strength
  • blithely ignore the disastrous warming of the planet and promote policies to make it worse
  • surround yourself with ‘yes-men’ (and maybe a few women)
  • con, con, con everyone around you, because it’s all about you
  • suck up to the rich while paying lip-service to the needs and cares of the rest of society

DO NOT

  • study hard and learn your subjects
  • read deeply and grapple with complexity 
  • pay taxes or
  • really give a damn about anything or anybody except yourself, as long as you can FAKE IT and pretend that you do 

AND YOU, TOO, CAN BECOME PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!

And if all this advice seems to contradict everything your parents ever taught you, just tell them — “Hey!  I’m just following the example of Donald Trump, President of the United States!”

– Donald Trump, Making America Great Again.

 

What Democrats Owe the Country

crumbling-infrastructure

That’s the topic E.J. Dionne addresses this morning. He has many interesting things to say, but I find his overall message a little muddy—and understandably so.

Dionne argues that Democrats need relentlessly to oppose racists, racism, and Trump’s other nastiness. That is clear, and among people of good will there is no controversy about it.

But what if Trump proposes programs that might actually improve the economic lives of working class Americans—programs that would almost surely sew discord between the Trumpistas and the establishment Republicans?

Should Democrats work with Trump? Or should they adopt the same strategy that Mitch McConnell employed, and oppose him on all things, including the things they would endorse if the president were a Democrat?

Dionne doesn’t quite say it, but implies that if something Trump proposes actually does improve the economic position of the working class, he will grab all the credit for it and use his credit grab to further entrench his racist nonsense.

All understood. Democrats are indeed damned if they do cooperate and damned if they don’t. But I think they are damned to a lower portion of Hell If they don’t cooperate than if they do, because failure to cooperate will be presented, and understood by many, as cynicism trumping a desire to promote the public good.

Of course, the whole discussion is premised on the assumption that Trump might present proposals on infrastructure and health care that would actually help his base of supporters. Maybe he won’t. In which case E.J. Dionne and Chuck Schumer can breathe a sigh of relief, as they climb down from the horns of a dilemma.

A Basket of Deplorable Appointees

white-race

The night The Donald won, he said he wanted to be President of all the people. Only the highly gullible would have been certain that he was speaking his mind. But, at that moment, to entertain the thought that he actually did aspire to national reconciliation was a metaphysical possibility. That’s because we did not yet know for sure whether he was an actual crazy person, or a fairly sane person putting on a crazy act.

As the days go by, the evidence for actual craziness becomes more apparent. Many have made the case. As always, Jonathan Chait lays it out most persuasively: Donald Trump Building Team of Racists.

Bannon, Flynn, Sessions. They are not a credit to their race.

Democrats in the Senate must oppose Sessions to the last bullet. Because they no longer have the filibuster for presidential appointees, they will probably lose. So be it. Republicans will have broken the justice system, and having broken it, they will own the consequences of their actions.

A 12-Step Program

Nicholas Kristof offers us A 12-Step Program for Responding to President-Elect Trump.  Social justice work consists of direct service, advocacy, education, outreach, and personal witness. Kristof has a number of interesting ideas on all of these modes of reacting to Trump. Some of his suggestions are interesting initiatives that you probably would not have thought of on your own.

As one act of personal witness, I have donned an American flag pin. As the occasion arises, I explain why I’m wearing it.

This morning it occurred to me that I need to get back on Facebook and reconnect with some of my very mixed bag of family members, former classmates, and other connections. Initially, I plan to do a lot of listening. For those who supported Trump, I want to find out more about what itch they thought they were scratching.

If someone wanted to restore white supremacy, then I am afraid we don’t have much to talk about. If someone wanted a skilled businessman to restore the American economy, then we have the basis for a discussion.