The Mad King’s Adviser

mad king

Jonathan Chait, John Bolton Era Ends With No Casualties Except Bolton’s Dignity

A key dynamic about the Trump presidency is that, in keeping with the prestige television era in which it is situated, there are no good guys, just different levels of villainy, often leavened by dark comedy. Trump has pronounced instincts on foreign policy that drive him away from shooting wars and into trade wars. On the whole, however, he is sub-ideological. He initially hesitated to hire Bolton on account of his thick mustache. Later, he impulsively decided to hire him, despite the facial hair, “because he was impressed by his many appearances on Fox News.”…

Bolton was an advocate of consistently bad ideas that were often set in opposition to other bad ideas. Trump has maintained an elaborate pretense that North Korea is giving up its nuclear weapons program, touting his own negotiating genius in securing imaginary concessions while appearing to view the fawning letters he receives from Kim Jong-un as important concessions. This fantasy is less dangerous than Bolton’s barely concealed desire to launch a military strike against North Korea.

The wedge between them drove Bolton into increasingly obvious isolation. On a recent diplomatic visit, Trump and his more favored advisers met with North Korea’s leaders while Bolton was sent literally to Outer Mongolia.

The inevitable humiliating conclusion was finally reached when Trump fired Bolton via tweet, the most inglorious of exits. Like the vast majority of Trump staffers, Bolton came into the administration believing he could manipulate the Mad King, but surrendered his dignity in the process. The serial debasement of some of the most odious members of the Republican governing class is one of the few bright spots of the Trump presidency. Bolton’s tenure ended in the best possible way. Nothing was destroyed except his own stature.

Bonkers

bonkers

Highly recommended this morning is Jonathan Chait’s book review of a new book entitled American Carnage, a detailed behind-the-scenes look over the last ten years, detailing how Republican leaders dropped their pretense at supporting balanced budgets and constitutional government, and adopted a pure strategy of white racism in support of the plutocratic agenda.

And now this, this morning. The plutocrats have sown the wind and they have reaped the whirlwind.

BIARRITZ, France — President Trump asserted on Saturday that he has the authority to make good on his threat to force all American businesses to leave China, citing a national security law that has been used mainly to target terrorists, drug traffickers and pariah states like Iran, Syria and North Korea.

As he arrived in France for the annual meeting of the Group of 7 powers, Mr. Trump posted a message on Twitter citing the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 — a law meant to enable a president to isolate criminal regimes but not intended to be used to cut off economic ties with a major trading partner because of a disagreement over tariffs.

“For all of the Fake News Reporters that don’t have a clue as to what the law is relative to Presidential powers, China, etc., try looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Case closed!”

Hugh Jim Bissel Responds to China

HJB Responds

About an hour ago, Jonathan Chait hit the nail on the head: Trump Is Melting Down Because China Won’t Give In on Trade:

President Trump is in the midst of a public meltdown that is humiliating, scary, and banana republic–y even by Trumpy standards. The reason is that Trump started a trade war and China refuses to back down, having announced this morning that it is imposing retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods.

Trump has picked fights with lots of countries. Usually they either placate him or try to give him a face-saving way of de-escalating (e.g., Mexico, which is never going to pay for the wall but doesn’t talk about the fact that it’s never going to pay for the wall anymore). Sometimes they get Trump to fold by stroking his ego (the North Koreans have carried out the most over-the-top version of this tactic).

China is playing it differently. Trump is pressuring China with tariff threats, on the theory that China, which is more export-dependent than the U.S., has more to lose from a trade war. China, apparently, calculates that it is Trump who has more to lose from a trade war, since he is facing reelection next year and Chinese president Xi Jinping is facing reelection … never. What’s more, China has little incentive to cough up permanent concessions in its trade relations with the U.S., given that there’s a better-than-even chance Trump will lose and it can just wait for the next president.

And, may I add, with respect to that “better-than-even-chance,” China is damn well trying to load the dice.

Bigly.

And One More Thing

I really don’t think the Business Roundtable and the United States Chamber of Commerce will take well to being “hereby ordered.”

The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn

darkest

Came across these two articles late this afternoon. Cumulative, but, IMHO, worth a look, nevertheless.

Jonathan Chait, Why Trump Spent his Summer Vacation Sending Racist Tweets:

The best explanations for Trump’s actions are often the stupidest ones. Trump has decided the answer to “how I spent my summer vacation” will be sending racist tweets, primarily because that was the thing that he felt like doing at those moments, contradicting the pleas of most of his fellow Republicans.

Yet these impulsive thumb-rants amount to some of the most important and revealing communications of Trump’s presidency. For one thing, they convey the beliefs that have undergirded his career. As Victor Blackwell points out, Trump reserves terms like “infest” and “infestation” — which most people use only to describe diseases or vermin — exclusively for nonwhites. As much hate as he might generate for a target like, say, the mainstream media or transnational institutions, he would never describe the New York Times as an infestation.

Ed Kilgore, Trump’s Hate Offensive Could Turn Off White Working-Class Women

Yeah, not to mention royally pissing off more than half of the voters who showed up last time. Not to mention making every single African-American hopping-up-and-down mad.

Kilgore writes, “If Trump were being purely strategic, he’d tone down the hate-rage and the racism while continuing to pound away at the vulnerable points of the progressive agenda. But that may not be in his DNA. And it’s possible the joy he takes in turning Americans against each other could be his undoing.”

Shhh!!! It’s a Secret!!! Nobody Tell Him!!!

Yes, it probably is in his DNA. But sometimes, faced with mortal danger arising from behaviors deep within their DNA, people manage to wake up and smell the coffee, curb their compulsions, and save themselves from destruction.

Sometimes they save themselves before it is too late.

And sometimes they don’t.

Trump doesn’t face just the indignity of defeat in 2020, he faces the likelihood of indictment and jail.

So, please, nobody tell him that his racist rants are leading to his own destruction. Encourage him, instead, to give witness to his inner asshole at every opportunity.

This thing is bad, and it’s getting worse, and it probably needs to get worse before it gets better. Sometimes it has to get very dark, before the dawn breaks.

Some Things are Complicated, But Others are Bleeding Obvious

bleeding obvious

Fredda Foxy has called my attention to a message from Paul Krugman on the topic of how to run against a bad man. Fredda and Paul seem to have some kind of email relationship. I can’t find the Krugman message on the internet, so I reproduce it below, as Fredda forwarded it to me.* And I want to compare Krugman’s obsesrvations with this alarming news from Jonathan Chait: Democratic Progressives and Centrists Are Both Committing Strategic Suicide.

Now, ladies and germs, some things are complicated, while others are bleedingly obvious and dorically simple. Let me mention a few of the latter.

One. If you are fighting a war, you really need to understand the battlefield. Will you be fighting on the plains? In the hills? In swampy territory? And if you don’t know where your battle is being fought, then you had bloody well better make it your business to find out.

The Chait article has two points, the first of which is that the nice Democratic politicians who are talking about restoring the filibuster, so they can make nice on the playground with the folks from the Republican side of town—those folks really don’t know shit from Shinola.

The plutocrat/racist coalition is in a fight to the death to hang on to power. There are some people you just can’t be nice to. I don’t mean you need to yell at them and hurl bucketsful of epithets plucked from Roget’s Thesaurus. I mean you can’t give ‘em and inch, because, friends and neighbors, they will take a mile.

Two. If your adversary is shooting himself in the foot, then please don’t stop him. Just let him do the work for you.

A great principle of advocacy is Don’t Tell ‘Em, Show ‘Em. Yes, we should not normalize un-American behavior. Yes, we should “call out racism.” But mostly we should just let Donald Trump SHOW everyone exactly what kind of person he is.

Three. It will probably be a close election. But we have a 9.3 percent advantage (fivethirtyeight.com, likely and registered voters, as of this evening). Trump is now at 43.2 percent support. He will keep most of them, but I think a bunch more Nuremburg rallies will peel off a few, and he’ll be down at around 40. At that level, with any luck, his ass is grass.

That said,

Four. We must not press our luck. Chait has it exactly right. We need to push for those parts of the progressive agenda that poll well, and not take chances on those parts that don’t poll well. Chait elaborates:

A new poll by NPR tests most of the ideas Democrats have debated so far. The party has a wide array of proposals that enjoy public support — a Medicare option for everybody, a $15 minimum wage, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally, a wealth tax, and other things. But several of the issues Democrats are running on poll badly. In particular, decriminalizing immigration laws, giving health-care subsidies to undocumented immigrants, and replacing private insurance with Medicare are ideas that sound bad to most Americans.

Progressives have waved away such objections by insisting people who have private insurance don’t like it and would be glad to be moved onto a public plan. …

Well, we do have polling on this. NPR’s data shows that letting people “choose between a national health insurance program or their own private health insurance” is a 70 percent issue, while a Medicare expansion “that replaces private health insurance” is a 41 percent issue. And that is without accounting either for the large tax increases that would be needed to finance it or the effect of a massive countermobilization by insurers and the entire medical industry. These risks are all the more difficult to fathom given the much safer alternative available to candidates: a Medicare expansion plan that could be financed exclusively by taxing the rich and which would leave employer insurance in place.

Despite these grim numbers, activists have pressured leading Democratic candidates to put themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. Just 27 percent of the public supports decriminalization of the border, and 33 percent favors the extension of health-insurance benefits to undocumented immigrants, yet during the second Democratic debate, the latter position was endorsed by every candidate onstage. …

Centrism is not a political panacea, nor is it a myth. Its value matters in some ways, and not at all in others. Popular opinion is sensitive to high-profile public issues that can easily be reduced to understandable slogans on the news — “take away your insurance,” say. It is not sensitive to obscure Senate traditions — “Senator Jones refused to vote to restore the judicial filibuster” does not sound like a devastating attack. …

For the moment, the Democratic Party is clinging to centrism in the places where it has no value, and throwing it aside in the areas where doing so comes at great cost.

* Paul Krugman, Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The great majority of Americans consider Donald Trump unpresidential. A plurality consider his recent Tweets racist; half believe his campaign coordinated with Russia. It’s fair to say that most of America finds Trump pretty vile.

The question for Democrats is what to do with that reality. The thing is, it’s a lot less relevant politically than you might imagine. Most of the people who consider Trump vile would never have voted for him anyway, and many of the rest will vote for him despite their personal distaste, because they hate liberals more.

Yet it would also be wrong to say that Trump’s unique awfulness is irrelevant. His approval rating is remarkably low given growth over 3 percent and unemployment under 4 percent. And perceptions of character do drive votes: the Clinton email “scandal” — yes, it was fake, but it was relentlessly hyped by the media and fueled by James Comey’s misbehavior — almost surely swung the 2016 election.

So how should Democrats be handling this election? I’ve seen a lot of commentators lecturing the Dems about not making the election all about Trump. But who’s actually doing that? On the campaign trail, the leading progressive candidates barely talk about Trump; Elizabeth Warren, for example, spends most of her time laying out her policy proposals. The only major contender who really does seem to put attacks on Trump at the core of his campaign is … Joe Biden.

On the other hand, not making the campaign about Trump at all — in effect, normalizing him — would surely be foolish. Maybe only a few percent of the electorate can be swayed by reminders that a terrible man sits in the White House, but that could easily be the margin of victory.

The question is how to balance these concerns; and that’s mainly up to Nancy Pelosi, not the presidential candidates. I think I understand why Pelosi isn’t moving forward with impeachment, although she knows as well as anyone that it’s richly deserved: She probably doesn’t have the votes, even in the House, and doesn’t want to give Trump anything he could call a win. On the other hand, it is puzzling how low-energy House Democrats have been at pursuing Trump’s multiple scandals — and his tax returns!

At the same time, Democrats need to sell their policy agenda. For the most part, concerns that they’re moving too far left are, I believe, overblown: centrists may be horrified at proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy and expand social benefits, and they may imagine that the nation as a whole shares their horror. But polling actually shows that such proposals are highly popular.

The one thing that worries me is the rush to embrace a purist version of “Medicare for all” that eliminates private insurance. That seems like an unnecessary political risk on an issue where Democrats have a huge inherent advantage, since there are less disruptive ways to achieve universal coverage.

So can Democrats walk and chew gum at the same time? Can they run mainly on things Americans want, like guaranteed health care, while also reminding voters that a terrible person occupies the White House? The fate of the republic may hinge on the answer.

 

 

 

 

 

In Fairness to the Hand Wringers and Garment Renders, Let’s Give the Devil His Due

garmet render

Jonathan Chait, Benjamin Hart, and Margaret Hartmann, Will Trump’s Racist Tweets Work?

Jim VanderHei and Mike Allen, Trump’s premeditated racism is central to his 2020 strategy

I remain of the view that, when the facts are viewed objectively, and when they are viewed as a whole, the case that progressives should wring their hands and move en masse to New Zealand is not persuasive. But …

First, Let Us Give the Devil His Due

Giving the devil his due, Messrs. VanderHei and Allen channel the political thinking of Trump and his henchmen this way:

It might seem like improvisational madness when President Trump tells American citizens in Congress to “go back” where they came from, but those close to Trump say there’s a lot of calculation behind his race-baiting. …

The rough calculation goes like this: 

Trump knows that in 2016, he won the white vote by 20+ points.

He hopes he can crank their turnout even higher, especially among older, white evangelicals. He knows most of those voters are unlikely to ditch him, no matter how offensive his comments.

He watches Fox News and knows AOC, in particular, is catnip to old, white voters, especially men. She is young, Hispanic, female and a democratic socialist — a 4-for-4 grievance magnet. Last week, AOC got nearly as muchonline attention as all 2020 Democrats combined.

Trump believes he did better than Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters because many who came here and went through the legal process agree with his views.

Axios sat in ona focus group in Michigan where white swing voters agreed with Trump on immigration. Carlos Algara, a political scientist at UC Davis, told the N.Y. Times that a forthcoming analysis of the 2018 midterms found that even without Trump on the ballot, “white Democrats with high levels of racial resentment were likely to vote … Republican.”

Facebook is often his incubator. He has spentthree times more than all Democratic contenders combined on Facebook, with a mix of message-testing immigration lines to appealing to Hispanics who seem susceptible to his worldview.

So Trump calculates that (white voters + some Hispanic voters) * (tough immigration rhetoric + race-baiting language) = narrow 2020 win.

Evaluating the Tactic that’s Intended to Support the Strategy

So that’s the strategy. The Chait, Hart, and Hartman printed conversation elaborates on an important tactic intended to advance the strategy: flirt with open racism, stir up controversy, stir up your base, deny that you’re a racist, and claim to be victimized. (And, maybe as icing on the cake, simultaneously detract from the Epstein connection.)

Political genius or not political genius? Chait makes two points that persuade me. First, the political genius inherited peace and prosperity, and his political approval stands at 42 percent. Second, he came so close to calling his oponents ——– that a goodly number of his supporters felt uncomfortable.

And Let Me Add …

… a few more points.

Trump played the racism card in 2018 and it redounded badly against him. Not proof of what will happen in 2020, but, surely, it’s very relevant to the prognostication.

Also, don’t you think he’s in a bit of a box? That if he’s going with peak racism, then his racism has peaked too early?

Because, here’s the thing. When Trump says the next racism-flirtatiously thing, the headline will be, “Well, There He Goes Again.” Soon, the headline will no longer be on page 1, it will be on page 17L

“Trump Tweets Another Racist Tweet.”

And, in other news,

“Dog Bites Man.”

No, to keep on doing this, he’s going to have to come up with new shocks. Next time, he can’t just tell a black congresswoman to “go back to Africa.” He did that before. If he does it again, the shock value will have worn off. Next time, he will have to say something even worse. And the time after that, something worse still.

His strategy and tactics will drive him to bigger and better shocks. And we will learn more bad news about how many hard core, unrepentant racists live among us. And we will see whether they are enough to win the election.

Smart and Smarter

Trump caught in an Iran trap. A smart analysis by Greg Sargent. An even smarter exposition by Jonathan Chait.

Smart

Greg Sargent, Mike Pence just revealed something important about Trump’s Iran decisions:

In an important essay, Gabriel Schoenfeld of the Niskanen Center notes that a key feature of the “malignant nationalism” animating Trump and his intellectual supporters is the notion that international integration that requires accepting any constraints on the nation’s prerogatives cannot ever be acknowledged to be succeeding.

Trump’s worldview did not permit an acknowledgment that the Iran deal — an imperfect but carefully negotiated settlement that our allies continued to favor — was preventing nuclear weapons. So he had to say it was weak and a failure, and he had to pull out. Instead, Trump vowed to be so unilaterally tough that he’d force total capitulation (without firing a shot) alone.

This has made war more likely, and as Susan E. Rice points out, avoiding it would involve recommitting to a diplomatic solution that would entail settling for something short of total capitulation. But Trump can’t do that. Yet he doesn’t appear to want war, either.

So, as the Pence interview shows, we’re trapped in a situation where Trump is lurching wildly between reluctance and belligerence, even as the situation continues to escalate.

Even Smarter

Jonathan Chait sees Trump’s aim as a rebranding exercise for the Iran nuclear deal, just what he really wanted—and still probably wants—is to rebrand Obamacare as Trumpcare. IMHO, absolutely right, and right on point.

Jonathan Chait, Why Trump Is So Confused About His Own Iran Policy:

Obviously, actual Iran hawks in the Republican foreign-policy elite didn’t design their policy around the objective of reducing anti-American chants. The chants were just an easy way of stoking resentment among the Fox News audience. What they didn’t quite count on was that one of those angry couch-potato grandfathers in their target demographic would be elected president.

So Trump hates the Iran deal. But he’s also not onboard with the actual conservative policy alternative, which is to use threats of war to force Iran to give up not only its nuclear program but also its support for militant proxies and possibly also (depending on which version of the strategy you listen to) its entire theocratic system of government.

Trump is now publicly describing his own national security adviser as a dangerous warmonger. “John Bolton is absolutely a hawk,” he tells NBC. “If it was up to him, he’d take on the whole world at one time, okay?”

What seems to be going on here is that Trump just assumed he could cut a better deal with Iran than Obama did, just as he assumed he could design a better health-care-reform law than Obama did. Just as Trump didn’t realize the actual Republican health-care plan was to take insurance away from people who couldn’t afford it on their own, he also didn’t realize the actual Republican Iran policy is a conflict ratchet that requires him to at least be willing to start a massive war.

So he’s trying to get out of his own mess with the strategy he used with NAFTA. Step one is to call the existing deal the worst agreement of all time and cancel it. Step two is to negotiate small tweaks. Step three is to declare the tweaked/rebranded deal to be the greatest treaty of all time.

The notion that Iran would become rich was the chief conservative complaint about the nuclear deal. Now