Once to Every Man and Nation: The Military and Donald Trump

For the lowdown on what went down this week, read Dexter Filkins, Trump’s Public-Relations Army: Will the military allow the President to use it for political advantage?, and the very well connected David Ignatius, How Trump came to the brink of deploying active-duty troops in Washington. On the immense influence of Jim Mattis—on the military—read Ben Waldman, The Mattis Effect: The legend comes for Trump.

Bottom line: there was a big shouting match, and the brass talked Trump out of issuing an unconstitutional order to the military, to bust up peaceful protests. Orange Man backed down.

Bottom line for next week: detestable folks, of the ilk of Tom Cotton, will keep on pressing Trump to order out the military. And they will start calling him a wimp when nothing happens.

And Trump will have to decide whether to issue that unconstitutional order.

And the brass will have to decide whether to obey it.

* * *

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide

In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;

Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,

Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,

And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble,

When we share her wretched crust,

Ere her cause bring fame and profit,

And ’tis prosperous to be just;

Then it is the brave man chooses

While the coward stands aside,

James Russell Lowell, December 11,1845


He is Trampling Out the Vintage Where the Grapes of Wrath are Stored

Some suggested reads for today:

E.J. Dione, Trump’s grip on power depends on splitting the nation in two

Jonathan Chait, However the Midterms Go, the Republican Party Is Going to Get More Extreme

James Russell Lowell, Once to Every Man and Nation

Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address

We gaze in horror at the scenes from Pittsburgh. Our hearts are heavy. We hold our breath as we wait for the election.

E.J. Dione writes,

The failure of Republican leaders to denounce a president who is devoting himself to ripping us apart reflects a ground-level truth about Republicanism in 2018: The party of Lincoln and Eisenhower has been consumed — temporarily, one devoutly wishes — by a narrow and exclusionary form of identity politics.

That which Dione devoutly wishes, Jonathan Chait is confident will not transpire:

“This is the play,” Scott Reed, a strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the Washington Post. “It’s a standard tactic to use fear as a motivating choice at the end of a campaign, and the fact is the fork in the road is pretty stark.” …

The degree to which Trump’s party has molded itself in his image is worth bearing in mind when contemplating what the next two years might bring. If Democrats win the House but not the Senate, they will be working with an even more hardened foe: The Republicans who will have lost, or who are retiring, are those most vulnerable to outside pressure; the surviving core, from the reddest districts, will be the most Trumpian. They will be much less likely to abandon their president in the face of incriminating evidence than were Richard Nixon’s Republicans in 1974, and much more likely to escalate his attacks on the rule of law into a full-scale culture war.

And, of course, as Chait goes on to point out, one can only imagine the horror show that will ensue if, contrary to predictions, the Republicans make a clean sweep of the elections.

What Chait Gets Right, and What He Misses

He’s right to point out that the actual Republican agenda—upward distribution of wealth, drastic cutbacks to New Deal programs, and deprivation of health care—is dreadfully unpopular, and can only win by aligning itself with racists primed to believe its plethora of lies. But, IMHO, his analysis is misleadingly incomplete.

First of all, we the American people have a surprising amount of evil in us, but, taken as a whole, we are not nearly as evil as Trump damned soul believes.

Second, our collective gullibility takes away the breath, but even the highly gullible have limits to their credulity.

Third, the progressives among us are pumped up to a high degree.

In consequence, the election is likely to turn out well.

And, most of all, I place my confidence in the utter amorality of the Republican Party’s paymasters. See, e.g., Mr. Scott Reed, “strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “This [racist hatemongering] is the play.”

When the lies don’t work, and the racist hatemongering can’t get you over the top, the plutocrats will not double down on their losing tactics. Instead, they will change their strategy.

The one percenters and their spokespuppets will remember what our elders used to tell us in my early days as a Wall Street lawyer: Don’t be a pig. Pigs get eaten for breakfast.

Chait predicts that the trumpiest Trumpian politicians in the reddest red states will survive the midterms. But I think the plutocrats are going to drop them like a hot potato, and instead find politicians to buy who might actually win elections.

It’s a hard time. The American Civil War was a hell of a lot worse. And so, for that matter, was the push to end legally required segregation.

The Oval Office Effect

Oval Office at the Clinton Center

Some, mindlessly optimistic, have predicted that when Trump parks his butt in the President’s chair, he will be overawed by the magnitude of the office, and grow up. That would be very nice. But it won’t happen.

The alternative is that Trump will become the poster child for Lord Acton’s observation that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

We are, however, informed on good authority that this proposition is inaccurate. See Why Power Corrupts: New research digs deeper into the social science behind why power brings out the best in some people and the worst in others.

In sum, power doesn’t corrupt the incorruptible; what it does is magnify, give greater scope to, the innate personality of the newly powerful person.

In Trump we have a new President with deeply ingrained narcissistic personality disorder. When attacked, he fights back with whatever weapons he has.

As surely as God made little green apples, when he is attacked while his butt is planted in the big chair in the oval office, he will order his henchmen to take illegal actions against his attackers.

Said henchmen will either obey orders, or they will disobey.

Once to Every Man and Nation
James Russsell Lowell, December 11, 1845

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.