Trump Turns on a Dime: Massive Loss of Life Is Now a Political Problem for Orange Man Because it Threatens His Reelection


turn on a dime

So, last weekend Trump pivoted toward keeping us on lockdown, in order to see whether we can hold down total deaths to somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000—and to keep new outbreaks from spreading into rural red states during the summer and fall. Multiple sources say he finally listened to the scientists because he finally grasped the political implications of ignoring them.

Trump continues to lie like a rug, but his decision to turn on a dime on the social distancing issue has left many of his cultists in a confused psychological state. For example, will Jerry Falwell, Jr., having reopened Liberty University in what has aptly been called an act of right-wing performance art, now close it again? Will the governor of Oklahoma now stop telling people to to go out to restaurants? Will the governor of Florida make sure the beaches are closed?

Who can say? But let me recommend this incisive analysis of The Coronavirus and the Conservative Mind: The pandemic has put psychological theories of politics to a very interesting test.

We Continue to Report, You Continue to Decide

fair and balanced

Ross Douthat is a very smart fellow with a world view that is very different from mine. I generally have to force myself to read him, because who wants to hear from a very smart fellow who might challenge some of your preconceived ideas? This evening, I almost passed on The Bloomberg Temptation, but I am glad I read it anyway. Douthat writes, among other things, that,

Trump’s authoritarian tendencies are naked on his Twitter feed, but Bloomberg’s imperial instincts, his indifference to limits on his power, are a conspicuous feature of his career.  …

In our era of congressional abdication, all presidents are prodded or tempted toward power grabs and caesarism. But Bloomberg’s career, no less than Trump’s, suggest that as president this would be less a temptation than a default approach. And the former mayor, unlike the former “Apprentice” star, is ferociously competent, with a worldview very much aligned with the great and good, from D.C. to Silicon Valley — which means that he would have much more room to behave abnormally without facing a Resistance movement of activists and journalists and judges.

To choose Bloomberg as the alternative to Trump, then, is to bet that a chaotic, corrupt populist is a graver danger to what remains of the Republic than a grimly-competent plutocrat with a history of executive overreach and strong natural support in all our major power centers.

Having delivered himself of the above observation, Douthat immediately concludes, “That [i.e, picking “a grimly-competent plutocrat with a history of executive overreach” rather than “a chaotic, corrupt populist”] seems like a very unwise bet.”

Oooookay, then … Mr. Douthat, would you please tell us WHY it’s “unwise” to pick Bloomberg as the nominee? Because you think Donald Trump isn’t really all that bad? After all, who needs a constitutional republic?

Or is it because all the other plausible Democratic nominees are just as electable as Bloomberg?

You don’t really say.

John Cassidy of The New Yorker has Seven Questions for Mike Bloomberg. Mr. Cassidy covers much the same ground as Mr. Douthat, characterizing Bloomberg as “offering the voters a form of benign oligarchy” as contrasted with Trump’s “malignant oligarchy.”

“Can’t American democracy do better than that?” Cassidy would like to know. And so would I, Arius Aardvark: I, too, would like to know the answer to that very question.

But I am afraid that, as of right now, the answer is, no, we can’t do better.

A Trump Defense Argument that Would Not Insult Your Intelligence

Ross Douthat makes the kind of argument that anyone defending Trump—anyone, that is, who was actually trying to persuade the unpersuaded—would make.

It’s still wrong, but it doesn’t spit in the eye of the unconvinced, and it isn’t the kind of argument that would only be made by a fool, or a knave speaking to fools. It’s the kind of argument that doesn’t eventuate in your jumping off a cliff.



Wrestling with the Other Inconvenient Truth

wringing hands

I just posted about a very inconvenient truth.  It is a truth so monstrous that it is very hard to deal with.

Today Ross Douthat, like many others, assures us that Donald Trump Is Not a Sinister Genius: His race-baiting is impulsive and unpopular, not a brilliant strategy to win white votes.

Mr. Douthat invites us to choose between two alternatives: (1) that Donald Trump is a political genius and (2) that Donald Trump is an impulsive clown. Douthat comes down hard for the second explanation.

If I were forced to pick between those two alternatives, and only those two alternatives, then I, too, would pick option two over option one. But I do not believe that Douthat has captured the true picture.

Like some diabolically crazed social psychologist, Donald Trump is performing an experiment to test a working hypothesis, namely, that significantly more than half of our white population are so attached to their white privilege that, if forced to choose, they will embrace racism over diversity.

It’s as if he’s playing out, on the national stage, something akin to the famous unethical experiment where an elementary teacher tried making all the children of one eye color superior to all the children of another eye color.

“Impulsive” is a poor word to describe the vile game that Trump is playing. He has a plan, it’s just a plan that no one else since George Wallace has had the evil will to pursue.

I think I know how Trump’s social psychology experiment will pan out, but we won’t know for sure until it runs its course.

An outstanding article in the Washington Post tells us how things are beginning to look on the ground in Ohio. I highly recommend it: Ohio’s Hamilton County may test whether Trump’s divisiveness will help or hurt him in 2020.

I particularly commend it to any hand wringers and garment renders among my readership.

And, further to the issue of Trump’s forced choice between blatant racism and exit from the Republican Party, you may also like Andrew Egger, Will Hurd and the Hollowing Out of the Republican Party. I just have to say: it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys.

Gott Mit Uns

Gott Mit Uns

Ross Douthat, What Are Conservatives Actually Debating? What the strange war over “David French-ism says about the right.

Andrew Sullivan, This Is What a Real Conservative Looks Like in 2019

Nancy LeTourneau, When People Are Certain That God Is On Their Side

The sources listed above provide more insight and clarity about the intra-right “intellectual” controversy about which I wrote two days ago.

Mr. Sohrab Ahmari is a recent convert to Roman Catholicism who, with the zeal of the recently converted, has apparently decided to be more Catholic than the pope. He wants people of faith—that is, folks espousing a certain strain of purported Christianity—to impose a dictatorship on the rest of us.

Now, the world is full of kooks, and Mr. Ahmari’s views would not be important but for the fact that they reflect—and provide a superficial “intellectual” veneer to support—the outlook of a non-trivial portion of our population. These include, BTW, quite a number of my high school classmates of many years ago, as evidenced by their Facebook postings.

Also, I call your attention in particular to the clarifying analysis of Ross Douthat. As he explains, the Ahmari versus French dispute could portend a decision by the religious right to abandon its alliance with the plutocracy, and just take its marbles and go home.

And what a happy event that would be.

Here’s my two cents. For the sake of the discussion, let’s say I’m the kind of person who thinks the most pressing issue of public policy is the necessity to force 13-year old rape victims to bear their rapist’s child, regardless of injury to physical or mental health. Coming in a fairly close second is my God-given right to be really nasty to gays and lesbians. Also of paramount importance: my right to erect “Christian” monuments on public property, and my right to enforce mandatory prayer before public school sports events.

Were I such a person, I would begin by addressing, not the moral rightness of seizing the levers of power and stuffing my views down the throats of everyone else. Instead, I would first ask whether such a course of action is practical. (Why waste mental energy worrying about the morality of a stratagem you could never pull off?)

Having asked myself the question, here is how I would answer: “Self,” I would say, “if the entire United States had the demographic and ideological characteristics of the population of the State of Alabama, then seizing the levers of power and establish a theocracy might work. But, inasmuch as the United States is not much like Alabama, my desired course of action won’t work, and I had best try something else.”

That’s the main point Douthat makes, though he uses a lot more words. And, Douthat cogently adds (in words or substance): if I am going to choose a political champion to advance my theocratic views, then I really need to choose a more attractive, and much cleverer, champion than Donald Trump.

That’s how a logical theocrat would think, but Mr. Ahmari and his ilk are not logical, and that’s not how they think. As Ms. LeTourneau remarks, “Frankly, it is impossible to engage someone like that, because the only response they will accept is capitulation.”

These Things I Know


I don’t know how the election will go next week, so I will wait until the votes are counted to offer a purported explanation. But there are a few other things that I do know.

The Luxury of Trauma

It’s amusing that Politico solemnly informs us today that Democrats traumatized by 2016 are having pre-midterms nightmares. I suppose that is probably true of many. But this I know: when you are in the fight of your life, you cannot afford to be traumatized.

Trump’s Inexplicable Behavior

Meanwhile, Ross Douthat is, I think, on much sounder ground in lamenting The Luck of the Democrats: Trump could have flattened liberalism. Instead he’s given it an opening.

I deplore Douthat’s desiderata but believe he is probably right, or almost right, in his analysis of some plausible counterfactuals. But something important needs to be added to Douthat’s analysis this morning. Remember how, in his dubious book, Michael Wolff told us how Trump didn’t want to be elected president? If you bear that in mind, the best explanation for the Trump behavior that Douthat finds inexplicable is that Trump does not actually want to lead a governing coalition.

And so here’s another thing I know. I know that when your adversary seems to be crazy, there are three and only three explanations: (1) Your adversary is actually crazy. Or, (2) your adversary has figured out something that you haven’t figured out, and isn’t crazy at all. But don’t forget the third possibility: (3) your adversary seems to be crazy because he isn’t actually pursuing the goal he tells you he is pursuing, or the goal you would expect someone in his position to be pursuing. So, given his real goal, not his presumed or expected goal, he actions are appropriately attuned to his end.

Women’s Reactions to Asshole Male Behavior

Finally, on an optimistic note, this Daily Kos headline: Midterms 2018: Women are ready to win the fight.

This I know: though there are exceptions, by and large women are much, much, much less tolerant of assholery than we Y-chromosome folk. Probably because they suffer more assholery than we men have to put up with.

So I know something that Trump does not know: watch out for the women.

The Standard of Proof: Observations of a Rational, Intellectually Honest Conservative

burden of proof

Ross Douthat is a conservative, and I often disagree with the assumptions that underpin his thinking. Nevertheless, in my estimation he is often worth reading. Two reasons.

First, he thinks and writes clearly, and he is intellectually honest.

Advocacy comes in three flavors. First, there is the kind of advocate who just makes shit up. That is the sort of person who is forever importuning you to disbelieve your lying eyes. Second, there is the kind of advocate who engages with reality in some degree, but who, by omission or commission, misstates the position she is opposing, distorts the facts, and ignores evidence and arguments contrary to her opinion. Third, there is the intellectually honest advocate: the one who tries to understand and correctly state his adversary’s positions, who accepts known facts, and states clearly, without misleading rhetorical tricks, the reasons for his conclusions. That is Ross Douthat. And that is also Aardvark’s aim.

So that’s one reason to spend a little time with Ross. The other reason is that if you happen to find yourself in a conversation with a reality challenged wingnut or an intellectually dishonest advocate, Douthat may provide some ammunition to throw back in their direction.

If you find this appealing, please read today’s op-ed, titled The Burden of Proof for Kavanaugh. I’ll highlight three points.

(1) What Burden of Proof Should a Fair Minded Conservative Apply?

Douthat writes,

Ben Wittes put it well for The Atlantic: “He needs to prove a negative about events long ago with sufficient persuasiveness that a reasonable person will regard his service as untainted by the allegations against him, and he needs to do so using only arguments that don’t themselves taint him.”

Read the first part of the piece to see how he gets there.

(2) How Might Kavanaugh Conceivably Meet this Standard of Proof?

Douthat answers, “if Kavanaugh is actually innocent, there are really only two alternatives: Either Ford is a brazen liar, or some scenario of clouded or mistaken memory must be true.”

(3) Kavanaugh Needs to Provide an Alternative Explanation

Those of us, of a certain age, will remember how Perry Mason always got someone other than the defendant to admit guilt. Douthat doesn’t mention Perry Mason, but thinks his approach is the one Kavanaugh must follow if his nomination is not to be tainted:

If his accuser testifies credibly and all he has to offer are vehement denials, followed by a rushed Republican attempt at confirmation, then he may be innocent but his nomination will deserve to fail. But an obligation not to elevate a clouded nominee must coexist with an obligation to hear out any serious alternative explanation of the facts.

… But if Kavanaugh has one, or if some other silent person has one, the obligation to offer it remains.

Aardvark’s Concluding Observation

Vely intelesting. Personally, I think the chance of Kavanaugh’s coming up with a credible alternative explanation by Thursday are about as good as the chances that the flood waters in North Carolina will be free of pig shit.

But time will tell.

Just Cry Me a River, Ross

Ross Douthat, The Pro-Life Movement’s Kavanaugh Dilemma: Repealing Roe won’t matter if the anti-abortion cause is hitched to a party that’s seen as anti-woman.

Douthat’s views are not my views, his concerns are not my concerns, and his angst is not my angst. Nevertheless, sometimes he is worth the read, and this morning is one such occasion, IMHO.

But first, enjoy the cartoon.



As the Stomach Turns

Over at the Faux News Network

They’re a little schizophrenic about Trump’s lickspittle performance in Europe, but the lead story is Rand to the Rescue: Kentucky Senator is one of few on right or left defending Trump from critics after Helsinki summit. (That’s the headline on the home page as of this writing.) Last night I called Rand Paul craven. When you are too much of a poltroon for Fox to stomach, you have truly reached a point of signal achievement.

He’s Not a Russian Agent, Because a Real Russian Agent would have Hidden his Treachery

Douthat tweet

Expatiating on Douthat’s last point, in Fiasco in Finland, several pundits strive to explain Trump’s behavior, but cannot arrive at a satisfactory explanation. Definitely worth a read, IMHO. Meanwhile,

The New York Daily News Sums it Up This Morning

Daily News

March Madness


Props to Vasari.

Ross Douthat writes,

What would Trump becoming a real president mean in practice? In terms of personnel, it might mean that instead of easing out the hacks and cranks and TV personalities, as his staff managed to do during the year of constraint, Trump will begin to usher out his more qualified personnel and replace them with, well, TV personalities — Cohn with Larry Kudlow, perhaps, or H. R. McMaster with John Bolton. But it also promises to further multiply the number of important vacancies within the government, since more true-to-Trump personnel choices would inevitably have some trouble with the confirmation process, which in turn … will encourage Trump to take more counsel from the shadow Trumpland of his campaign, where his more misfit-toy advisers tend to congregate.

Why would a person of integrity and honor go to work for Trump? A person like that has two choices. Either sell his soul to Trump. Or maintain his integrity and get fired on Twitter.