The Wrong Stuff

It has been clear for some time now that Donald Trump is mentally unfit to be president of the United States. This observation has little to do with recognizing his profound lack of knowledge, expertise, or interest in the job, to say nothing of his gusto for dousing America’s smoldering racial and religious divisions with kerosene, or his penchant for looting the government’s coffers for his own private gain. All of that is true, and supports the years-long insistence from Democrats and half-hearted, anonymous leaks from timid Republicans that Trump is fundamentally unable to perform even the most minimal functions of the job. What has become increasingly clear since he took the oath of office, however, is something even more serious—Trump is exhibiting significant mental deterioration and instability. Continue reading

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Goodies

On July 11, 2012, Mitt Romney, then the Republican Party’s nominee for President of the United States, addressed the NAACP at its annual convention, defending the rich while promising to repeal Obamacare. He was loudly booed. Later that day, before a crowd of supporters in Montana, Romney indicated that perhaps earning the derision of the civil rights organization was entirely planned. After mentioning his earlier speech to the NAACP, Romney proudly stated that, “When I mentioned I am going to get rid of Obamacare they weren’t happy, I didn’t get the same response. That’s ok…but I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy – more free stuff. But don’t forget nothing is really free.” Continue reading

Taking The “Reform” Out Of “Tax Reform”

Everyone is talking taxes these days, and not just because the deadline for filing individual tax returns came and went this past week. Last Saturday, administration opponents marched in Washington and other cities to protest President Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. Last month’s battle over the American Health Care Act turned in part on the budget consequences of repealing the Affordable Care Act’s redistributive taxes on high-income individuals. New polling suggests that Americans of both political parties are increasingly concerned about how few taxes corporations and the wealthy pay. And now, congressional Republicans have promised to pass a comprehensive tax reform bill for President Trump’s signature that will both simplify the tax code and reduce taxes on most Americans.

It’s unclear whether Republicans will make another go at trying to pass health care reform before taking on taxes. The intricacies of the budget reconciliation procedure required to get around a senate filibuster will play a part in the decision, though the President, with typical off-the-cuff bluster, announced a tax bill would be forthcoming this week. But regardless of the order, the whole agenda is doomed. While the contradictory Republican politics on healthcare has attracted most of the attention, the difficulty of harmonizing GOP dogma with the practicalities of tax reform are just as stark. What Republicans talk about when they talk about “tax reform” (perhaps the title of Paul Ryan’s frighteningly bad Raymond Carver adaptation) is quite different, and far more unpopular, than what the rest of us understand it to be. Continue reading

Republicans’ Inward Reach on Race

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump’s recent appeal to African-Americans fell flat. At the beginning of last week, Trump’s outreach to black voters came in an address in an all-white exurb of Milwaukee that gave three-fourths of its vote to Mitt Romney. The message that was allegedly tailored for the communities of color he was supposedly courting: respect for the police and creating jobs through tearing down a rigged society. Speaking in front of another nearly all-white audience in the Lansing suburb of Dimondale, Michigan a few days later, Trump was alternatingly artless and insulting. “What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?” the Republican candidate asked the black people who weren’t in his audience. “You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs.”

Trump’s race rhetoric is obviously objectionable for a host of reasons. Continue reading

Winning is the Easy Part

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Last month’s vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has been touted as a potentially defining moment in not only UK politics but also across the world. There are those who say that the UK’s departure from the EU means indefinite stagnation, job loss, and poor growth for the British economy. Others have predicted that the UK itself will dissolve over disagreement between English voters and their Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish counterparts about whether to remain in the EU. Some have even argued that the vote portends an end to the European project as a whole, given that other EU countries such as France, Italy, and the Netherlands might force their own popular referendums on whether to remain part of the great liberal, European legacy of World War Two. Even more broadly, some have linked Brexit’s narrow victory with the fortunes of Donald Trump, suggesting that events in the UK offer predictive power about the fleeting nature of Hillary Clinton’s temporary lead in the polls. Some of these grand pronouncements may yet prove true, although the predictions of doom and gloom appear to be overstated.

If there is one clear lesson for America from the British referendum, however, it is not that isolationist and xenophobic views are a rising political force. Rather, Brexit’s clearest instruction for politicians in the United States is that the costs of a campaign based on deceitful sloganeering are not outweighed by momentary victory. Right-wing politics divorced from fact-based analysis, both abroad and here in the United States, must eventually confront reality when its undeliverable promises are put to the test. There are real consequences for political movements that campaign on fantasy. Continue reading

Integrity Versus Neutrality in Covering the Trump Campaign

The last two weeks have engendered serious soul searching in the professional media now that Donald Trump is the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. Two general types of articles pleading mea culpa are now emerging. First, news outlets are lamenting the sorry state of their prognostication efforts after first ridiculing and then dismissing (in the face of contrary evidence) the chances of Trump’s eventual triumph. That this misstep has provoked so much handwringing might suggest that the media’s preoccupation with handicapping the horse race has become far too prominent in its political coverage. Regardless, news outlets are now rightfully expressing contrition for quite literally laughing at the chances of a Trump nomination for months, only to see him win comfortably after leading in the polls from start to finish. The second form of media self-flagellation this week has focused on its outsized role in Trump’s rise. By some measures, Trump has received over $2 billion worth of free earned media during the campaign through mid-March alone, totaling as much as six times the amount of coverage as his most covered opponent, Ted Cruz. Given that a demagogic populist has never before won a major party nomination, many have posited that celebrity-fueled obsessive coverage of the candidate is ultimately to blame. Trump played for ratings and the news media made sure that ratings translated into votes. This introspection, too, is a worthwhile endeavor.

Yet, there is a third and more important issue concerning the media’s relation to the Trump candidacy: how to handle the single most diversionary and dishonest presidential campaign in this country’s history. Thus far, the art of the forceful follow-up question appears dead. To be fair, Trump’s violation of the most basic norms of political campaigning makes it challenging to push back against his lies and nonsense. Trump is a master at issuing thousand-word non-sequiturs to difficult questions, leaving the examiner the choice of getting bogged down on a single topic or simply moving on. To make matters worse, Trump is also prone to denying that he ever said what he indeed said and turning viciously against the interviewer should he perceive a question as too hostile. In essence, Trump is taking advantage of the media’s adherence to journalistic norms of neutrality and respect to major political figures. All of which begs the question: given Trump’s unconstrained deceit, mustn’t the media abandon the pretense of neutrality in order to hold him to account? Continue reading

For Never Trump, There’s a Catch

From the makers of such classic slogans as “Repeal and Replace” and “We Built It” comes the latest exciting trend in conservative hash-tavism—Never Trump! The Never Trump movement is a last-ditch attempt by high profile mainstream conservatives to deny Donald Trump the GOP nomination this July. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse kicked off the effort a week ago in a Facebook post wherein he proclaimed that he would support a third party if Trump were the Republican nominee. Then, building from their “Conservatives Against Trump” cover, members of the National Review finished their thought and vowed never to support Trump under any circumstances. Days later, members of the self-described “Republican foreign policy community” announced in an open letter that “as committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a Party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head.” Then, in back-to-back address this past week in the most prominent endorsement of the movement, former GOP nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain viciously rebuked Trump and urged the Republican Party to stop him at all costs.

As the New York Times editorial board and others have noted, this desperate howl from the Republican Party is deeply hypocritical. Republicans created this Frankenstein monster by turning liberalism into a force of evil rather than merely a differing political ideology, and then assiduously fed and nurtured the beast by painting Obama as anti-American. After the Tea Party emerged with its racial overtones and venomous hatred of compromise with the President, congressional Republicans harnessed its energy rather than repudiating its viciousness. At the same, the Never Trump movement is also undermined by the divisions between its absolutist opposition to Trump and the position of many of its sympathizers. McCain, for instance, admitted that he would support Trump should he win the nomination, even while labeling Trump’s foreign policy views as “dangerous.” Romney muddied the message of his speech by simultaneously labeling Trump a “fraud,” while lamenting that he would lose to Hillary Clinton.

So, yes, the Never Trumpers are arguably as confused and incoherent as the Trump supporters they bemoan. Even if the Never Trump movement is a logical reaction to Trump’s appalling campaign, to be effective its leaders must clearly identify exactly what the goal of Republicans rightfully terrified about Trump’s takeover of their party should be. Because Romney’s apparent suggestion that Never Trumpers should seek to both block Trump through a contested convention and win the November election is the stuff of fantasy. Continue reading