Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trump’s Rare Opportunity

After 100 days in office, the policy directions of the President of the United States remain as vague and unpredictable as they were during his campaign. This is, of course, no surprise to Mr. Trump’s opponents, who have always been painfully aware of his lack of readiness for that office. Mr. Trump’s supporters seem largely unfazed by the shifting enigma they elected, the idea of verifying assumptions against observable facts being foreign to them.

The only major campaign promise in which the President has remained steadfast is his desire for a border wall, although he is no more likely now than he was a year ago ever to get it. In so many other ways he has confusingly dithered. NAFTA will now be “renegotiated” rather than cancelled, NATO is suddenly relevant again, military action in the Middle East is once again feasible, and Putin might not be the ally Trump imagined. The President’s attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed spectacularly, and the entire health insurance fracas is now the fault and responsibility of the GOP. He has announced a planned reduction in the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%, but this is meaningless rhetoric without the details, since very few corporations pay anything near the nominal 35% rate now. Strategic thinkers on the Right and the Left, both domestically and internationally, can do little more than wonder what the future might bring.

There is a very small glimmer of hope, or at least some kinds of change upon which one might place a positive spin: Donald Trump appears to have learned a few things. Trump the campaigner was so delusional he actually claimed he’d be able to run his business empire and the U.S. government at the same time. He seems to have believed that the President governed by fiat, and that ideological commitment could substitute for governmental experience and knowledge of public policy. If his recent rhetoric can be trusted, though, it seems to be dawning on him that policy issues are often complex, that running the country is hard work, that the government is comprised of three separate branches, two of which are outside of his control, and that the internally conflicted Republican Party can’t or just won’t always deliver the votes he wants.

The President has an opportunity, here, if he has sufficient insight and strength of character, to be of great service to America. The best thing Donald Trump could do right now would be to confess to America what he didn’t know and what he now seems to be learning. He could confess that knowledge and experience matter, and that electing officials without them is a recipe for failure. He could confess that there are complex reasons for international treaties and trade pacts, and that changes need to be deliberated carefully by people with the expertise to understand their impacts. He could acknowledge that the manufacturing jobs he says “left” America have actually ceased to exist worldwide, and that government has a role to play in reskilling American workers. He could acknowledge that mere assertions cannot substitute for science and observable facts.

Such a confession by so influential a person might be one of the few ways to inject a critical dose of reality and practicality into the worldview of Trump voters. This is vital, because having an inexperienced know-nothing in the White House is really only the second biggest problem confronting America today. Our biggest problem is that a quarter of the American electorate were happy to give the presidency to that inexperienced know-nothing. Whether he resigns, is impeached, loses a bid for reelection or is President for eight years, the Trump presidency will end. But the ideological dysfunction that gave him the White House will still be a significant aspect of our culture. Trump is one of the few people who actually has an opportunity to change that.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Why Diffuse When Escalation is an Option?

The Shrinking Department of State

If there had been one small ray of hope for the MAGA presidency, it was based on the hints of reducing the the United States never ending military escapades over the globe. He—Mr. MAGA—said time after time during the campaign he was against the invasion and occupation of Iraq (though the timing and sincerity of his commitment on this is questionable if one views the timing and wording of the clips); and he warned against repeating the same mistake by interfering in the Syrian civil war; and he posed the rhetorical "what's wrong with trying to get along with Russian?"  He was an "economic national populist", dedicated to creating jobs at home by cutting bad trade deals and making sure big corporations kept their money here in America (somehow, building a border wall to keep out the low-wage seeking hoards would help, too). Hillary was the war hawk; she was the neoliberal globalist promising to exercise the "Big Stick" policy against Russia and all others that didn't understand the Project for the New American Century or the Bush Doctrine.

You could have wondered, then, what the purpose was for increasing the proposed budget for the Department of Defense by 10 percent, when the only “military” action candidate Trump talked about was removing ISIS, “very rapidly”. Military or defense spending, already at over 50% of the discretionary spending allocation, almost 20% of the total budget,  and more than is spent by the seven next countries..combined. ISIS, cooler heads have reminded us, doesn't even have a rowboat.
Thursday’s shit storm of Tomahawk missiles launched as a curious retribution for the alleged use of chemical weapons in civilian populated areas contested by rebel forces exposed the "mettle" of the MAGA regime's resolve, or lack thereof in getting involved in a civil war in an already very unstable Middle East. It turns out that his isolated small coalition of radical ideologues, moderate Republicans, neocons, silver spoon-sucking daughter and in-law-in-training, with the straw-topped, empty headed scarecrow leading the way were either 1) desperate for a positive bump in job approval polls, 2) in agreement on at least one thing in an otherwise chaotic West Wing, 3) found themselves powerless in the face of pressure from the Deep State of corporatist-special interest-military-and evangelical religious power nexus that lies at the heart of the federal government, or (very unlikely) 4) assumed the uneven application of the international R2P.

The frail (read: unbalanced) emotional constitution of the commander-in-chief was pushed over the tipping point in his decision to unleash the explosive payback for disturbing his sense of decency. The sight (on TV, of course) of the babies sent him over the edge. Nothing amusing, of course, about the horror of poison gas attacks on civilians and babies, but it was a rare glimpse of the soft side of Trump that probably doesn't really exist. (This is the same person vowing to ban refugees from that war; the image of the four-year old, face down dead who seemed to have drowned in the shallow tide receding from the beach beamed across the world must have aired on TV one of the few times he wasn't watching.) The hypocrisy is disturbing, but the decision to make decisions on acts of war based on emotions rather than a thoroughly rational evaluation after the initial shock to one’s system is more likely to have negative consequences, not the least of which is that we have now engaged in military strikes against both sides of this conflict.

This episode hopefully ends here—but don’t count on it. And any glimmers of hope envisioned by his doubters and supporters alike about this POTUS making “greatness” are just superficial flashes of ritz and glitz from the imperial First Family. This was all only about getting there and whatever it took to do it. The kleptocrats will be the only winners.