JMO 3 November 2019.

“Donald Trump is a terrible person.”—Mick Mulvaney.  Agreed.  I voted against him the last time and I plan to vote against him the next time.   (Unless Elizabeth Warren is the Democratic nominee.  I don’t care to have my hard-earned retirement savings destroyed.)

Donald Trump was right to confront China in a forceful way over its trade practices.  Some Americans had suffered from those practices for many years.  Many of them lost jobs.  No one else cared very much.  “Capitalism is creative destruction.  Lump it.”  It’s ludicrous now to say that Trump’s tariff policies are illegitimate because they are forcing up prices of some consumer goods.  Lump it.

Donald Trump was right to open negotiations with North Korea over the nuclear weapons issue, and he was right to meet with Kim Jong-loon.  Severe economic sanctions have been imposed on North Korea for a long time without any sign that they of forcing North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs.  If we’re willing to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, then why shouldn’t we negotiate with North Korea?  Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Joseph Stalin and Richard Nixon met with Mao Zedong.  Why shouldn’t Donald Trump meet with an arguably less evil and less insane foreign leader?

Donald Trump was right to support cutting the corporate tax.  The American tax was much higher than international norms.  It deterred foreign companies from investing in America and it encouraged American companies to keep their foreign earnings over-seas, where they paid a lower tax rate.

Donald Trump is right to try to end the “endless wars” and to avoid becoming involved in new ones.  The invasion of Afghanistan had to take place.  It was the only fast way of getting hold of Osama bin Laden in revenge for 9/11. Having missed our punch in 2003-2004, the United States made the fatal error of staying in Afghanistan in hopes of transforming a primitive society into a modern democracy.  Endless disaster have followed.  Nothing—Nothing–can justify the attack on Iraq in 2003, let alone the botched occupation policy that followed.  A long chain of human and foreign policy disasters have unspooled from that crime a decade and a half ago.

Recognizing the destructive futility of these wars, President Barack Obama claimed he wanted to get out of them.  He did reduce the American presence in Afghanistan—over the resistance of the Pentagon—but he didn’t end American participation in a war that the Taliban is fated to win.  President Obama did manage to end the American military presence in Iraq.  He then allowed the country to be partially sucked back in to prevent Iran—our “enemy” in all things other than the nuclear agreement—from crushing ISIS and expanding its influence.  President Obama, at the price of considerable personal humiliation, managed to keep the United States from being drawn directly into the Syrian civil war.

Donald Trump has done some important things right.  Yes, he’s done them in a ham-handed way.  He has done them in violation of long-standing policies, bureaucratic procedures, and norms.  Those policies, procedures, and norms were the very things that got the country into these messes in the first place.

Even if he is impeached, it is unlikely that Trump’s successors will reverse course.  They’ll just try to break less china while criticizing Trump as a terrible person.

American Opinion in June 2019.

According to a recent poll, ten percent of Americans believe that Donald Trump is the best president of their lifetime.[1]  Trump’s support was concentrated among older, white, men.  In particular, according to a Pew Trust analysis, “49 percent of those aged 30‒49 feel warmly toward him, 60 percent of those aged 50‒64 do, as did 56 percent of those over 65 years of age.”[2]  So, the enthusiastic ten percent may come from older voters.

In contrast to most voters, both Trump supporters and Trump opponents have some historical basis for judging “best” and “worst” presidents.  If someone was 50 in 2016, then they were born in 1966; if someone was 60 in 2016, then they were born in 1956; if someone was 70 in 2016, then they were born in 1946.  If we postulate that people start to become politically aware at age 20, then 2016 Trump voters became politically aware between 1966 and 1986.

What do they have to work with in terms of historical experience of the presidency?  They have late-stage Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam, the social turmoil associated with the “Great Society”); Richard Nixon (Vietnam, Watergate); Gerald Ford (the first “oil shock” and inflation); Jimmy Carter (second “oil shock,” inflation, Iran hostage crisis); Ronald Reagan (Paul Volker wringing out inflation, defeat of the “evil empire,” Iran-Contra); George H. W. Bush (Preppy in the White House, first Iraq War, “read my hips”); Bill Clinton (Eddie Haskell in the White House); George W. Bush (Frat Boy in the White House, 9/11, the flunked war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina); Barack Obama (Affordable Care Act, but also the Stimulus bill, rule by decree).

Experienced voters might be forgiven (although they will not be forgiven) for thinking that in their lifetime American government has run amuck and that the quality of presidents has deteriorated.  This ignores the reality that we have lived through very turbulent times that demanded government responses.  Many of these problems found no easy solution.  Still, is it possible that the typical voter follows the meta-narrative, rather than the micro-narrative?

Polls also showed that Trump appealed most to those with only a high-school education, but least to those with a college BA or more.  Well, auto-workers and steel-workers and a bunch of other workers used to be able to earn a middle-class income walking off the graduation stage and into an industrial job.  These people used to be a) Democratic voters, and b) the salt of the earth in Democratic discourse.[3]  Why did they stray, assuming it was the voters, rather than the party, that strayed?  Then, how does the educational profile of Trump voters compare with the educational profile of African-Americans?  Data suggest that educational attainment among African-Americans, measured in terms of BAs, is about two-thirds that of whites.[4]  How different is this from the educational profile of Trump voters?

The Pew poll also showed that core Trump voters believed—correctly—that free trade had harmed their own interests.  They believed that he would address illegal immigration, which they regarded as a serious problem.  They thought he was an awful person who might get things done.  “Those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 14 June 2019, p. 17.

[2] See: https://www.thoughtco.com/meet-the-people-behind-donald-trumps-popularity-4068073

[3] See: Norman Rockwell, “Freedom of Speech.”  https://www.periodpaper.com/products/1945-print-norman-rockwell-vermont-man-freedom-of-speech-open-forum-oil-painting-126405-xaa5-061

[4] See graph: https://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/01/28/us-education-still-separate-and-unequal

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 9.

A calmer, more coherent, and less confrontational Donald Trump offered his first address to Congress.[1]  “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed.  Every problem can be solved.”  He didn’t have Theodore Sorenson as his speech-writer, but that’s still a pretty up-beat statement.  Everyone noted the new tone.  Over half (57 percent) of Americans felt a “very positive reaction” to the new-and-improved Trump, while 21 percent felt “somewhat favorably.”  That’s better than three-quarters (78 percent) of Americans.  On the other hand, 22 percent took a dim view (or no view) of the speech.  That suggests that the majority of Americans are at least open to Trump’s ideas, provided he doesn’t act like a moron in presenting them.  It also suggests that the die-hard opposition to Trump is restricted to a MoveOn ghetto.  Could this Donald Trump have been elected president?  What if he had given this speech on inauguration day?

What are Donald Trump’s policies exactly?  That is hard to tell and the speech did little to clear up this question.  He wants a big infrastructure plan, and a border wall, a lot more money for defense and a lot less money for the snail darter, tax cuts for someone, and a replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Republicans have been desperately trying to fill in the gaps with regard to the ACA.[2]  In the current version, “subsidies” to low income people to help them buy health insurance will be replaced with “tax credits” (worth more than those people pay in taxes) to purchase health insurance; it would replace the ACA’s federal subsidies to states that expand Medicaid with federal subsidies to states that create “risk-pools” to insure those with pre-existing conditions.[3]  Some of the problems of Republicans arise from the self-repeal of those covered by the ACA.  Many young people have not purchased insurance, regardless of the make-believe mandate.  This has distorted the financial model of the exchanges.  Many thinly-populated areas—red states—pay higher premiums and have less choice of provider than do densely-populated—blue state—areas.  The ACA sought to entice states to expand Medicaid by offering a temporary increase of federal cost-sharing from 60 percent to 100 percent, but down-played the subsequent reduction that would leave these states freighted with additional costs.  The ACA sought to eliminate product differentiation by requiring all the insurance plans to offer the same set of liberal mandated benefits.[4]  In short, is the current ACA an inadequately-financed effort to by-pass the market economy?  And all that implies.

At least for the moment, Trump’s astonishing victory has lifted the dead hand of Ronald Reagan off the Republican Party. For decades, Republicans have tried to our-Reagan Reagan.  Now they have to think anew an act anew.  Then, if Democrats don’t believe in the Trump administration, investors do believe.[5]  At least for now.  The much-delayed recovery of the economy from the financial crisis slump of 2008-2009 provides an underlying force.  President Trump’s endorsement of tax cuts, infrastructure projects, and deregulation have all poured fuel on the underlying fire.  However, trade war and tariff protection are implicit in “America First.”  With 44 percent of the goods and services sold by Standard and Poor 500 companies going abroad, people are skittish.  It’s still early days, so they aren’t alone.

[1] “A sunnier Trump lays out his policy goals,” The Week, 10 March 2017, p. 4.

[2] While the mainstream media (MSM) have been lambasting Republicans for trying to repeal and replace the ACA, the exchanges have been failing and premiums soaring.

[3] Just as the Obama administration found itself compelled by reality to follow some main lines of the Bush II foreign policy, the Trump administration finds itself compelled by reality to follow some main lines of the Obama domestic policy.  Anyway, that’s what I think at the moment.  Probably I’m wrong on both counts.

[4] “GOP divided over Obamacare repeal plan,” The Week, 10 March 2017, p. 5.

[5] “Conservatism: The Party of Reagan embraces Trump” and “Stocks: will the Trump rally last?” The Week, 10 March 2017, pp. 6, 33.

The Logan Act.

Deborah (“Debby”) Norris came from a prominent 18th Century Philadelphia family.[1]  She married Dr. George[2] Logan, another child of a prominent 18th Century Philadelphia family and a Loyalist.  “Lively times” followed.[3]  George Logan returned to Philadelphia after the Revolution.  Indeed, he became a friend of Thomas Jefferson and helped to found the Democratic Party.  So, reconciliation occurred between former enemies.

A similar spirit of reconciliation took hold in Anglo-American relations.  Jay’s Treaty (1795), negotiated by the Federalist government of George Washington, spackled over a bunch of cracks in the relationship with Britain.[4]  For domestic political reasons, the Democrats opposed letting bygones be bygones.

So far, so good.  A problem arose, however, because France had helped the United States achieve independence.  In return, the United States had agreed to repay to France substantial loans made to the revolutionary government and had signed a treaty of alliance with France.  Then the French Revolution broke out, the revolutionaries abolished the monarchy (1792), and the French—“in a rit of fealous jage”[5]—declared war on almost every other country in Europe, including Britain.  The alliance treaty required the United States to go to war against Britain.

The Americans declined to fulfill the terms of the alliance; the French got bent out of shape and launched a naval war against American shipping; and the two countries negotiated in search of a settlement.  However, several of the French delegates wanted bribes to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion, so most of the Americans left in a huff.[6]  At this point, George Logan inserted himself into the negotiations as a private citizen.  This effort led nowhere, any more than had the official negotiations.  Upon learning of Logan’s free-lancing, the Federalists–outraged at Democratic meddling in diplomacy–passed a law forbidding private citizens from intruding in negotiations with a country with whom the United States was at odds.

The so-called “Logan Law” remains on the books.[7]  Michael Flynn, National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump, may have fallen afoul of this law.  Flynn had contact with the Russians during the period between the election of Trump and his inauguration.  Since Trump was not yet president, Flynn falls under the act.[8]

However, that isn’t the most interesting aspect of the case.  We know of these conversations because they were intercepted by American intelligence.[9]  On the one hand, Flynn–a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), had a phone conversation he had every reason to believe would be intercepted.  The National Security Adviser is an idiot.

On the other hand, we know of the intercepts because someone in the intelligence community leaked the information to the press.  For reasons that I, at least, understand, Donald Trump rejected the early findings that the Russians had intervened in the 2016 election.  However, Trump has escalated his fight against the intelligence agencies.  Now they are fighting back by releasing secret information to discredit the president and his advisers.  That’s bad news.

[1] On Debby Logan, see: C. Dallett Hemphill, Philadelphia Stories (forthcoming).  I love you darling.

[2] Apparently NOT “Georgie.”  Go figure.

[3] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVuAqLTmvFY

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Treaty

[5] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAnpfct1WaQ

[6] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XYZ_Affair

[7] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logan_Act

[8] Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee, “Flynn Discussed Russia Sanctions,” WSJ, 11-12 February 2017.

[9] That is, in all likelihood by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 3.

Last week, a team of people from the Trump administration told a number of senior professionals at the State Department that their resignations had been accepted and that there would be no need for them to remain in their positions until the administration’s nominees for replacements had gotten up to speed.  (Is this the case in other Departments[1] or is it unique to the State Department?  If it is unique to the State Department, then was it the decision of President Trump or of his Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson or of someone else who shall remain nameless, but whose initials are Steven Bannon?  If the decision originated with Tillerson, did it reflect previous contact with the State Department while negotiating oil deals with foreign countries?)

Over the week-end, President Trump reconfigured the “principals committee” of the National Security Council.  While this has been characterized as, among other things, a diminution of the role of the professional military, both the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security are retired Marine Corps generals.  Thus, it could be construed—OK, misconstrued—as a shift from the Bureaucratasaurus to the Parrisasaurus Rex.

Currently, an estimated 90,000 people from radical-Islamist-ridden “countries” have received visas to enter the United States.[2]  On Friday, 27 January 2017 (one week after taking office) elected-President Donald Trump issued an executive order imposing a 90-day “pause” on immigrants from the seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.[3]  This disrupted the late-stage travel plans of about 700 people, who were prevented from boarding U.S.-bound planes.  An additional 300 were halted upon arrival in the United States.[4]

Critics quickly pointed out that no one from these countries had ever committed an act of terror in the United States.  Implicitly, this left liberals in the awkward position of defending Sudan, which has waged a war of aggression—that the left has been quick to denounce as “genocide–in western Sudan, and that Sudan provided a safe haven to Osama bin Laden until President Bill Clinton launched cruise missile attacks against suspected al-Qaeda terrorist sites inside Sudan.  In contrast, countries whose citizens have engaged in terrorism against the United States—Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia—escaped the ban.

Massive protests followed at airports, in the streets, in Congress, and on editorial pages.  Not to mention that Iran launched a ballistic missile in a “test” shot: Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are Iranian-dominated countries, in the Iranian view.[5]  None the less, a snap poll revealed that almost half (49 percent) of Americans approved President Trump’s order, while 41 percent disapproved the order.  Various courts were quick to block the order.  All the same, neither refugees nor those foreigners seeking visas are protected by the Bill of Rights.  Indeed, that’s why so many people want to come to the United States.

The deep polarization of American politics continues into the post-election period.  However, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton appeared to be much of a healer.  So,,,

[1] This leaves the estimable-I’m-instructed Sally Yates out of the discussion.

[2] The seven countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen.  To be picky, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian-born “underwear bomber” who tried to bring down an airliner headed to Detroit (why?) had been recruited, trained, and armed in Yemen; al-Shabab in Somalia has recruited a number of Somali-Americans from the upper Midwest.

[3] The temporary and limited ban easily could be extended and broadened.  But why would it have to be?  President Trump has already succeeded in scaring the be-Muhammad out of Muslims and potential immigrants.

[4] “Travel ban prompts chaos, protests,” The Week, 10 February 2017, p. 4.

[5] “How they see us: Trapped by Trump’s travel ban,” The Week, 10 February 2017, p. 15.

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 2.

During his first week in office,[1] President Donald Trump ended American participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement[2]; took the first step toward re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by arranging to meet the leaders of Canada and Mexico[3]; instructed the Department of Homeland Security to begin completion of the border wall; ordered that federal funds not go to any “sanctuary cities”[4]; indicated that he would lift President Obama’s blockage of the Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipelines; began the process of “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act by instructing federal agencies waive regulations that [the presidentially-appointed head of the agency] regards as burdensome; ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) to pause in issuing grants and contracts; barred foreign aid funds from going to international agencies or groups that provide information on abortions[5]; and imposed a federal hiring freeze.[6]  All these steps appear to be reasonable efforts to fulfill promises that candidate Trump made during his campaign.

Furthermore, the president told a group of businessmen that he wanted to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to the 15-20 percent range,[7] and to cut back federal regulation of business by 75 percent.

More alarming—to many if not all—was President Trump’s renewed claim that millions—up to five millions–of people had voted illegally in November 2016.  He promised to launch an investigation.  In addition, he seems eager for a war against the press/media, and he swats aside predictions of conflict of interest.  In addition, the president and his spokespeople have attacked the press—America’s last large unregulated industry—while trumpeting “alternative facts.”[8]  A 500,000-strong Women’s March on Washington had a divided impact.  Supporters saw it as “resistance”; while critics saw it as resistance to a democratic election.[9]

So, a fast start to his first term as president.

[1] “President Trump makes his mark,” The Week, 3 February 2017, p. 4.

[2] The agreement already was Dead-on-Arrival, given the shift in position by both parties during the 2016 election campaign.  Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton would have done the same thing.

[3] The two men signaled a willingness to negotiate.   Then came the whole personal spat.

[4] These are cities that refuse to co-operate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in searching for illegal immigrants.  They do, however, avidly pursue federal money for other projects.

[5] This does not prevent other countries from providing those funds.

[6] This freeze ensnared my son, a seasonal wildlands firefighter for the National Forest Service.  The freeze seems unlikely to last, especially once the West catches fire in July 2017.

[7] The nominal Canadian basic tax rate is 38 percent, but a “federal tax abatement” cuts it to 28 percent, and a general tax reduction cuts the effective tax rate to 15 percent.

[8] “’Alternative facts’: Is Trump at war with reality?” The Week, 3 February 2017, p. 6.

[9] “Women’s March: The progressive backlash against Trump,” The Week, 3 February 2017, p.16.

Clinton versus Putin.

While a majority of Republicans once believed that fair-play meant that the Republican convention should nominate the candidate who had won the most votes in the primaries, a majority (54 percent) of Republicans now wish that the party had not chosen Donald Trump as the candidate.  About a third (35 percent) believes that Trump was the best choice available.  Obviously, the latter figure doesn’t mean Trump alone.  It may be more of a statement about the Republican candidates who ran against Trump.  The Democrats aren’t in much better shape about Hillary Clinton.  Almost half (47 percent) of those who plan to vote for her will do so chiefly to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.  Scarcely a third (32 percent) are actually pro-Clinton.  More broadly, two thirds (66 percent) of all voters believe that HRC is dishonest, while less than a third (29 percent) believe that she is not dishonest.  Again obviously, the “Hillary is dishonest” camp includes every single Republican and a bunch of Independents.  Amidst the Viking funeral of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, people should attend to the recent poll reporting that 74 percent of Trump’s supporters think that Hillary Clinton should be in prison.[1]  How deeply that view has penetrated the minds of ordinary Democrats is unknown.[2]

This could have consequences for the 2016 presidential election.  A lot of people will vote for Hillary Clinton in order to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.

Unless, perhaps, they think that she is crooked.  “Crooked Hillary” has become a standard phrase in the speeches of Donald Trump.  This charge arises from Trump’s abrasive discourse and datcourse.  However, it gains traction from the perception that Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation engaged in unseemly practices during her time as Secretary of State.  The release of several documents from the investigation of Clinton by the EffaBeeEye has poured gasoline on this particular fire.

Earlier reports indicated that HRC’s e-mail had probably been compromised.  Trump invited the Russians to reveal what they had learned from the 30,000-plus “personal” e-mails that Clinton had ordered deleted from her private server.  Some people misconstrued this as an invitation to “hack” her private server.  The server seems to have been shut-down long ago, so it cannot now be hacked.  Trump’s hope seems to be that the Russians will reveal damaging information about Clinton’s private dealings with donors to the Clinton Foundation while she served as Secretary of State.

It seems reasonable to expect such “revelations.”  There is a lot of bad blood between Clinton and the Russian soon-to-be-tsar Vladimir Putin.  While serving as Secretary of State, Clinton challenged Putin’s authority in a country where being on the wrong side of the government can get you killed.  In early 2011, she, among others, deceived the Russians about American intentions in Libya.[3]  In December 2011, she described Russian elections as plagued by “electoral fraud.”[4]    If the Russkies have incriminating evidence, they may dump it.

Now the New York Times seems to be lighting “back-fires” in preparation for an “October surprise.”[5]

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 12 August 2016, p. 18.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 9 September 2016, p.17.

[3] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2014/09/28/obama-versus-putin/

[4] See: http://dailycaller.com/2016/07/25/dec-2011-hillary-clinton-angers-putin-demands-investigation-into-russian-electoral-fraud/

[5] Neil MacFarquhar, “A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories,” NYT, 28 August 2016; Jo Becker, Steven Erlanger, and Eric Schmitt, “How Russia Often Benefits When Julian Assange Reveals the West’s Secrets,” NYT, 31 August 2016.