Archive for the Category Trump Derangement Syndrome


Anne Applebaum on Eastern Europe

Anne Applebaum is one of America’s most distinguished conservative reporters.  (In the “classical liberal sense.)  Interestingly, in 2018 we’ve reached the point where distinguished conservatives and center-left reporters are almost identical on a wide range of foreign policy issues.  She has written the single best article I’ve ever read on the recent transformation of Eastern Europe.

Applebaum has dual citizenship with Poland, and is especially good on that country.  But the essay ranges over a wide range of topics.  For instance, until today I could never really “get” the Dreyfus Affair of 1894.  I knew that a French military officer was wrongly accused of treason.  And that the fact that he was Jewish probably played a role in this scandal.  But I never understood why this event was viewed as being so important.  It’s mentioned in almost every book I’ve ever read on French society in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  You could be reading a biography of an artist or author, and they’ll always spend a lot of time discussing that person’s opinion on the Dreyfus Affair.  Why?

After reading Applebaum’s story you’ll suddenly get it. History will start locking into place, at a psychological level. Indeed any future historian that wants to write a 21st century history of Europe should probably start with the Dreyfus Affair.

She’s also great on Hungary.  It’s long, but read the whole thing.

PS.  I see that Trump is gloating about how Nike stock dropped right after the Kaepernick ad was put out:

President Donald Trump had plenty to say about a topic he has been obsessed with, tweeting that Nike was getting “absolutely killed with anger and boycotts” and asking what the company was thinking with their divisive decision.

If the President were smart then he should have waited to see the impact on sales.  But then if he were smart . . . well a whole lot of things would be different:

Ten days after Nike announced that Colin Kaepernick would be the face of its “Just Do It” 30th anniversary ad campaign, the sports apparel behemoth’s stock price closed at an all-time high on Thursday at $83.47, according to a report from Bloomberg.

People seem to have tuned Trump out, which bodes well for the midterms.  And the good news keeps piling up, as the “brave” Manafort flipped today.

PPS.  Robert Shiller is in the news today:

At the same time, the president’s apparent Teflon to slough off scandals, conflicts of interest, evidence of incompetence, and other issues that would doom traditional political figures is well documented.

Shiller says this mindset is reflected in the market, which he considers overvalued.

“I think Trump encourages us to be more risk-taking” when it comes to investments, said Shiller.

Shiller’s hypothesis that this thinking may have seeped into the public consciousness.

How can I put this politely . . . umm, no.

I just don’t understand

Trumpistas in 2016:  “Sumner, you just don’t understand.  You professors live in an upper middle class bubble, where you don’t see all the suffering out in the real America.  The economy is not doing well; it’s doing horribly.  Things are so bad that average people are turning to meth, to opioids.”

Trumpistas in 2018:  “Sumner, you just don’t understand.  Trump has made America great again—the economy has never been better.  Look at the stock market.  Look at the black unemployment rate.  As Trump says, America is doing great.”

I’m willing to concede that I just don’t understand, so please help me to learn.

Are we really doing better than ever?  Better than the LBJ years, when RGDP growth averaged 5% over 21 quarters, instead of peaking at 4.2% for one or two quarters?  Maybe so.  After all, we really are richer than in the 1960s.  But if that’s your criterion, then wouldn’t the same apply to Obama’s second term, when real median household income reached an all time record in 2016?

Today the Census bureau released the income data for 2017, and it showed another 1.8% increase in real median household income, to a new record of $61,372.  Pretty impressive.  But it’s also true that this measure rose by an even more impressive 3.2% in 2016, and by an extremely impressive 5.2% in 2015.

They also announced a reduction in the poverty rate, from 12.7% to 12.3%.  Again, pretty impressive.  But the rate fell from 13.5 % to 12.7% in 2016.  And it fell from 14.8% to 13.5% in 2015.

There are many ways of looking at a picture as complex as the US economy.  In 2016, I saw an amazing wealth generating machine that produces living standards that earlier generations (and most other countries) can only dream about.  Trumpistas saw economic carnage everywhere they looked.  Both are valid arguments, depending on what data points you want to emphasize.  You can even claim the economy is doing better under Trump than Obama.

What is not a valid claim is that we’ve suddenly gone from being a disaster to being great again, because of a few upward tweaks in some data points. Tweaks that are not dramatically different from what occurred in previous years and decades.  All the problems in the Rust Belt are still out there.  Either the Trumpistas were lying in 2016, or they are lying today.  (I say they were lying in 2016–we’ve always been great.)

PS.  In a previous post I noted that people in south Orange County seemed friendlier than in Boston.  In fairness, I should note that this might partly reflect my “white privilege”.  People in south Orange County are certainly not as friendly to a visiting high school football team from Santa Ana, a city that is 80% Hispanic.  In that respect, my daughter’s Newton, Massachusetts high school was superior to the Aliso Niguel high school.

My wife and I like to visit Santa Ana, which is less boring than Mission Viejo.  You might wonder how we dare visit a city full of “rapists and murderers”.  Here’s Wikipedia:

In 2011 Forbes ranked Santa Ana the fourth-safest city of over 250,000 residents in the United States.

That ranking partly reflects traffic safety, but its crime rate is also fairly low.  (Ranking 11th safest in terms of violent crime.)  Ironically, I almost ran someone over in Santa Ana a few days ago.  A motorcycle merging onto the freeway flipped over right in front of me, and the guy tumbled into my lane.  Fortunately, I was going a bit slower than normal (I had just merged, and was only up to about 60mph.) I slammed on the brakes and came to a stop about 10 feet from the guy.  Drive defensively!

PPS.  Commenter Ben Cole will like this:

“Just run the presses — print money,” Trump said, according to Woodward, during a discussion on the national debt with Gary Cohn, former director of the White House National Economic Council.

And this made me smile:

As a candidate, Donald Trump pledged to balance the federal budget and lower the national debt, promises that are proving difficult to keep.

Actually that’s fake news.  Trump didn’t promise to balance the budget; he promised to run budget surpluses that were so enormous that the national debt would be entirely paid off in 8 years.  And yes, I’d say if you increase government spending and sharply cut taxes, causing the deficit to suddenly double to $1.1 trillion (in 2019), despite 3.9% unemployment, then it would prove “difficult” to keep your promise.

As an analogy, if a person who goes to AA each week suddenly goes out and buys an entire crate of Jack Daniels, it might be difficult for them to keep their sobriety promises.

The marginal product of US Presidents

When I evaluate how good a job my plumber did, I don’t look at how the US is doing.  The same is true of Presidents.

You might argue that Presidents are much more influential than plumbers.  I agree.  My plumber might contribute 1/330,000,000th to the success of America.  The president might be 10 million times more influential.  Maybe 3% of America’s well being is due to the President.  But that leaves 97% due to other factors, including other government officials. Unemployment fell sharply under Obama, whereas it rose sharply under Bush (actually both Bushes).  I doubt you’d find many Republicans that believe this was due to Obama’s superior economic policies.

Almost every day we receive new evidence of the unbelievable incompetence of our current President—by far the worst in US history.  A recent NYT piece written by a high government official argues that Trump is enacting some good policies.  I think he exaggerates the success of Trump’s policies (although I concede the corporate tax cut has likely boosted growth).  But let’s put that debate aside.  Where we both agree is that this success is not a reflection of Trump, rather it’s due to broader trends in government policy.  Indeed according to this official, Trump’s aides spend much of their time trying to stop him from doing crazy things:

But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.

This is one reason why I find theories of a “deep state” to be so amusing.  The people trying to prevent Trump from wrecking the world are precisely the people that he appointed to become high government officials.  If you are a Trumpista, the real problem you should be worried about is the “shallow state”.  Trump’s own appointees.

Those of us who see Trump for what he is should thank people like Gary Cohn, who prevented Trump from tearing up the Korea free trade agreement.  They are the true patriots.

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Why are Trumpistas so much nicer than Trumpian politicians?

We all know that Trump’s a bully.  What many people don’t seem to know is that bullying is an important attribute of many Trump-like politicians.  I’ll just provide a few examples here.  Let’s start with a recent article in The Economist, discussing Swedish politics:

Many municipalities, like Gothenburg, are already in this situation. The city’s 13-member executive is split between right and left; the odd seat was won by the Sweden Democrats in 2014. They are shunned by other parties. Besides ideology, says David Lega, the city’s deputy mayor, there is a character issue: the Sweden Democrats’ council member was expelled from his party for allegedly bullying subordinates.

OK, that’s just an anecdote.  But on the very same page of The Economist, there’s an article on Slovenia:

But the SDS has been unable to form a coalition. Many parties refused even to talk to it. Instead, five smaller centre-left parties banded together to form a minority government with outside support from the hard left. Other politicians justify their decision to exclude the SDS by arguing that Mr Jansa is a divisive bully. “When someone attacks us so personally and so aggressively, he should expect to see the results during negotiations,” says Vojmir Urlep, Mr Sarec’s economic adviser. Luka Mesec, of Levica, a leftist party, accuses the SDS of “scary anti-migrant discourse.”

OK, that’s just two anecdotes.  But the most powerful figure in Italy’s new government (Salvini) is almost universally viewed as a Trump-like figure, and he’s also a bully.  (In addition to being an overt racist and a fan of Mussolini. In other words he’s even worse than Trump.)

It’s also worth noting that Trump seems to despise polite leaders such as Obama, Trudeau and Merkel, whereas he’s drawn to leaders who are bullies, such as Duterte, Orban, Putin, etc.

However, I see no evidence that Trump voters are any less polite than Trump’s opponents.  When I moved from an anti-Trump area (Boston) to a pro-Trump area (south Orange County), I immediately noticed that people were nicer, on average.)  So why are Trumpian leaders such jerks?

One possibility is that Trumpistas have a more “tribal” view of the world.  People who travel to regions dominated by tribalism, say Afghanistan, often remark on how the people they meet are incredibly generous and kind.  This despite the fact that these societies are often tearing themselves apart with civil war.

Here’s a hypothesis.  The global rise of right-wing authoritarian nationalism is not really about immigration, it’s about Islam.  Consider the following regions, which have seen political developments that seem a bit “Trumpian”:

The USA, Europe, Russia, India, China, The Philippines, Burma, Thailand.

What do they have in common?  The public worries about Islam.

Now think about countries that have not seen such developments (Argentina, New Zealand, South Korea, etc.)

The first two regions with Trumpian problems (USA and Europe) face immigration issues. Maybe Russia to a lesser extent. But in the remainder, immigration is less of an issue. On the other hand, Islam is a big issue in all of the countries in the first list.  In each case, the majority of the population has a rather negative view of Muslims.  In my view, that’s what’s driving the global rise of Trumpism.  That causes even individually polite voters to support bullies—they want someone strong enough to fight against the perceived threat of Islam. (Yes, some Americans supported Trump for tax cuts or Supreme Court picks, but that’s not what got him the nomination.)

Burma is a particularly interesting case.  In perhaps no other country in the world would you less expect a Trumpian leader.  Burma’s leader is an almost universally revered Nobel Peace Prize winner.  Her career is almost a textbook definition of liberalism.  But the forces of anti-Islam in Burma are so strong that even she has turned into a right-wing authoritarian nationalist. If Burma is not safe, then nowhere is safe.  Except, of course, for countries where Islam is not viewed as a threat (like Argentina, New Zealand and South Korea.)  BTW, so much for the “great woman” theory of history.  If Burma doesn’t refute that theory, I don’t know what will.

You may recall from high school that bullies are less likely to be intelligent than non-bullies. A new book by Bob Woodward confirms that even Trump’s closest aides regard him as an idiot.  They see their job as protecting the country from his rash instincts:

The book is said to claim:

  • One month after Trump became president, he asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford for plans for a preemptive strike on North Korea.
  • After a chemical attack in April 2017 was tied to the Syrian regime and President Bashar al-Assad, Trump told Defense Secretary James Mattis that he wanted Assad assassinated, saying, “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in.”
  • During Trump’s practice session with his lawyers for a potential interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, he disastrously melted down — which led his then-attorney John Dowd to tell him, “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”

Much like Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, the book portrays President Trump as detested and scorned by many of his top advisers, who are said to see themselves as working to protect the country from someone they see as ignorant and irresponsible.

  • White House Chief of Staff John Kelly purportedly called Trump an “idiot” and “off the rails,” and said “we’re in Crazytown.”

  • Mattis is described as telling associates that Trump acted like, and had the understanding of, “a fifth- or sixth-grader.”

  • Former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn purportedly took trade-related documents off Trump’s desk to prevent him from signing them and causing crises.

  • Dowd is described as believing Trump to be a “fucking liar.”

In fairness to Trump, he’s a bit better at noticing flaws in others:

Trump himself, meanwhile, is described insulting current or former aides such as Reince Priebus (“like a little rat”), H.R. McMaster (“like a beer salesman”), Jeff Sessions (“mentally retarded, he’s this dumb Southerner”), Wilbur Ross (“past your prime”), and Rudy Giuliani (“you’re like a little baby”).

The new Italian government is even more of a clown show than the Trump administration.  (The ruling party was literally founded by a clown.)  Because Italy has much weaker public finances than the US had when Trump took over, their crazy fiscal proposals threaten to cause a crisis, which might eventually blow the eurozone apart.

There’s another interesting trend in global Trumpism.  In almost every case the populist movement started as a “liberal” party (in the international sense of favoring small government.) In some cases it was a new party (the AfD, etc.)  In other cases they took over an existing party (the GOP).  As far as I can tell, the movement against Islam was almost always associated with a move away from small government ideology in the realm of economic policy.  These parties now favor high government spending.  It’s not obvious to me why these two trends are connected, but they seem to be. I’d be interested in your thoughts.  (This means Corbyn is not as far from Trump as many people assume.  He’s a bigot who talks about going after the “fake news” media.)

I am not interested in your thoughts on whether I was right about Trump.  The fact that his closest advisors have exactly the same view of Trump as I do seals the deal in my mind.  Case closed.  If you still can’t see it, then no amount of debating on my part will help you.

PS.  McCain’s body wasn’t even cold before Lindsey Graham starting kowtowing to Trump.  Sometimes these things just take one’s breath away.

PPS.  Trump’s not the first bully to reach the Presidency, LBJ and FDR also qualify.



Heaven for news junkies

Has there ever been a better time for consumers of news?  In a single day, Trump will do three or four different things that are more bizarre or more appalling that Obama on his worst day in office:

1.  I’ve argued for quite some time that Trump’s a banana republic-type leader, but now he doesn’t even seem to be hiding that fact.  The President now describes convicted felons as “good people”, but only when they don’t cooperate with law enforcement.  If they do cooperate with authorities, then they are bad people.  The “no snitching” movement has moved from neighborhoods dominated by criminal gangs all the way to the White House.

2.  Trump unleashes a non-stop torrent of insults at his Attorney General, but they refuses to fire him.

3.  Trump campaigns on the idea that the US should not focus on namby-pamby issues such as human rights, rather we should focus on Making America Great Again, and cozy up to tyrants like Putin.  Then Trump suddenly tells the Secretary of State to look into doing something about the treatment of South African farmers.  Huh?  Of all the hundreds of oppressed groups around the world, why would Trump suddenly care about South African farmers? After all, most of the South African farmers than are being murdered are black, and he’s never shown the slightest interest in the welfare of blacks.  The Economist has a theory:

On August 23rd, after watching a Fox News segment, President Donald Trump tweeted about illegal “farm seizures”, which the ANC opposes, and the “large scale killing” of farmers, by which he presumably does not mean the black farm workers most likely to be victims of rural crime.

I wonder where the Economist got that idea?

[S]tories about the dastardly plot against white farmers (which, again, doesn’t actually exist) have shown up on alt-right, white nationalist, and neo-Nazi websites including (which is run by white nationalist Richard Spencer), VDare, American Renaissance, and Stormfront.

Lauren Southern with the European alt-right group Identity Evropa made a documentaryabout the subject. An alt-right podcast called White Rabbit Radio has an episode about it. So does American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor’s podcast. It’s also a hot topic on the pro-Trump Reddit forum r/TheDonald.

But the conspiracy theory quickly moved from the darker corners of the internet into the slightly-more-mainstream-but-still-pretty-seedy corners of the internet: As Wilson notes, Ann Coulter tweeted in June 2017 that the “only real refugees” are “White South African farmers facing genocide.” Breitbart has covered it extensively, as has the Russian government propaganda outlet RT. And, of course, so has Fox News’s Tucker Carlson.

Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that it would make its way to Trump sooner or later.

4.  As if that’s not enough, yesterday we also discover that Trump’s friend Pecker (how do CNN anchors keep a straight face when reading the news?) has a safe at the National Enquirer full of stories they bought and then refused to publish in order to protect Trump.  An actual, physical safe.

The crazy news stories are now coming so fast they pile up on each other, reducing the impact.  Like Venezuelans under Chavez, we are becoming numb to the insanity.

Admittedly these examples are a hodgepodge.  The 2nd and 4th examples are not important, merely weird.  The first example shows that Trump’s got the ethics of a third world dictator, or a Mafia don.  And the third story shows he’s a white nationalist, but we have dozens of other reasons to already believe that.   In any case, following the news has become vastly more interesting than under Obama.  And in politics, “interesting” generally does not end well.