Archive for the Category Trump Derangement Syndrome

 
 

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 AltRight.com (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.

Paraguay politics

Let’s consider Paraguay, a country that has traditionally been dominated by two parties, the Colorados and the Liberals.  I’ll make up a hypothetical set of facts, and you tell me the most plausible way to interpret this imaginary scenario:

1.  Manuel Suarez of the Colorado Party is elected president.

2.  Almost all Liberals view Suarez as a dishonest, vindictive demagogue.

3.  The leading Colorado intellectuals and pundits view Suarez as a dishonest, vindictive demagogue.

4.  Roughly 80% of former leaders of the Colorado party (who are now retired from politics) view Suarez as a dishonest, vindictive demagogue.

5.  Roughly 10% of current Colorado politicians criticize Suarez as if he were a dishonest, vindictive demagogue.

6.  In private, most Colorado politicians view Suarez as a dishonest, vindictive demagogue, even while supporting him publicly in order to please their constituents.

7.  Most Colorado voters do not view Suarez as a dishonest, vindictive demagogue.  These voters support Suarez on virtually all issues, regardless of whether his views represent traditional Colorado positions.

Suppose you were a French, Australian or Egyptian political scientist, examining the political situation in Paraguay.  You have no emotional tie to either the Colorados or the Liberals.  You are examining the situation as dispassionately as one might study an ant farm.  Which hypothesis would you regard as most plausible:

A.  Suarez is a dishonest, vindictive demagogue.

B.  Suarez is not a dishonest, vindictive demagogue.  Rather he’s very much misunderstood by the elites in Asuncion, of both parties, who follow him most closely.  Only his cult-like following among ordinary voters of one political party see him for what he is.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 12.44.58 PM

PS.  AP had a good piece on how GOP politicians view the Trump cult.  I almost broke out laughing when I read the concluding paragraph:

“The Trump phenomenon is going to end at some point in time. That might be six years, that might be two years, that might be sooner. No one knows,” the former Ohio GOP chairman said. “When it does end, it’s the job of a lot of us … to make sure that the party is still populated by good, honest, decent candidates and officeholders who we can continue to be proud of.”

“still”?

Trump derangement syndrome

It’s now enough to simply present the words of Trump and his associates.  First, John Kelly shows prosecutorial discretion:

On the recording, Mr. Kelly says Ms. Manigault Newman could be facing “pretty significant legal issues” over what he alleged was misuse of a government car. She denied misusing it.

“I’d like to see this be a friendly departure,” Mr. Kelly says on the tape. “There are pretty significant legal issues that we hope don’t develop into something that, that’ll make it ugly for you.”

“But I think it’s important to understand,” he adds, “that if we make this a friendly departure, we can all be, you know, you can look at, look at your time here in, in the White House as a year of service to the nation. And then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation.”

Then Trump explains the qualities he looks for in White House officials:

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 11.41.30 AMNow I understand what Trump meant by hiring the best people—he meant the people who a best at praising him.

 

Detroit, Orange County, and “Murica”

There are no American nationalists.  They don’t exist.  There are people like Laura Ingraham, who present themselves as American nationalists.  But they are not at all convincing.  On the other hand, there are lots of American white nationalists, including our current president.  So how can we tell the difference?  First let’s look at how Laura Ingraham perceives “the problem”:

Ingraham said on Wednesday that “in major parts of the country, it does seem that the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people and they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like.”

. . .

Ingraham said toward the end of Wednesday’s commentary that she was not talking about race and ethnicity, and complained a night later that the disclaimer was being missed.

On Thursday, she said she had “a message to those who are distorting my views, including all white nationalists and especially one racist freak whose name I won’t even mention, you don’t represent my views and you are antithetical to the beliefs I hold dear.”

Instead of race, she said she was talking about “a shared sense of keeping American safe and her citizens safe and prosperous.

We roll our eyes at her attempt to dig her way out of trouble.  Does anyone seriously think that Ingraham is horrified by blond immigrants from Norway (or Slovenia)?  Her concern about immigration is clearly linked to race, at some level.  But it’s also true that she fears crime, and that she associates crime with immigration.  The problem here is that the violent crime rate in many of the “American” parts of big cities like New York is dramatically higher than in the immigrant areas.

So let’s think about what it would take to avoid “massive demographic change”.  In America, blacks made up 14% of the population in 1860, and 12.6% today.  That ratio is now pretty stable, because the black birth rate is about equal to the overall birth rate, and the rate of black immigration as a share of the total is similar to the share of blacks in the US population.  You can think of recent immigration from Haiti and Nigeria as a way of keeping the black share of the population stable, i.e. a way of preserving traditional America. Is that how Ingraham thinks about Haitian immigration?

In this vision of “American” nationalism, Detroit is a red, white and blue, all-American city, while Orange County is a disturbing foreign place, where whites are only 41% of the population and blacks are almost non-existent.  It’s mostly Hispanic and Asian, many from first or second generation immigrant families.  Is that how Ingraham feels about these two places?  I think we all know the answer, one doesn’t have to be a dog to hear the hidden messages in the white nationalist rhetoric.

I claim there are no “American nationalists”, only “Murican nationalists”.  They believe in Murica, a mythical white country cleansed of the blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans who have lived here for centuries. Ingraham may see herself as an American nationalist, but I don’t believe it for a moment.

Those who believe in Murica blame inner city blacks for their plight (bad culture), while romanticizing the plight of opioid-addicted whites in Appalachia.  It’s all the fault of the Chinese, who stole their jobs.

When Trump asked why we should accept immigrants from “shithole” countries, many people focused on the insult to low-income countries.  That comment was certainly impolite, and not something an American president should be saying about countries we need to deal with; but the real problem was the implication that immigrants from shithole countries are not the sort of people that we want here.  Some whites have trouble seeing the implication of Trump’s comments, but African-Americans (and Central Americans) whose ancestors came from those exact countries certainly know what Trump was implying.  Trump was implicitly saying (to them) “we don’t like the fact that you are here”.  Interestingly, many of our most successful immigrants come from dysfunctional poor countries like India, and even immigrants from Nigeria do about average in terms of income.

Lots of Trump voters don’t care what Trump says about minorities.  But there are still a substantial number of people who vote GOP for tax cuts and Supreme Court nominees, but who would be very uncomfortable if Trump made explicitly racist statements.  Enough to swing a very close election.  These people would rather pretend that Trump’s not a racist, just being a bit politically incorrect on occasion.  So Trump continues to send out dog whistles to his white nationalist supporters, while the moderate, upper middle class Republican voters of Orange County can continue to look the other way.

There was recent speculation that Trump might have used the N-word in private conversation. (Admittedly not from a very credible source.)  Speaking for myself, the truth or falsity of this claim would in no way affect my view of Trump. I already know how he thinks about lower income minorities.  They are people that Trump doesn’t want in “Murica”.  I wish he’d just admit it.

PS.  I moved to Orange County a year ago.  Compared to Boston, it’s culture reminds me much more of the traditional (white) America I grew up in during the 1960s in Wisconsin.  Back then, if one saw an East Asian on the street (then called “Orientals”) the person seemed very foreign looking. Now they no longer look foreign.  Here’s a video from an Orange County 4th of July Parade last month, full of marching Chinese ladies.  Even Laura Ingraham might shed a tear.

PPS.  Play the video until it reaches a pop song, which starts out with rap, transitions to Christina Aguilera (I think), and then samples a Norwegian pop song from the 1980s.  Seeing the middle-aged Chinese ladies dancing to all of that is more than a bit surreal.

How good is the Trump economy?

Let’s start with the obvious:

1.  Trump’s campaign promises were absurd.  He said he’d pay of the national debt in 8 years.  When asked how, he replied “trade”.  Just two days ago, he again claimed that tariffs were helping to pay off the national debt.  The truth is that Trump is conducting the most irresponsible fiscal policy in all of American history.  Because neither the Dems or the GOP are willing to cut spending, Trump’s deficit spending will lead to much higher taxes and slower growth in the future.  But that’s not Trump’s problem.

2.  Trump’s claim that he reduced the unemployment rate from somewhere around 20% or 40% to 4%, almost overnight, doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

3.  Trump is making the trade deficit “worse”, the exact opposite of his promise.

4.  Job growth is no better than under Obama.

5.  He promised 4% RGDP growth, we have 2.7% so far.

So if the economy was as awful under Obama as he claimed during the campaign, then it’s still very bad. However, if we look past Trump’s silly promises, there is some evidence of economic improvement:

The growth rate of 2.7% over the past 6 quarters exceeds the 2.1% average during the Obama recovery.  On the other hand, growth averaged 3.0% during 8 quarters from 2013:Q2 to 2015:Q2, and GOP supply-siders were not lauding that achievement at the time.  Thus the recent surge is clearly not statistically significant.

On the other, other hand, I do think the recent tax changes have boosted growth.  I had expected growth to slow as we approached full employment.  It was slowing in 2016.  We don’t have RGDP futures markets, but I’m pretty sure that growth has been higher than was expected 2 years ago.  Stocks responded as if the tax bill was pro-growth.  The unemployment rate fell by more than expected.  And I’d expect above trend growth to continue for a few more quarters, before slowing sharply during 2019.  So on balance, there is some evidence of an improved economy.

To summarize:

The hyperbolic claims of the Trumpistas are laughable.  We are still recovering in much the same way as under Obama, just a bit faster.  Claims that the U-3 unemployment rate were meaningless and that the true unemployment rate was anywhere from 20% to 40%, have been quietly shelved.  Like everything else with Trump, his economic claims are deeply dishonest, even by the standards of American political discourse.  (Commenters occasionally tell me that other politicians say things like, “I’ll pay off the entire national debt in 8 years through trade.” False, other politicians don’t say things like that.)

It’s far too soon to make any overall judgments about the effects of Trump policies.  Throughout history, governments tend not to end well when led by demagogues that rely on continual, non-stop lying, fake news, demonizing foreigners and minorities, seeking “enemies” in the media and anyone else who dares to disagree, and no respect for the rule of law.  Indeed I know of no such government in all of human history that ended well.  Maybe Trump will be an exception, but let’s wait and see before making that judgment.

PS.  Off topic, the decision to remove Trump’s star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame was a mistake.  Trump is even more famous than when his star was first placed on the sidewalk.  Yes, he’s a bad person, but so are lots of other famous people with stars on the pavement.  More importantly, this decision is a win for the vandals, and will encourage more vandalism in the future.  Incentives matter.