Friday, June 9, 2017

Public service is not about personal loyalty

After James Comey's testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, I think all of us, Trump supporters and Trump critics, can agree on one thing.

Donald Trump values loyalty to himself above all else.

This isn't news, of course, but it's good to get confirmation from someone who dealt with him face-to-face (to Comey's outspoken regret).

For a guy who runs his own privately-held business, it might — might — be okay to demand unequivocal loyalty. Even so, the Godfather jokes write themselves.

But the President doesn't run his own privately-held business.

Before the President-elect and his appointees can assume their offices, they take an oath to defend the Constitution.

It is, of course, highly improper for the President to demand personal loyalty as Trump routinely does. That demand puts an intolerable strain on an honest subordinate:

  • If he sincerely pledges loyalty to Trump, he violates his oath of office.
  • If he refuses to pledge loyalty to Trump, Trump will find a reason to fire him. James Comey is Exhibit #1 on that score.
  • If he only pretends to pledge loyalty to Trump, he looks like he violated his oath of office and Trump can later use his supposed pledge against him. (Trump himself does not show loyalty to subordinates who incur his wrath or get in his way.)
Now that Trump's Mafia-like insistence on personal loyalty is public knowledge, honest men and women will shun serving in his administration. The public will assume Trump executive-branch nominees are his lackeys first, and public servants second (if at all). We will assume that Trump and his administration are corrupt because they do not hold themselves accountable to anything but Trump's whims and Trump's self-interest.

I'm not so lost in cynicism that I assume all presidential administrations are mere tools to make the President and his cronies wealthy and powerful. That's only the story of Trump's administration. It's disgusting. And it's a disaster for the rest of us, who will be left to clean up the mess.

The stench coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the reason we can't afford Mob-like "Dons" as President.

Trump has got to go.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Lies, damned lies, and Scott Pruitt

Via the Atlantic, an unusually clear instance of Trump administration bullshit.
On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, claimed that the U.S. has created 50,000 jobs in the coal sector since the fourth quarter of 2016....

...

Quite simply, the coal sector has added about 1,000 jobs since October 2016—not 50,000. Coal could not have added 50,000 jobs in the last eight months, since that is essentially the size of the entire coal industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics....

Pruitt wasn't spinning a half-empty glass as half-full. Pruitt was lying on an unusually large scale.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Democratic Party's problem

The Democratic Party has a well-deserved reputation for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Perhaps its greatest failure in the recent past was in the 2016 presidential election, which provides a textbook example of its core problem.

The party stands for nothing. Nothing memorable and stirring, anyway.

Think of the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primary. Only four candidates tried to run, and three of them were dyed-in-the-wool technocrats. The battle boiled down to the technocrat with the highest name recognition, Hillary Clinton, and the upstart populist Bernie Sanders. The party chose the technocrat to go up against the buzzsaw who redefined electoral politics in 2016. In spite of Trump's innumerable (and seemingly fatal) flaws, she lost. She has a lot of excuses but refuses to accept that (1) the race should never have been as close as it was, and (2) the reason it was so close was less Trump's appeal than her own failure to enthuse a lot of people.

Consider the Democratic Party's highest-profile leaders in Congress, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. They are defined by nothing except adherence to stale party stances. And they're the ones who, in turn, define the party for everyone else.

The party is run by technocrats who are skilled at the infighting game in Congress. That's okay for governing, but it's hopeless for campaigning.

Now, I'm not dumping on technocrats. I have a technocratic mindset myself. But technocrats are lousy at politics, because politics is as much about emotion as wisdom. You can't run a democracy without emotional appeals because a democracy of any size is full of people who don't know and don't care about any but a tiny handful of the myriad of issues that that democracy faces. You can't reach these people with dry, rational arguments. You also can't reach them with measured hectoring, which is Pelosi's and Schumer's specialty. You have to rouse them with appeals to basic emotions.

Hate, anger and fear are basic emotions, and they seem to work really well with modern Republican voters. However, at least in modern times, the Democratic Party has a poor track record of harnessing these emotions on behalf of its candidates. Lots of people have speculated on the reasons for this dichotomy between the parties; I shall not. I will assert, though, that people are more motivated to vote for a candidate with an inspiring message than for the candidate perceived to be the lesser of two evils. Given the Dems' obvious inability to marshal the more negative emotions anywhere near as effectively as Republicans, Democrats must find a message people can rally around, a message more inspirational than "We're not as bad!"

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Deciding who is human

Missouri state representative Rick Brattin doesn't think homosexuals are human.
"When you look at the tenets of religion, of the Bible, of the Quran, of other religions, there is a distinction between homosexuality and just being a human being," Brattin told the House floor.
Brattin also advocates teaching creationism and has advocated for the idea of "legitimate rape". To say he's hopelessly in the thrall of the most fundamentalist strain of Christianity is to say the sky is blue.

Rick, there's a distinction between being a self-righteous, small-minded, judgmental cretin and just being a human being, too. I think there are verses in your Holy Bible that talk about that. Maybe you should read them and think about who you are.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Stop reacting, start acting

Dear Leader pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris climate accord. Color me shocked.

I've spent the afternoon and evening being outraged. Now that I've gotten past my visceral reaction, I'm turning my back on him.

He's a narcissistic infant. We know it. Now, will we waste our time repeating the obvious, or cope with it?

We must exercise our power as consumers, voters and citizens. We must keep tabs on which companies and elected officials take advantage of Dear Leader's free pass to fuck our future. We must name them, shame them and do our very best to make them pay for screwing over everybody in search of next quarter's profits and the next election.

I'm sure there's more we can do. Let's find everything we can.

We have to stop screaming about how far Dear Leader and his enablers have their heads up their asses. We have to be guided by a positive vision to make the world better in spite of them.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Trump and the Paris climate accord

Nobody but Dear Leader knows what he will announce Thursday concerning the U.S.'s participation in the 2015 Paris climate accord. But let's be clear about a couple of things.

If you reject the reality of climate change, your grandchildren (and maybe even your children) will not think kindly of you.

If you think pulling out of the accord and following policies to promote coal, oil and other fossil fuels will strengthen the country, you are wrong. Fossil fuels are finite: they will run out. Anybody who hopes to return to the days when gasoline was cheap and coal was king is trying to take the country down a dead-end path. Again, your grandchildren (and, again, maybe even your children) will not think kindly of you.

Either we approach our problems clear-eyed about the limitations the world places on us, or we deny our descendants their future. It's as simple and as stark as that.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The "deep state", or the real state?

Some of Dear Leader's advisers, including Steve Bannon, are starting to buy into the idea that "the deep state" is trying to bring down the Trump administration.
The number of leaks coming from inside the government, sources say, have advisers concerned that someone is out to get them.

Commentators on Fox News, Mr Trump’s channel of choice, have helped push the idea that these leaks come from an American “deep state” – a body within the government working to bring down those in power.

Are the leaks part of a giant conspiracy?

Not the kind of conspiracy in a spy novel, no. The leakers haven't pledged themselves to Goldfinger, or to Barack Obama, for that matter.

Rather, the leakers have pledged themselves to the Constitution, and to the country.

What they've heard the President say and watched him do are simply not conscionable.

They have heard and seen him reveal classified information to the representatives of a hostile foreign power, harming not just us but an allied nation.

They have heard and seen him upend his own agenda after watching Fox News, forcing his staff to cobble together pitiably inadequate policy papers under impossible deadlines.

They have heard and seen him consider unthinkable ideas, like withdrawing from NATO and treating nuclear weapons like conventional weapons. (This piece explains why the latter is so appalling.)

They have heard and seen him ignoring their attempts to brief him on complex policy issues because he can't or won't concentrate — unless, that is, his name is frequently mentioned.

They have heard and seen him rage at them for the flood of negative press his actions and words have engendered.

They have been moved to publicize those things so that we, the people, know what kind of man occupies the Oval Office.

He refuses to see the chaos he foments here and abroad, and is not forced to reckon with the consequences of his actions. The only way he can be curbed is to bring public pressure to bear, both on him and Congress, because they both hate low ratings.

The leakers are not acting out of partisanship: they're acting out of deep concern for the well-being of the country. They're trying to alert the nation to the danger of a President who does not understand his job and, even more disastrously, does not care about the responsibility that goes along with the power he wields.

They are not conspirators.

They are patriots.