Saturday, May 20, 2017

GOP Bloodbath in 2018

That is conservative columnist Erick Erickson's prediction in The Washngton Post.

Trump’s evangelical Christian supporters often told me that whether we liked Trump or not, we needed him to save the Supreme Court. My response remains that four years of Clinton appointing judges, while awful, would be nothing compared with a generational wipeout of the GOP. Watergate may have turned Charles Colson from hatchet man to pastor, but the defense of President Trump is turning a lot of pastors into hatchet men. Few people come away from Trump’s orbit without compromising their characters.
A Republican reckoning is on the horizon. Voters are increasingly dissatisfied with a Republican Party unable to govern. And congressional Republicans increasingly find themselves in an impossible position: If they support the president, many Americans will believe they are neglecting their duty to hold him accountable. But if they do their duty, Trump’s core supporters will attack them as betrayers — and then run primary candidates against them. 
Through it all, voter dissatisfaction has been growing. Trump’s core might stand with him, as he claimed, even if he killed someone in the middle of the street. But would those 70,000 voters who put him in the White House? As the president acts more irrationally and his Twitter rantings become more unhinged, will he draw more people to himself and his party than he will repel? I suspect not. 
The president exudes incompetence and instability. Divulging classified information to the Russians through bragging; undermining his staff’s defense of his conduct through inane tweets; even reportedly asking the FBI director to suspend an investigation of a former adviser — all these strike me not so much as malicious but as the ignorant actions of an overwhelmed man. Republicans excuse this behavior as Trump being Trump, but that will only embolden voters who seek greater accountability to choose further change over stability. 
The sad reality is that the greatest defense of the president available at this point is one his team could never give on the record: He is an idiot who does not know any better.
It is becoming ever clearer that Trump has the potential to cause more damage to the Republican Party than Obama did the Democrats. While there is no doubt the Democrats saw serious electoral setbacks under Obama, there remains a key difference here: Obama is deeply respected and liked by a majority of voters. Trump is increasingly disliked, and the Republicans who enable him are increasingly distrusted. 
With a horde of vocal Trump supporters cheering on every inane statement, delusion, lie and bad act, the majority of the American people can be forgiven for thinking the GOP as a whole has lost its mind. The Republicans may soon lose a generation of voters through a combination of the sheer incompetence of Trump and a party rank and file with no ability to control its leader. 
Trump still thinks he stands in contrast to Clinton, when in reality, for voters watching the chaos unfold, he stands in contrast both to a more level-headed Vice President Pence and an unknown generic Democrat — neither of whom constantly reminds people of their incompetence. Unless Republican leaders stage an intervention, I expect them to experience a deserved electoral blood bath in November 2018.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

GOP Reduced to Trolling

Former conservative talk radio host Charley Sykes describes the descent of the Right into trolling in The New York Times.

For many in the conservative movement, this sort of anti-anti-Trumpism is the solution to the painful conundrum posed by the Trump presidency. With a vast majority of conservative voters and listeners solidly behind Mr. Trump, conservative critics of the president find themselves isolated and under siege. But, as Damon Linker noted, anti-anti-Trumpism “allows the right to indulge its hatred of liberals and liberalism while sidestepping the need for a reckoning with the disaster of the Trump administration itself.”

This is also a much sounder business model than airing doubts about the president. Conservative media is, of course, a business that relies on ratings, and few things generate ratings more quickly than bashing liberals. In this case, it is more profitable for talk show hosts to play down Mr. Trump’s failures while piling on his enemies.

The ad hominem argument is rightly regarded as a logical fallacy because it substitutes personal attacks for a discussion of the argument someone is making. But on many talk shows, including Mr. Limbaugh’s, nearly every argument is ad hominem. Instead of offering statistics and building a case, it is easier to simply make fun of a Trump critic like Representative Maxine Waters, or shrug off a negative report because it came from the “lamestream media.”

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of airtime on conservative media is not taken up by issues or explanations of conservative approaches to markets or need to balance liberty with order. Why bother with such stuff, when there were personalities to be mocked and left-wing moonbats to be ridiculed?

What may have begun as a policy or a tactic in opposition has long since become a reflex. But there is an obvious price to be paid for essentially becoming a party devoted to trolling. In the long run, it’s hard to see how a party dedicated to liberal tears can remain a movement based on ideas or centered on principles.

Conservatives will care less about governing and more about scoring “wins” — and inflicting losses on the left — no matter how hollow the victories or flawed the policies. Ultimately, though, this will end badly because it is a moral and intellectual dead end, and very likely a political one as well.

The right’s reaction to the firing of Mr. Comey hardly bodes well. Even conservatives who are still smarting from his handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails should recognize that the timing of Mr. Comey’s abrupt dismissal in the midst of a growing investigation into Russian meddling raises fundamental questions about the rule of the law and the possibility that justice is being obstructed.
As the right doubles down on anti-anti-Trumpism, it will find itself goaded into defending and rationalizing ever more outrageous conduct just as long as it annoys CNN and the left.

In many ways anti-anti-Trumpism mirrors Donald Trump himself, because at its core there are no fixed values, no respect for constitutional government or ideas of personal character, only a free-floating nihilism cloaked in insult, mockery and bombast.

Needless to say, this is not a form of conservatism that Edmund Burke, or even Barry Goldwater, would have recognized.

Best Description of Trump

David Roberts nails it on

Why did Donald Trump fire FBI Director James Comey so abruptly, in such humiliating fashion, with no plan to communicate the reasoning behind the move and no list of replacements ready?
It is the question that launched a thousand think pieces. Even Trump surrogates were not prepared to answer it. Sean Spicer literally hid in the bushes (sorry, among the bushes).
The thing is, the answer is pretty obvious. The implications are terrifying, but the motivations are not complicated.
Trump did it because he was mad.
He was mad that people on his TV keep talking about the Russia investigation. He was mad Comey didn’t back him up on his ludicrous claims that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, even when people on his TV were criticizing him for it. He was mad Comey hasn’t been more loyal, convinced Comey was to blame for his bad ratings. So he fired Comey.
In short, what if Trump is exactly as he appears: a hopeless narcissist with the attention span of a fruit fly, unable to maintain consistent beliefs or commitments from moment to moment, acting on base instinct, entirely situationally, to bolster his terrifyingly fragile ego?
We’re not really prepared to deal with that.
There are nine traits used to identify narcissistic personality disorder (things like “requires excessive admiration” and “has a grandiose sense of self-importance”). Fitting five or more is considered sufficient for diagnosis. All nine describe Trump’s public behavior with eerie accuracy.
But a disorder, by definition, inhibits normal functioning, impedes success. And Trump is inarguably successful. He’s one of the most powerful people in the world. Whatever kind of personality he may have, some psychiatrists argue, he can’t have a disorder. He’s doing well for himself.
Whether you see this as evidence of Trump’s fitness or evidence of the power of inherited wealth in America, I’m not sure it makes much difference from a citizen’s point of view. Whether or not Trump has NPD, he clearly has the NP part.
Like all extreme narcissists, he feels a gnawing sense of inadequacy and thus requires constant adulation, admiration, and reinforcement for his oversize, hypersensitive ego. Like all extreme narcissists, he is exquisitely attuned to offense, to any hint of being the dominated party or the loser, and incredibly vengeful when he feels he’s been crossed (which is frequently).
Like all extreme narcissists, he sees every interaction, every situation, as a zero-sum contest in which there will be winners and losers. Like all extreme narcissists, he is prone to building a fantasy world in which he is always on top, always the winner. And like all extreme narcissists, he sees other people only through the lens of how they reflect or affect him.
But Trump is not merely a narcissist. There are other things going on.
Many narcissists are quite well-regulated. Using other people to one’s advantage takes not only in-the-moment charm but an ability to think ahead, as in a game of chess. Succeeding requires fooling other people, and fooling other people requires an ability to hold a complex social map in one’s head, to sustain a consistent performance over time.
Trump does have some crude cunning to manipulate people in the moment. He can sense what they want and what will elicit their approval.
But he lacks any ability to hold beliefs, commitments, or even deceptions in his head across contexts. (On Twitter, I compared him to a goldfish.) He is utterly unable to step back and put his gut emotions in larger perspective, to see himself as a person among people, in social contexts that demand some adaptation. He is impatient with attempts to influence him to take a larger view — he demands one-page memos, for instance.
Matt Yglesias says that Trump lies all the time. And it’s certainly true that he says false things all the time. But even to say “lie” seems to suggest a certain self-awareness, an ability to distinguish performance from reality, that Trump shows no signs of possessing.
Trump does have consistent attitudes, and that has given his actions some consistency. Above all, he is utterly terrified of, and hostile to, weakness.
Fear of weakness helps explain why Trump mocked John McCain for being taken prisoner, why he mocked a disabled reporter, why he’s been so consistently racist. Somewhere in his reptile brain, he views being captured, disabled, or persecuted as weakness, as being dominated.
It also explains his fondness for autocratic strongmen — the ones who dominate.
But these attitudes, these instincts, do not seem to yield persistent beliefs or principles. Trump is highly attuned to dominance and submission in the moment, but each moment is a new moment, unconstrained by prior commitments, statements, or actions.
Trump defies our theory of mind because he appears to lack a coherent, persistent self or worldview. He is a raging fire of need, protected and shaped by a lifetime of entitlement, with the emotional maturity and attention span of a 6-year-old, utterly unaware of the long-term implications of his actions.
This makes him, as many others have noted, extremely vulnerable to being manipulated by whoever happens to talk to him last, whoever butters him up and makes him feel important. (And that includes the TV.)
It’s one thing when that involves a wild Twitter accusation or the firing of a staff member. All Trump’s crises so far have been internal and self-inflicted, more or less.
But what will happen when he gets into a confrontation with North Korea, when Kim Jong Un deliberately provokes him? Will his response be considered and strategic? Will he be able to get information and aid from allies? Will he be able to make and keep commitments during negotiations?
There’s no sign of hope for any of that.
More likely he will prove, as he has in literally every confrontation of the past several years, congenitally unable to back down or deescalate, even if doing so is clearly in everyone’s best interests.
More likely he will be desperate to maintain face and will listen to whatever his security staff whispers in his ear.
More likely he will make rash and fateful decisions with insufficient consultation and no clear plan.
That’s who he is: a disregulated bundle of impulses, being manipulated by a cast of crooks and incompetents, supported by a Republican Party willing to bet the stability of the country against upper-income tax cuts. We need to stop looking for a more complicated story.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Comey Firing Shows Trump's Ignorance and Narcissism

Kevin Drum on what the Comey firing shows us about Donald Trump and his White House on Mother Jones.

The Comey firing had nothing to do with the Hillary Clinton email investigation. It was all because Trump was outraged over Comey's public acknowledgement that the FBI was investigating his Russia ties. He wanted the investigation to disappear, and he began obsessing about firing Comey—presumably in hopes that this was all it would take to kill the case. And apparently Trump was shocked when Democrats didn't line up behind him. They hate Comey too, don't they?
Trump's astronomical ignorance has finally caught up with him. He seems to have had no idea that firing Comey wouldn't stop the investigation—nor that a new FBI director wouldn't dare quash it. In fact, all the firing does is make the investigation untouchable. And Trump's astronomical narcissism has caught up with him too. He has so little insight into other humans that he simply couldn't conceive of anyone hating Comey but still defending his right to serve out his term. In Trump's world, you reward your friends and punish your enemies and that's that.
This is hardly unexpected from Trump, whose ignorance and narcissism are legendary. But does he really have nobody on his staff to warn him about this stuff? Reince Priebus surely knew how this would play out. Ditto for Mike Pence.
And one final thing: once again, we learn that many of Trump's advisors are perfectly willing to portray him as an idiot.

The Politico story is based on conversations with insiders who were happy to confirm that the Comey firing was all about Russia. This directly contradicts the White House narrative that it was about the fact that everyone had lost confidence in Comey because of the way he mistreated poor Hillary Clinton. Who are these people who work for Trump (?) but are happy to undermine him to the press on a regular basis?