Friday, March 4, 2016

Trump Dump: Last Word, for a while

OK, I have to take a deep breath on this. Pretty much every time Trump opens his mouth I want to write a new article. But that just feeds the beast. Not that I have so many readers, but it isn't good for me. I recall Achilles words of regret in the Iliad (Fagles translation):

anger that drives the sanest man to flare in outrage 
bitter gall, sweeter than dripping streams of honey 
that swarms in people's chests and blinds like smoke

Trump has learned the key lesson of reality TV (which I admit I don't watch), make sure you have an asshole who stirs things up and everyone loves to hate. I'm thinking Puck from the Real World or Omarosa from his own show. Even those of us who can't stand him can't stop talking about him.

But what is there to say? Rebutting his ridiculous policy positions - Dan Drezner is already there and much, much better. Punditry, why bother? They are just talking about shadows on the walls of the cave. Jeremiads about how he represents the collapse of American civil society - I don't believe that is true, it is just more presentism.

But of course it is a presidential election cycle and he is running for president, I can't just ignore him. So, one post a month specifically about him here. Here, and on my other blogs, maybe he'll be mentioned, but it will be about something else. Of course if something HUUGE happens, I'll take it on.

Most of what I want to say a both Trump has already been said, here. So this is really just a footnote on my initial take. So here is everything I want to say.

Trump vs Reagan
We had another celebrity turned politician reach the presidency - Ronald Reagan. He said plenty of strange stuff and offered simple solutions to complex problems in an era of frustration and ferment. Like Trump, no one could figure out how to debate Reagan and win - he was a consummate performer. But there are a lot of differences.

First, as a human being, Reagan was a self-made man. He was born with nothing, enjoyed success in the movies and then transformed himself - via his service as a union president and then corporate spokesman - into a politician. He served two terms as governor of California. Trump of course inherited his wealth, he clearly has some talent at self-promotion, although his record as a businessman is less than astoundingly stellar.

Reagan also put in the time to actually learn something about policy and had a pretty serious political gig before becoming president (governor of California.) He also developed a pretty good team. Trump insists he'll get great businessmen into his cabinet. We'll see. In terms of rhetoric, Reagan broke a lot of rules. But with care, he was not a bully, nor did he shout down his opponents.

Trump is maddening because this campaigning thing, which all the other candidates find a hard slog, he seems to do so easily. Everything he does just garners him more support. But, he doesn't have real policy chops - he's a false Reagan.

President Trump
We have to seriously consider that Trump could become president. I am intellectually sanguine about this prospect. Rule of law is firmly established in these United States. Congress has incredible abilities to bring the president to heel. For starters they can carefully choose who gets confirmed. They can defund agencies, and yes, they can impeach and remove the president.

Our government bureaucracies are sticklers about following the law. Remember the warrantless wiretapping brouhaha? When half of the Justice Department threatened to resign? We'll see a lot of that.

Voltaire quipped, "Medicine is the art of humoring the patient while nature takes its course."

A big part of politics is gestures that are palliatives to public concerns. Trump will be pretty good at these kinds of symbolic gestures. He'll get a little money out of Japan and Korea for our military spending - it won't be enough to make a difference to anything, but he'll showboat it like it is. That will work for a while. But eventually serious problems have to be addressed. You can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Disjunctive Presidency
I am a big fan of Skowronek's theory of presidential cycles. It seems pretty evident to me that the Republicans are due for a disjunctive presidency. These presidents preside over the collapse of a long-standing political order because the party's basic policy responses are not relevant to the problems faced by the public, but key party interests won't allow the party to change. The last two disjunctive presidencies were Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover (both of whom were successful businessmen and engineers.)

One thing about disjunctive presidencies is that the president calls for efficiency, promising to be more effective as president than predecessors. Could Trump's highlighting his deal-making capabilities fit into that paradigm. One usually thinks more Mitt Romney, but if the Trump fits.

Doubts
When Reagan ran I was a kid. I don't remember it that well, but growing up in a typical liberal Democratic house, I didn't think much of the guy. I've come to respect and recognize his virtues, which were substantial. Am I wrong in dismissing Trump? Instead of being a disjunctive president, could he be a president of reconstruction? I kind of doubt it. It is tough to miss that the GOP is headed for a fall. The crazy train primary campaign is exhibit one. Also their core constituency - old white guys - has real problems with lots of critical emerging constituencies (women, Latinos.)

Still, could I be wrong. Could the Donald be heralding something new? I think he is a glitch, he emerged through a combination of strong name recognition and party dysfunction. But what if he's a not a bug - but a feature and I am the one missing it?

Now I'm angry again!