Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trump's Big CON: Trump Has No Principles, CONt Part 2

UPDATE: Over the weekend, administration officials tried to explain The Donald's strategy on Iran, and the "cacophony of mixed messages, empty phrases and double talk should hardly be surprising. . . Remember this is a 'policy' devised to work around a temper tantrum, namely Trump’s refusal to sign off on certification. His aides had to dress up decertification to look like, pardon the phrase, 'strategery.' So now they say decertification is meant to hint that we will pull out of the deal. Except our allies should understand we want to stay in the deal and just improve it. Except Trump said we’d probably be out.

Members of the administration have to answer a basic question: Have they come around to the view that no JCPOA is better than a flawed JCPOA, even if our allies stay in? If so, that’s going to set off a firestorm in Congress and internationally. If it’s not true, Trump should stop making empty threats."

Read the Washington Post, What’s our Iran policy, again?

But aimless empty threats are The Donald's strategy.

Another MUST READ: the Washington Post, Trump just kneecapped the Iran nuclear deal. And he revealed his core weakness., which states in substantial part:

"President Trump announced that the only way to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to begin destroying the painstakingly negotiated agreement that is keeping them from getting nuclear weapons. . .

So he's going to withdraw his certification of their compliance, which means Congress now has to decide whether to reimpose sanctions. Congress will probably allow the deal to survive, with additional conditions. And Trump today said that, going forward, if he's not satisfied, 'the agreement will be terminated.'

And then what?

Or to put it another way: What exactly is Trump trying to accomplish? . .

Presidents, we know, are supposed to have 'vision,' a broad conception of where they want to lead the country. When they run, it's often presented in vague terms; the closest Trump came as a candidate was promising that 'We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning.' While in a sense "making America great again" was a kind of vision, presidents also need specific goals to guide their decision-making, a real conception of how they want things to turn out so that they can figure out the best way to get there.

Trump's lack of those specific goals — or to put it another way, the lack of a defined end-state he's trying to reach — may be one of his most underappreciated weaknesses as a president. Most people, even many in his own party, understand that he's spectacularly uninformed about policy, not particularly bright and distressingly impulsive. But he also seems to have no idea where he's trying to go, and we're seeing it play out on multiple issues right now.

We'll start with Iran. Ever since he was a candidate, Trump has complained that the nuclear agreement, which was negotiated not only between Iran and the United States but also with Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union, is a terrible deal, while seldom getting specific about what exactly he objects to in its provisions. We knew what President Barack Obama was trying to accomplish with the deal in the first place: an Iran that, whatever else it might be up to, couldn't threaten anyone with nuclear weapons.

What's Trump's vision? An Iran that not only doesn't have nuclear weapons but also is a force for peace and stability, and maybe a liberal democracy to boot? Well, that would be great. How is pulling out of the nuclear agreement going to get us there?

Trump seems to believe that there's some mythical 'better deal' awaiting somewhere, and if he threatens to withdraw from the agreement, then the Iranian government will fall to its knees and say, 'We submit! We'll do whatever you want!' But of course it won't, and the other partners aren't interested in starting the process all over again either. . .

It would be edifying to hear Trump or some of his aides and allies explain exactly how this scenario is supposed to play out and where it's supposed to end up. But if they tried to do that, it would become obvious how little they've thought it through.

We see a similar vacuum of vision on other issues [including health care. . .

Another] case in point: Conservative economist Kevin Hassett, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, apparently told Trump that just one of the White House's proposed tax changes — allowing corporations to repatriate cash they have parked overseas and pay low taxes on it — would be such a spectacular shot of adrenaline to the economy that it would make every American family $4,000 richer. Sane economists, both Democrat and Republican, will tell you that this notion is utterly ludicrous. But it sounds good to Trump, so he has been touting the number as proof of how great his tax cuts are going to be.

That's hardly the only fantastical idea he's spreading around about tax cuts. Last month The Post reported that "Trump told a group of Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday that the tax framework could lead the economy to grow more than 6 percent a year, more than double what even his advisers had hoped for and a rate that many economists say is preposterous." Does he actually believe that? Or has someone with an ideological agenda convinced him that it'll happen, and he didn't bother to think it through? You could ask the same thing about issues such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, where Trump has a simplistic impulse (trade agreements are bad!) but no real conception of exactly what he'd like to change and how doing so would produce positive results.

Presidents don't need to be policy geniuses, but at the very least they need a sense of how cause leads to effect and a vision of what they're trying to accomplish. That way they can tell whether what they're doing is likely to take the country to the place they want to go. Trump has neither, which means he's either being pushed around by people who have figured out how to manipulate him for their own ideological ends, or he's flopping about aimlessly with no principles to guide him except if Obama did it, I should do the opposite. Either way, it's not very encouraging."

Trump's Big CON: It's All About the Show, NFL Edition

UPDATE III:  "Trump’s intervention — through last week’s tweet and its implied threat that the government would change tax laws to hurt the NFL — could provide the players with a stronger legal basis for a free-speech challenge against the United States, some legal scholars said."

Read the Washington Post, Did Trump’s tweet make it safer for NFL players to kneel for the anthem?

UPDATE II:  "Yesterday, Vice President Pence mounted a national anthem protest of his own to express his displeasure at football players protesting racism and police brutality. If this kind of thing disgusts you, I have bad news: There’s going to be three more years of culture-war posturing from the Trump administration.

In case you missed it, Pence traveled to Indianapolis for a game between the hometown Colts and San Francisco 49ers, then dramatically stormed out of the game upon seeing members of the visiting team kneel during the national anthem, so deeply offended was he. While it was intended to look like a principled reaction to the players’ shocking protest, it was immediately apparent that the event was carefully planned. Everyone knew there would be kneeling players, and reporters traveling with Pence were kept outside and told beforehand that he might be leaving early. Then President Trump, apparently aghast at the idea of somebody besides him getting praise from Fox News, tweeted that it was all his idea:

Donald J. Trump

I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.
1:16 PM - Oct 8, 2017

Who knows if that last part is true, but the White House surely knew how the episode would play out: Pence would perform his little stunt, Democrats would point out how contrived it was and act outraged at the expense the taxpayers incurred, cable news would eat it up, and the whole thing would exacerbate racial and political divisions within the country. Mission accomplished!

This is politics in the Trump era, and it’s going to be this way as long as he’s president.

It was obvious almost from the day he took office that Trump has no interest in reaching out to voters who didn’t support him in 2016 or don’t support him now; he is emphatically the president of his base, not the entire country. . .

There are already signs that Trump’s failure to deliver concrete results, and the unlikelihood that he will ever do so, is beginning to dawn on some of his supporters . .

[With few if any substantive policy changes, the more important it is to find] symbolic culture war battles to fight. You lash out at African American athletes, or politically correct college kids, or liberal Hollywood actors, or some pointy-headed professor somewhere who said something offensive. The less of your policy agenda you accomplish — and let’s not forget that Republicans will probably end their first year of total control of Washington without passing a single important piece of legislation — the more you’ll seek out those attention-grabbing conflicts, to show people who’s on whose side.

It’s always possible that this administration transform itself into a model of efficiency and accomplishment, giving not only Trump supporters but all Americans a future built on durable prosperity and social progress. But if that doesn’t happen, you can expect a lot more culture-war posturing coming from the White House."

Read the Washington Post, Pence’s empty stunt signals three more years of culture-war posturing ahead.

UPDATE:  "The photo that Pence's Twitter account posted before the game was actually used previously, during a 2014 Colts game, adding to the impression the VP went to the stadium solely to stage the walkout."

Read The Indianapolis Star, Mike Pence tweets same picture from Colts game that he tweeted in 2014.

"With the exception of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, there is no GOP politician who has debased himself more for the sake of accommodation with President Trump than Vice President Pence, who once enjoyed respect as a decent, consistent conservative. His ploy on Sunday shows he has permitted himself to be reduced to the status of the Washington Generals, the hapless stiffs the Harlem Globetrotters humiliate again and again.

The Post reports:

    The plan had been for Vice President Mike Pence to attend the Indianapolis Colts game at which Peyton Manning’s number was to be retired, a gala celebration of the former Colts quarterback’s contributions to Pence’s home state.

    The former governor of Indiana and his wife, wearing a Manning No. 18 jersey, left Lucas Oil Stadium after the national anthem, following instructions from President Trump after a number of San Francisco 49ers players, as they usually do, took a knee during the anthem. . .

The first rule of blatant political stunts is not to let on that they are blatant political stunts. Pence was acting not out of spontaneous patriotism but out of blind loyalty to a president who reduces everyone around him to a sleazy character on a reality TV show.

The obnoxious play-acting had the intended effect in stirring more racial animosity. . .

Well, at least Trump supporters can no longer accuse protesting players of 'politicizing' football. Trump has done more than anyone to turn the protest against police violence into yet another battlefront in his populist war designed to stoke white grievance. This shameful, unprovoked attempt to fan racial tensions is beneath the dignity of the office of vice president and should make clear that Pence is as morally unfit as Trump to hold high office. . .

To recap: Pence wasted taxpayer money, participated in a Trumpian divisive gambit to stoke racial animosity and made himself look like a spineless errand boy. Those who cheer him — including his legion of evangelical conservative supporters — should reflect upon the extent to which Trump has corrupted (morally, politically, intellectually) Pence — and them."

Read the Washington Post, Pence’s pathetic stunt tells us a lot about him.