DJT And His Team of Morons


January 15, 2019

DJT And His Team of Morons

DJT And His Team of Morons

by Paul Krugman

There have been many policy disasters over the course of U.S. history. It’s hard, however, to think of a calamity as gratuitous, an error as unforced, as the current federal shutdown.

Nor can I think of another disaster as thoroughly personal, as completely owned by one man. When Donald Trump told Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, “I will be the one to shut it down,” he was being completely accurate — although he went on to promise that “I’m not going to blame you for it,” which was a lie.

Still, no man is an island, although Trump comes closer than most. You can’t fully make sense of his policy pratfalls without acknowledging the extraordinary quality of the people with whom he has surrounded himself. And by “extraordinary,” of course, I mean extraordinarily low quality. Lincoln had a team of rivals; Trump has a team of morons.

If this sounds too harsh, consider recent economic pronouncements by two members of his administration. Predictably, these pronouncements involve bad economics; that’s pretty much a given. What’s striking, instead, is the inability of either man to stay on script; they can’t even get their right-wing mendacity right.

Image result for Kevin Hassett

 

First up is Kevin Hassett, chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, who was asked about the plight of federal workers who aren’t being paid. You don’t have to be a public relations expert to know that you’re supposed to express some sympathy, whether you feel it or not. After all, there are multiple news reports about transportation security workers turning to food banks, the Coast Guard suggesting its employees hold garage sales, and so on.

So the right response involves expressing concern about those workers but placing the blame on Democrats who don’t want to stop brown-skinned rapists, or something like that. But no: Hassett declared that it’s all good, that the workers are actually “better off,” because they’re getting time off without having to use any of their vacation days.

Then consider what Sean Hannity had to say about taxing the rich. What’s that? You say that Hannity isn’t a member of the Trump administration? But surely he is in every sense that matters. In fact, Fox News isn’t just state TV, its hosts clearly have better access to the President, more input into his decisions, than any of the so-called experts at places like the State Department or the Department of Defense.

Anyway, Hannity declared that raising taxes on the wealthy would damage the economy, because “rich people won’t be buying boats that they like recreationally,” and “they’re not going to be taking expensive vacations anymore.”

Um, that’s not the answer a conservative is supposed to give. You’re supposed to insist that low taxes on the rich give them an incentive to work really really hard, not make it easier for them to take lavish vacations. You’re supposed to declare that low taxes will induce them to save and spend money building businesses, not help them afford to buy new yachts.

 

Even if your real reason for favoring low taxes is that they let your wealthy friends engage in even more high living, you’re not supposed to say that out loud.

Again, the point isn’t that people in Trump’s circle don’t care about ordinary American families, and also talk nonsense — that’s only to be expected. What’s amazing is that they’re so out of it that they don’t know either how to pretend to care about the middle class, or what nonsense to spout in order to sustain that pretense.

So what’s wrong with Trump’s people? Why can’t they serve up even some fake populism?

There are, I think, two answers, one generic to modern conservatism, one specific to Trump.

On the generic point: To be a modern conservative is to spend your life inside what amounts to a cult, barely exposed to outside ideas or even ways of speaking. Inside that cult, contempt for ordinary working Americans is widespread — remember Eric Cantor, the then-House majority leader, celebrating Labor Day by praising business owners. So is worship of wealth. And it can be hard for cult members to remember that you don’t talk that way to outsiders.

Then there’s the Trump effect. Normally working for the president of the United States is a career booster, something that looks good on your résumé. Trump’s presidency, however, is so chaotic, corrupt and potentially compromised by his foreign entanglements that anyone associated with him gets tainted — which is why after only two years he has already left a trail of broken men and wrecked reputations in his wake.

So who is willing to serve him at this point? Only those with no reputation to lose, generally because they’re pretty bad at what they do. There are, no doubt, conservatives smart and self-controlled enough to lie plausibly, or at least preserve some deniability, and defend Trump’s policies without making fools of themselves. But those people have gone into hiding.

A year ago I pointed out that the Trump administration was turning into government by the worst and the dumbest. Since then, however, things have gotten even worse and even dumber. And we haven’t hit bottom yet.

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Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography.

@PaulKrugman

 

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Donald Trump And His Team Of Morons. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

 

 

 

 

 

The Year of Trump?


January 10,2019

trump

The Year of Trump?

If Trump’s iconoclastic style was merely a breach of traditional presidential etiquette, one might argue that his critics were being too fastidious, or were trapped in old-fashioned views of diplomacy. But crudeness can have consequences.

 

BEIJING – Time magazine did not choose Donald Trump as its Person of the Year in 2018, but it may do so this year. Trump ended 2018 facing criticisms for announcing troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan without consulting allies (resulting in the resignation of his respected defense secretary, General James Mattis) and partially shutting down the government over a Mexican border wall. In 2019, with Democrats having taken over the House of Representatives, he will face increasing criticism of his foreign policy.

Administration supporters shrug off the critics. Foreign policy experts, diplomats, and allies are aghast at Trump’s iconoclastic style, but Trump’s base voted for change and welcomes the disruption. In addition, some experts argue that the disruption will be justified if the consequences prove beneficial for American interests, such as a more benign regime in Iran, denuclearization of North Korea, a change of Chinese economic policies, and a more evenly balanced international trade regime.

Image result for historian Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson

Of course, assessing the long-term consequences of Trump’s foreign policy now is like predicting the final score in the middle of a game. Stanford historian Niall Ferguson has argued that “the key to Trump’s presidency is that it is probably the last opportunity America has to stop or at least slow China’s ascendency. And while it may not be intellectually very satisfying, Trump’s approach to the problem, which is to assert US power in unpredictable and disruptive ways, may in fact be the only viable option left.”

Trump’s critics respond that even if his iconoclasm produces some successes, one must assess them as part of a balance sheet that includes costs as well as benefits. They argue that the price will be too high in terms of the damage done to international institutions and trust among allies. In the competition with China, for example, the United States has dozens of allies and few disputes with neighbors, while China has few allies and a number of territorial disputes. In addition, while rules and institutions can be restraining, the US has a preponderant role in their formulation and is a major beneficiary of them.

This debate raises larger questions about the relevance of personal style in judging presidents’ foreign policy. In August 2016, 50 primarily Republican former national security officials argued that Trump’s personal temperament would make him unfit to be president. Most of the signatories were excluded from the administration, but were they correct?

As a leader, Trump may or may not be smart, but his temperament ranks low on the scales of emotional and contextual intelligence that made Franklin D. Roosevelt or George H.W. Bush successful presidents. Tony Schwartz, who co-wrote Trump’s book The Art of the Deal, notes that “Trump’s sense of self-worth is forever at risk. When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others.”

Schwartz attributes this to Trump’s defense against domination by a father who was “relentlessly demanding, difficult, and driven…You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear, or you succumbed to it – as he thought his elder brother had.” As a result, he “simply didn’t traffic in emotions or interest in others,” and “facts are whatever Trump deems them to be on any given day.”

Whether Schwartz is correct or not about the causes, Trump’s ego and emotional needs often seem to color his relations with other leaders and his interpretation of world events. The image of toughness is more important than truth. Journalist Bob Woodward reports that Trump told a friend who acknowledged bad behavior toward women that “real power is fear…You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.”

Trump’s temperament limits his contextual intelligence. He lacked experience, and has done little to fill the gaps in his knowledge. He is described by close observers as reading little, insisting that briefing memos be very short, and relying heavily on television news. He is reported to have paid scant attention to staff preparations before summits with experienced autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin or North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. If Trump’s iconoclastic style was merely a breach of traditional presidential etiquette, one might argue that his critics were being too fastidious, or were trapped in old-fashioned views of diplomacy.

But crudeness can have consequences. While pressing for change, he has disrupted institutions and alliances, only grudgingly admitting their importance. Trump’s rhetoric has downplayed democracy and human rights, as his weak reaction to the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi demonstrated. Although Trump has echoed President Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric about the US being a city on the hill whose beacon shines to others, his domestic behavior toward the press, the judiciary, and minorities has weakened the clarity of America’s democratic appeal. International polls show a decline in America’s soft power since he took office.

While critics and defenders debate the attractiveness of the values embodied by Trump’s “America First” approach, an impartial analyst cannot excuse the ways in which his personal emotional needs have skewed the implementation of his goals – for example in his summit meetings with Putin and Kim. As for prudence, Trump’s non-interventionism protected him from some sins of commission, but one can question whether his mental maps and contextual intelligence are adequate to understand the risks posed to the US by the diffusion of power in this century. As tensions grow, reckoning with Trump may well become unavoidable in 2019.

Walls, Partisanship and the Shutdown


January 9, 2019

Newsbook

Newsbook

By Concepción de León

 

Eighteen days into the partial government shutdown, President Trump is preparing to deliver a national address on immigration to make his case for a border wall again. These three books offer perspective on the current shutdown: the inner workings of the government offices affected, the political precedent for the present bipartisanship and the debate over a border wall.

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THE FIFTH RISK
By Michael Lewis
221 pages. W.W. Norton & Company. (2018)

Lewis has a reputation for livening otherwise dry material, and according to our reviewer, “you’ll be turning the pages” of this story about government bureaucracy. The fifth risk in his title (after an attack by North Korea or war with Iran, for instance) is project management, or rather the mismanagement he details within the Trump administration. Key government positions remain unfilled, and others are occupied by nonexperts in their respective offices. “The Fifth Risk” provides insight into how government offices function, particularly under the current administration.

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THE RED AND THE BLUE
The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism
By Steve Kornacki
497 pp. Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers. (2018)

 

In this book, Kornacki argues that the political battles between President Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, including a 21-day long government shutdown over budget disagreements, set the stage for the political divisions of today. “The early Clinton era is presented as a parade of confrontations — over welfare, balanced budgets, health care — that, for a time, emboldened Gingrich’s showdown wing of Republicanism,” wrote our reviewer. The government shutdown of 1995-96 is the longest on record, and this book explains the political tensions that caused it.

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WALLS
A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick
David Frye
320 pp. Scribner. (2018)

The idea of building walls to protect and separate societies is not new, and in this accessible history, Frye chronicles walls from ancient Greece to Berlin to China. He explains that early walls were built as protection from neighboring tribes, and how the walls in China assured traders safe passage. In addition to exploring walls’ role in the development of civilization, Frye also reckons with the psychological impact they can have on the migrants and refugees they keep out.

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Related Coverage

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/08/books/trump-shutdown-wall-immigration.html

 

 

 

Malaysia: From Harapan ( Hope)-(No Harapan), If UMNO-Centric Politics Only


December 28, 2018

Malaysia: From Harapan ( Hope)- ( No Harapan), If UMNO-Centric Politics  Only

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/457796

Image result for  Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman

INTERVIEW by Geraldine Tong | Bersatu Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said the government needs to focus on the rakyat’s well-being so that Malaysia does not follow the US in swinging to the other side in the next election.

He said this in response to a question on whether Bersatu would consider opening full membership to non-bumiputera.

“The most important thing now is for us to fight for the future of Malaysia and on issues close to the rakyat’s heart such as the cost of living, housing and others and to give them confidence that… we will defend the constitution.

“We do not want to become like the US, where they elected Barack Obama as President and in the next election, the pendulum swung the other way and they got Donald Trump (as their president),” Syed Saddiq said in a press interview at the Youth and Sports Ministry in Putrajaya.

Now that Pakatan Harapan has become the government, it is time for them to think like a government, he added, though he stressed they must still work hard like an opposition.

They still need to go down to the ground, he said, such as visiting food stalls, having dialogue sessions and having townhall sessions like they used to when they were the opposition.

That is why, he said, Bersatu Youth holds programmes every day, as he believes this is the best way to become closer to the rakyat.

“We cannot, now that we are the government, just go to official events, cut ribbons and hold meetings in our own office and call it a day.

“We have to ensure that we are working like the opposition,” Syed Saddiq said.

Integrity and trustworthy

The Youth and Sports Minister stressed that the Harapan government is dedicated to defending and upholding the Federal Constitution.

At the same time, they want to ensure that their leadership has integrity and is trustworthy, he said.

“We need to ensure that our leadership, which always defends the constitution, will not misuse their position and power when given them.

“It is no use for us to shout about defending the Federal Constitution but our hand is behind our backs stealing money (or) shouting ‘long live the Malays’ but our right hand is stealing money from Felda or Tabung Haji.

“I think what the rakyat wants, what the Malays want, is a line-up of Malay leaders who are trustworthy and have integrity, who can move towards Malaysia’s future together,” he said.

Bersatu, he said, needs to live up to these expectations, especially in the wake of the rally to protest the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd).

Though Syed Saddiq dismissed the anti-Icerd rhetoric as a sign that the opposition has no other issues to bring up, he said it is still important for Bersatu to play its role in deflecting such negative perception.

“Bersatu needs to play the essential role in deflecting this negative perception and prove that the new Malaysian government will continue to uphold the Federal Constitution.

“(We need to focus on) core issues.

“Even there are pressures from UMNO and PAS to go to the extreme right, we should not go to the extreme right. We should not go to the extreme left. We must always be in the centre,” he said.

The three-day Bersatu general assembly will kick off tomorrow at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre.

 

 

 


December 25, 2018

Apocalypse Trump

by

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-syria-withdrawal-mattis-shutdown-by-elizabeth-drew-2018-12

With no compromise in sight to end the federal government shutdown, and no one left in President Donald Trump’s cabinet who can restrain him, Americans and their allies are staring into the abyss that has been looming since the 2016 election.

 

WASHINGTON, DC – For those who hadn’t yet figured it out, the price of having a US president who disdains expert opinion and who is impulsive, mendacious, not very smart, disturbed, uninformed, incurious, incompetent, intemperate, corrupt, and a poor negotiator became irrefutably clear in recent days. Three large developments from last Wednesday through Saturday unnerved even some of Donald Trump’s Republican protectors, who had rationalized that, after all, he had cut taxes (mainly on the rich and corporations) and put two conservatives on the Supreme Court bench. But the dangers of having such a person in the Oval Office were now becoming harder to ignore.

All three big events were alarming, and on a bipartisan basis: each was damaging to US national interests, and each was avoidable. Worse, because they came in rapid succession, they created the sense that now (as opposed to previous alarms) the Trump presidency was truly spinning out of control.

On the morning of Wednesday, December 19, Trump tweeted that ISIS had been defeated and that the US would, therefore, withdraw its troops from Syria. The decision came as a bolt from the blue for all but a small number of government officials – every one of whom had tried to dissuade him. Key members of Congress hadn’t been informed, much less consulted; nor had America’s allies, some of whose troops have been dependent on the presence of the US military. Major foreign policy decisions simply aren’t made that way: allies are consulted beforehand; relevant congressional figures are at least informed before any such announcement. Such precautions are about more than good manners: an administration might learn something as it consults and informs.

The decision was immediately and widely denounced. Trump’s usual Senate ally, Lindsey Graham, said, “ISIS has been dealt a severe blow but are not defeated. If there has been a decision to withdraw our forces in Syria, the likelihood of their return goes up dramatically.” The withdrawal, to begin immediately, abandons the Kurds, whom the US had been protecting from Turkey, and preempted a planned joint attack on ISIS. The withdrawal leaves Syria to the mercies of Bashar al-Assad, Russia (Assad’s patron), and Iran.

The only foreign leaders who welcomed the decision were Turkey’s authoritarian leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It later emerged that Erdoğan had persuaded Trump, who had said earlier, as a general proposition, that he wanted to withdraw US troops from Syria, to do so). Then came the news that Trump had also decided – again with scant consultation – to withdraw half the US troops in Afghanistan, despite the US being in the midst of negotiations with the Taliban.

The announcement of the sudden withdrawal from Syria was too much for defense secretary James Mattis, the most respected member of Trump’s cabinet – though it was far from the only provocation. On Thursday, Mattis, widely seen as the only hope for reining in Trump’s most dangerous impulses, stunned almost everyone by resigning. His eloquent resignation letter made clear that he objected not just to the Syrian blunder, but to a pattern of behavior: Trump’s confusion of allies and opponents; his willingness to abandon friends, such as the Kurds; and his trashing of alliances, such as NATO. Mattis’s friends explained in television interviews that what most troubled the retired four-star Marine general and defense intellectual was not just that he could no longer affect policy, but also that his remaining in the cabinet was taken as an affirmation of Trump, a position he could no longer bear.

Even that doughty loyalist, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, issued a statement on Thursday afternoon that he was “distressed” by the departure of Mattis (a significant sign, many believe, of McConnell’s private worry about Trump’s effect on the Republican Party.) Members of Congress expressed outright fear of a Trump presidency without any guardrails.

The list of departures from Trump’s administration is unprecedentedly long. Though some were forced out for blatant corruption (and shouldn’t have been hired in the first place), others have been fired because Trump has turned against them, and some left because of the president’s abusive treatment. He screams at subordinates at will and scapegoats them with abandon. At first, Trump treated Mattis with respect and even some affection; but he gradually tired of his most distinguished cabinet member’s almost across-the-board disagreement with his policies.

So fickle are Trump’s loyalties that he reportedly “soured” on his third chief of staff before his pick had even started in the position. To fill the job, which no one else seemed to want, Trump had turned to Mick Mulvaney, a conservative former congressman who had already held two high government positions simultaneously. Mulvaney, it turned out, had said in a televised debate during the 2016 election that he would vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton, even though Trump is “a terrible human being.”

Then, at midnight on Friday, a large part of the federal government shut down because Trump had been seeking a fight over the refusal of the Congress (albeit Republican-controlled) to spend billions of dollars to fund his campaign promise to build a wall across the long US-Mexico border. (Trump’s midterm election stunt of ordering troops to the border, purportedly to fend off approaching immigrants from Central America, had deeply rankled Mattis.)

The wall is very unpopular among the public, and only Trump’s most devoted followers view it as the answer to illegal immigration (or drug smuggling). But by using it to cultivate his political base – at most around 35% of the electorate – Trump could corner himself. In a televised White House meeting, he fell into a trap set by Democratic leaders by angrily insisting he would be “proud” to own a government  shutdown if he couldn’t get billions to fund at least part of the wall. Under strong pressure from right-wing media figures to keep his promise, Trump made and abandoned budget deals until time ran out.

So, just before Christmas, hundreds of thousands of federal workers – real people all over the country with bills to pay – were either furloughed or forced to work without knowing when they would be paid. And Trump is now a hostage in the White House, because even he understands that it would be terrible “optics” to be seen playing golf and hobnobbing with his rich friends at his Palm Beach estate while, just before Christmas, government workers were idled.

But while Trump must figure out how to climb down from his fanciful wall, so far he has ratcheted up his pettiness, removing Mattis two months ahead of schedule and tweeting insults to politicians who have criticized his recent blunders. His mood is reportedly fouler than ever, and the holiday season has become suffused with an increased sense of danger emanating from the White House.

Elizabeth Drew is a Washington-based journalist and the author, most recently, of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall.

The Closing of The Weekly Standard Makes Neo-conservatism’s Exile from the Republican Party Official


December 17, 2018

The Closing of The Weekly Standard

For more than two decades, The Weekly Standard was the house organ of neo-conservatism. William Kristol, one of the magazine’s co-founders and the walking embodiment of its politics, was a leading champion of the Iraq War and of Sarah Palin’s rise in national politics.

In  the pre-Trump era, especially during the George W. Bush years, he was a conservative celebrity in Washington and a fixture on Fox News. But Kristol recoiled from the ugliness and political contradictions of Trumpism, and his magazine followed his lead. In the summer of 2016, the day after the Republican National Convention wrapped up, Stephen Hayes, Kristol’s successor as the magazine’s editor-in-chief, published an article titled “Donald Trump Is Crazy, and So Is the GOP for Embracing Him.” On Friday, The Weekly Standard’s corporate owner, Clarity Media Group, decided to shut the whole thing down. The magazine’s employees were told to clear out their desks by the end of the day.

The move came a few days after the first public reports of tensions between The Weekly Standard and Clarity over the magazine’s opposition to the Trump ward shift of the Republican Party.

The magazine’s obstinance stood in contrast to Clarity’s other D.C. media property, The Washington Examiner, which has been friendlier toward the Administration. The New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells, who wrote about Kristol and Trumpism earlier this year, thinks that the magazine’s closure is the clearest sign yet that neo-conservatism has been cast out of the Republican coalition. “Pillar after pillar of conservatism has collapsed in the face of Trump,” he told me. “But the neocons have been pretty forthright. They stood up and have argued against him.”

Image result for The Weekly Standard

Trump celebrates collapse of The Weekly Standard as the conservative magazine’s reporters lose jobs over holiday season

The question is whether the G.O.P. has any room for dissent at the moment. “Within the conservative movement and the Republican coalition, the degree of orthodoxy, obsequiousness, that this suggests—I think it’s real. I think there isn’t very much space for Trump-critical thought,” Wallace-Wells said. As the publishing industry struggles financially in the Internet age, the closure of any outlet raises questions about business models and sustainability. But small magazines have different economies than daily newspapers or big book publishers. Philip Anschutz, who controls Clarity, has an estimated fortune of eleven billion dollars. “It’s not that there’s not an audience anymore,” Wallace-Wells said. “The reason is just that an owner said, ‘Nope, sorry, I’m not doing this anymore.’ ”

https://www.newyorker.com