temperament

A Note on Temperament and Character

#trumpswindle | #GOP

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the Central Intelligence Agency, 21 January 2016, in Langley, Virginia. (Photo: Olivier Doulier/Pool/Getty Images)

This is a bit worrisome:

I am not surprised by President Donald Trump’s antics this week. Not by the big splashy pronouncements such as announcing a wall that he would force Mexico to pay for, even as the Mexican foreign minister held talks with American officials in Washington. Not by the quiet, but no less dangerous bureaucratic orders, such as kicking the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff out of meetings of the Principals’ Committee, the senior foreign-policy decision-making group below the president, while inserting his chief ideologist, Steve Bannon, into them. Many conservative foreign-policy and national-security experts saw the dangers last spring and summer, which is why we signed letters denouncing not Trump’s policies but his temperament; not his program but his character.

We were right. And friends who urged us to tone it down, to make our peace with him, to stop saying as loudly as we could ‘this is abnormal,’ to accommodate him, to show loyalty to the Republican Party, to think that he and his advisers could be tamed, were wrong. In an epic week beginning with a dark and divisive inaugural speech, extraordinary attacks on a free press, a visit to the CIA that dishonored a monument to anonymous heroes who paid the ultimate price, and now an attempt to ban selected groups of Muslims (including interpreters who served with our forces in Iraq and those with green cards, though not those from countries with Trump hotels, or from really indispensable states like Saudi Arabia), he has lived down to expectations.

Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have.

Eliot A. Cohen is a former Bush administration lawyer under Condoleezza Rice at the State Department. By no means should we disregard his analysis, but it is from the outset nearly stereotypical in its partisan and personal interest: Good for him, you know, because he is not surprised. And, hey, pat him and his friends on the back, because they were right: The problem is not President Trump’s policies, but his temperament, as his policies demonstrate. It is not his program, but his character, as his program makes clear.

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The Donald Trump Show (Ryan Rescue Remix)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a rally in Fredricksburg, Virginia, 20 August 2016. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage)

Amid the astounding spectacle that really is the Donald Trump Show, there does arise the occasional substantive issue. And while the averages describe the Republican nominee’s spectacle in abysmal terms, the substantive questions that do arise just don’t seem to help. To wit, Steve Benen reflects on the fine print:

House Speaker Paul Ryan talks to reporters following the weekly House GOP Conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol, 16 December 2016, in Washington. D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)To the Trump campaign’s credit, the commercial includes footnotes of sorts for many of its core claims. For example, at the 15-second mark, when the narrator says “working families get tax relief” in Trump’s America, there’s small text at the bottom that reads, “A Pro-Growth Tax Code For All Americans, GOP: A Better Way, 6/24/16.”

Why does that matter? Because “A Pro-Growth Tax Code For All Americans, GOP: A Better Way, 6/24/16” is House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) tax plan, not Donald Trump’s. They’re actually pretty different, and include their own marginal rates, which makes it odd for Trump to cite the House GOP’s plan as if it were his own.

A couple of seconds later, the same ad includes fine print that reads, “‘Details and analysis of the 2016 House Republican Tax Reform Plan,’ Tax Foundation, 7/15/16.” And while I’d take issue with the center-right Tax Foundation’s analysis of Ryan’s plan, the point is, again, that Trump has a different plan.

At the 19-second mark, note that the fine print reads, “‘Details and analysis of Donald Trump’s Tax Plan, Tax Foundation, 9/29/15.” And while that’s certainly closer to being applicable, what the ad doesn’t mention is that Trump has since abandoned that tax plan, unveiling a new blueprint three weeks ago.

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The Clown Car Breakdown

Detail of 'Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal' by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015.

Four paragraphs from Steve Benen:

Nine candidates would be a big field under any circumstances, but in this case, just the governors alone―Bush, Christie, Gilmore, Huckabee, Kasich, Jindal, Pataki, Perry, and Walker―had enough to field a baseball team. Add Democratic governors to the mix―O’Malley and Chafee―and the number swells to 11.

And at a certain level, this is understandable. For many in both parties, it’s long been assumed that governors have the edge in the party’s nominating contests, in part thanks to history―Reagan, Carter, Clinton, W. Bush, Romney, et al―and also because of the nature of the job. Being the chief executive of a state, the theory goes, offers ideal training for being the chief executive in the White House. Governors learn how to manage and respond to crises. They learn how to oversee a massive, bureaucratic team, while working opposite a legislature. They learn how to lead.

How many sitting GOP senators have ever been elected to the White House? Only one. It was Warren Harding, who was elected nearly a century ago. This is hardly accidental―Americans tend to hate Congress, so they don’t necessarily look to Capitol Hill for national leaders.

And yet, here we are. Two of the most experienced candidates of the cycle―Rick Perry and Scott Walker, both governors―have already quit (as has Lincoln Chafee). George Pataki and Jim Gilmore were excluded from the debates altogether this week, while Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee were relegated to the kids’ table, where they joined Bobby Jindal. Jeb Bush and John Kasich made the prime-time stage, but both are struggling badly. The latter faced booing.

This is actually important in its own right; in an anti-institutional year when career politicians who achieve governorships are actually being viewed as career politicians, the landscape really does seem strange from an unradicalized perspective. Indeed, how strange might we now find the recollection that back in April, even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was pitching for senators against governors in the presidential context. Even in unhinged quarters, gubernatorial experience was actually respected earlier in this cycle.

With a flaccid RNC and impotent Congressional leadership, the anti-institutional movement driving Donald Trump and Ben Carson to the top of the polls would seem to get the nod: Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Republican Party.

Nor might we begin to speculate at what that means. Still, as Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa of the Washington Post explore the now perpetual chatter of growing discomfort and even “panic” among establishment Republicans, it is hard to fathom the idea that even in the GOP, this is starting to become an American existential question:

The apprehension among some party elites goes beyond electability, according to one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the worries.

“We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job,” this strategist said. “It’s not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally, but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?”

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Image note: Detail of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015

Benen, Steve. “Governors find a hostile 2016 landscape”. msnbc. 13 November 2015.

Rucker, Phillip and Robert Costa. “Time for GOP panic? Establishment worried Carson or Trump might win.” The Washington Post. 13 November 2015.