Tuesday, November 29, 2016

He who lives by the lie

There's been a great deal of consternation, bordering on despair, about Donald Trump's tendency to tell brazen lies, and the willingness of many of his supporters to believe those lies (or at least to not care that they are lies). Here, for example, is Damon Linker (note: I've been critical of Linker recently, but consider him one of the best observers of our current political troubles): "Donald Trump's true lies"; excerpt:

Trump and his de facto allies in the fake news business aren't trying to propagandize the country with a coherent counter-truth that stands in opposition to a reality of indisputable facts that can then be marshaled to puncture and dispel the official disinformation campaign. On the contrary, they're acting in ways that deny the distinction between truth and lies altogether, transforming the public sphere into an anarchistic free-for-all permeated by a constantly churning swirl of claims and counter-claims, with no authority able to establish or maintain the standing needed to debunk any of it. You have your truth (InfoWars) and I have mine (The New York Times), and who's to say which is right? The dissidents from past totalitarianisms were able to puncture ideological lies by appealing to a common truth that was concealed or obscured by propaganda. But in the world Trump is working to build — a world of epistemological chaos, in which every party and faction has its own "truth" and a slew of media outlets to spread and promote its distinctive set of "facts" — the greatest impediment to the unlimited exercise of government power will have been removed, or at least badly degraded.

Me: I agree with all of that, and perceive the same danger Linker does. But I also see a ray of hope. Political leaders and movements that disseminate and thrive on lies ultimately collapse when they come upon some aspect of reality that they couldn't perceive or comprehend from within their own bubble. Hitler might well have won the war if he hadn't driven away (or worse) so many Jewish and other scientists who knew something about the emerging science of nuclear physics. The Soviet Union, for all its military power, spent its final years desperately trying to clamp down on samizdat that could be transmitted by fax machines. North Korea proved its adeptness at information warfare with the Sony hack, but remember it did so out of fear that some comedy could undermine its rule.

Donald Trump lives by the lie; his political career will die by the lie. At some point, even some of his more credulous followers will realize they've been had; that he's made them pathetic and absurd; and they will be angry. At some point, his indifference to reality (he can't even be bothered to get regular intelligence briefings) will leave him unprepared for some situation--perhaps some crisis created by foreign leaders to test him. He can deny global warming all he wants, but the streets of Miami already flood at high tide and his own coastal properties cannot be protected forever by walls, let alone by blather. There seems to be no bottom to the lack of intellectual integrity of some of Trump's enablers, such as Newt Gingrich, Ph.D., but others will jump ship when they see the shoals approaching. (Actually, Trump would be foolish not to see Newt would jump ship, out of expediency, not integrity.)

Things can get a great deal worse before they get better. But truth will out. The question is when.

UPDATE: See also "Trump’s Lies Destroy Logic As Well As Truth," by Jeet Heer.

UPDATE: For a professional fact checker, the Trump years should be interesting.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The electors should choose Pence [updated]

Damon Linker worries about "The dangerous scheme to deny Trump the presidency." Excerpt:
It began with an online petition launched in the hours immediately following Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the general election. Yes, Hillary Clinton lost the Electoral College, the argument ran, but she won the popular vote (by a large and still swelling margin). That justifies asking electors to abandon Trump and switch their support to Clinton when they vote on Dec. 19 to make the outcome official. This is a terrible idea guaranteed to spark a constitutional crisis.
He similarly opposes the idea that the electors should choose a Republican alternative to Trump:
Yes, Trump poses a very serious threat to the country and its liberal democratic norms, but he is not the root of the problem. His millions of passionate supporters are. Among other things, these voters rallied to Trump because they responded to his message that the country's political and economic system is rigged against them. Denying the presidency to their preferred candidate after they'd been told for weeks that he prevailed in the election would confirm every conspiracy they ever entertained. That would be civic dynamite.
Me: Much as I'd personally like to see John Kasich or Mitt Romney get chosen by the electors, and though their doing so would be constitutionally valid, I recognize the danger Linker describes. So, a solution: the electors should choose Mike Pence. He's far from my first choice for president, and in some respects his policies may be worse than Trump's, by my lights; more socially conservative, in particular. But, crucially, he does not bring the egregious perils of self-dealing and conflict of interest that Trump does; has not engaged in demagogic behavior that violates democratic norms; has shown no affinities for foreign dictators; and overall evidences little risk of turning America in an authoritarian direction.

As for the Trump voters, remember they are Trump-Pence voters, and surely there are millions of them that have misgivings about the current situation and would be happier with the switch I'm advocating. As for Trump himself, he could present all this as a fantastic triumph whereby he set America on the right track, handpicked its next president and remains a power to be reckoned with in case the new administration veers too far from his vision. So, do it, Hamilton electors; and never let threats of riots interfere with legitimate constitutional processes.

UPDATE 11/24. An interesting poll from Quinnipiac. It shows about as much polarization as you'd expect regarding Trump--and less regarding Pence.

Let me point out, lest I be seen as some kind of romantic, that I would be very surprised if anything like what I proposed in this post comes to pass.

UPDATE 11/26: But is it so unlikely? After seeing this tweet, I wonder.

UPDATE 12/5: I can defend my Pence idea on the grounds that it's the one most likely (least unlikely) to work, among the strategies for blocking Trump in the Electoral College. However, defending Pence himself on anything like substantive grounds is not possible, as this makes clear.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Worse than you think

This problem won't go away until the current president-elect resigns or is forced from office. Moreover, it's worse than just some waste of money. Kleptocracy is a step toward an authoritarian state. (So is intimidation of the press, also readily apparent.) And of course, Trump's defensive feint that "everyone knew" he had such interests is the height of hypocrisy, given that he didn't release his tax returns. Recommended reading: "Trump's Businesses Represent an Impossible Conflict of Interest," by John Cassidy in The New Yorker. Excerpt:

The mask's off

I've written about Richard Spencer and the white nationalist alt-right a few times on this site. See here, here and here. And watch this.
UPDATE: See this interview, in which Spencer comes across as ill-informed, on top of his other problems.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The delivery of fake news

I hate to sound like a Tom Friedman-type columnist who draws sweeping conclusions from a conversation with a cab driver, but I'm thinking about the guy who delivered groceries to my house in the evening on Election Day. It was not yet evident that an upset was in the making, but there were some early ominous signs on TV. The grocery driver was from Egypt, a young guy who had become a U.S. citizen. He told me he was a Trump supporter and didn't want a woman to be president. He told me that Hillary lies a lot. I told him that Trump lies more, and he seemed genuinely surprised, asking me for examples. He told me Hillary had sold weapons to ISIS, apparently to make money.

Even though I thought I'd been following the election closely, I had not heard anything about Hillary selling weapons to ISIS. It turns out this was a staple of the fake news that inundated voters during the late weeks of the campaign. So a double lesson learned. One, be aware that some immigrants are going to vote on the basis of illiberal ideas from their countries of origin. And two, know that some people--many people, it seems--are going to be taken in by sources that I, as a fact checker, would want nothing to do with (and which in fairness are not always easy to recognize as such). In short, assume there are quite a few ignorant people out there. It worked for the president-elect.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Russian vote

Keep an eye on this story. It's the Achilles Heel of the Trump administration.


Sometime during the recent campaign, I conversed on Twitter with Bruce Bartlett, the former Reagan administration official turned GOP critic, and expressed dislike for his "plan" for this year's political season, which had stages such as "Vote for Trump to be nominee" "Trump loses" "Make sure crazies get the blame" and then, blessedly, "Get a better political party" or some such. I told him I'd remind him of this if the "Trump loses" part of the plan doesn't work out. I guess I don't have to. Here's from his Facebook page on Nov. 15 (click to enlarge):

Me: I disagree with him now too. Too much is at stake for sulking in your library.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Too optimistic?

Some recommended listening. Also linked in the tweet below, which has gotten a lot of notice.

Also see: "Let's Have a Fresh Start."

Friday, November 11, 2016

Within a year?

I recommend this David Brooks piece, particularly the ending.

Me: People who are interested in building a new political party should be getting very busy right now. My own earlier thoughts on what such a party should be like are here. I'll have more on that going forward.

UPDATE: I originally titled this "Within a Year? Let's Hope So," but then decided that rooting for a constitutional crisis is not my way.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Steady and strong

Well, I was wrong about a lot of things, but I don't think I was wrong in thinking a Trump presidency would, and now seemingly will, be a disaster. For now I will leave you with this from Tom Nichols, who has become my favorite commentator on the 2016 election (and whose upcoming book The Death of Expertise I just received in advance copy form and will read with great interest):

UPDATE 11/9 12:23PM: I will add this:

Monday, November 7, 2016


"It's a long way till November 2016," I wrote on Aug. 15, 2015, in a post in which I broke a onetime promise not to write about Donald Trump; took a somewhat prescient view that he just might win the Republican nomination; and gave a brief, preliminary explanation of why I'd never vote for him.
Will I vote for Trump? Not a chance. His egomania and abrasiveness, cynical populism, lack of governing experience and vagueness about what he wants to do, along with the handful of policy-related ideas he has stated, disqualify him by my lights. And I speak as someone who's found him interesting and even somewhat sympathetic for a long time. I recall reading Jerome Tucille's biography of him some [three] decades ago (!).
Do I think Trump has any chance of winning the GOP nomination? Yes, though I would certainly bet against it. Do I think he has any chance of winning the presidency? A slim one, but not negligible. If he won the nomination, his credibility by that point would be considerable; and it's not as if the Democrats have a frontrunner currently whose viability looks to be assured going forward. But the likelihood that Trump would lose in a general election has sparked some genuine agonizing on the right, and it's kind of funny to watch conservative pundits suddenly embrace the pragmatic electability criteria they spent the past couple of cycles disparaging.
I'll now go further, a day before the election, and say I'm highly confident that he won't win, and am far more grateful for that now even than I would've been back in the summer of 2015. I don't know what this man will do post-election (such as the much-predicted Trump TV) in a desperate effort to remain the center of attention, and I don't doubt that he's already done serious damage to our country's institutions, including especially the Republican Party of which I'm now a proud ex-member. But tomorrow as I vote for his imperfect opponent, my main thought about Donald Trump will be a straightforward one: good riddance.