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“Why America Will Never Be Great In Trump’s Eyes”: He Has Never Been Very Impressed With America

To all but Donald Trump’s most loyal followers, it’s now a truism that he can change his positions at any moment, as he did multiple times last week on abortion. Trump’s “guiding conviction is winning, and he’ll say pretty much whatever he thinks will get him there,” Elizabeth Williamson observed this week in The New York Times. In a recent piece for Slate, Franklin Foer argued that Trump’s misogyny is his single core belief, the one idea that has remained consistent as all of his other views have shifted with the political winds over the decades.

Trump, to be sure, is astonishingly inconsistent on many issues, and terrifyingly consistent in his misogyny. But Trump’s critics aren’t being quite fair when they accuse him of wavering on every other topic. He has also been entirely consistent on another key point: He has never been very impressed with America.

Trump first flirted with running for president in the late 1980s, as Ronald Reagan’s presidency was drawing to a close. It’s an era many Republicans consider the height of American power and greatness, but Trump, at the time, didn’t like what he saw. In a September 1987 open letter that he spent nearly $100,000 to publish in a number of major newspapers, Trump fixated on a single issue: the exploitation of America by countries that fail to pay for our military protection. “The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help,” Trump wrote. The letter wasn’t an aberration. The next month, Trump traveled to New Hampshire, where he stuck to the same theme, telling 500 Republicans at the Portsmouth Rotary Club that America is “being kicked around” by Japan and the Arab oil states.

The most remarkable thing about Trump’s 1980s view of America as a weak, loser nation is that it’s nearly identical to the views he has expressed in recent weeks during a series of rambling discussions of foreign policy: In a conversation with The New York Times, Trump argued that America takes “tremendous monetary hits on protecting countries” and that “we lose, everywhere.” In Trump’s mind, the root of America’s woes has always been the same: Other nations, particularly Japan and Saudi Arabia, don’t pay us enough for all we do for them. Indeed, while it’s sometimes argued that Trump has shrewdly crafted his appeal to a newly fragile American psyche, it might be more accurate to say that Trump has been waiting 30 years for Americans to catch up to his unwaveringly primitive, pessimistic view of America’s standing in the world.

As Trump has explained it—both in the 1980s and today—his focus on foreign spending is a byproduct of his concern about America’s deficit spending. “It’s time for us to end our vast deficits by making Japan, and others who can afford it, pay,” Trump stated in his 1987 letter. But even Trump must understand today that eliminating all of the money America spends to station troops around the world would fail to make a dent in our deficit spending—only 16 percent of the federal budget is spent on defense, and only a fraction of that 16 percent is spent on peacekeeping troops. So, the mystery is why this relatively minor expense has remained so central to his thinking, even as so many of his other positions have changed time and again.

As Adam Davidson points out in The New York Times Magazine, it makes perfect sense that someone with Trump’s real estate experience would understand political agreements as zero-sum deals with winners and losers, rather than as mutually beneficial pacts. But Trump’s business background doesn’t quite explain his obsession with foreign spending. After all, there are plenty of American real-estate tycoons who aren’t losing sleep over the prospect of spending money to defend Japan.

The most likely explanation for Trump’s obsession with foreign spending may simply be that he has a deep visceral reaction to the very thought of a stronger party having to spend money on behalf of a weaker party. And if the issue drives him a little crazy, it’s perhaps because peacekeeping troops presents a fundamental paradox for Trump: He wants nothing more than for America to dominate the world, but dominating the world as a superpower is an expensive proposition. The more powerful America grows, the more it has to spend across the globe to maintain its influence, and thus, the weaker it becomes in Trump’s eyes.

This paradox explains why Trump will never find greatness in a truly powerful America, and why, when pressed by the Times to name a laudable era in U.S. history, he went back more than a century: “[I]f you really look at it, the turn of the century, that’s when we were a great, when we were really starting to go robust.” Trump added that the 1940s and ’50s were okay because “we were not pushed around” and “we were pretty much doing what we had to do.” Never mind that, as Max Boot writes in Commentary, the U.S. “went from defeat to defeat” against Communism in the late 1940s, or that America wasn’t nearly as powerful as it would become by the end of the twentieth century.

Trump’s only way out of this paradox is to insist that other countries pay America to dominate them. This is why it’s so important that Mexico pay for building the wall he wants along our entire southern border. Indeed, forcing Mexico to pay for the wall might be the real rationale for the wall itself. Trump’s foreign policy amounts to a vision of international extortion, America as a mafia thug squeezing protection payments out of our weaker allies. The problem, as the Times’ David E. Sanger recently pointed out to Trump, is that rather than pay America, a country might instead wish America the best and spend its money on weapons, including nuclear arsenals—hardly a recipe for sustained global influence.

Why Trump can’t grasp that America’s willingness to spend on global peacekeeping forces is not a reflection of its weakness, but a source of its power, is hard to say. But this much is clear: In Trump’s world, nothing is more upsetting than a powerful nation failing to fully dominate a weaker nation. And because American power, unlike the power of Trump the businessman, is mutually exclusive with squeezing every last dollar out of weaker parties, Trump might as well give up on his campaign promise. America will never be great again in his eyes.

 

By: Sam Apple, The New Republic, April 8, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | America, Donald Trump, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“On Invincible Ignorance”: The G.O.P.’s Intellectual Leader Is Still Making The Same Old Claims

Remember Paul Ryan? The speaker of the House used to be a media darling, lionized as the epitome of the Serious, Honest Conservative — never mind those of us who actually looked at the numbers in his budgets and concluded that he was a con man. These days, of course, he is overshadowed by the looming Trumpocalypse.

But while Donald Trump could win the White House — or lose so badly that even our rotten-borough system of congressional districts, which heavily favors the G.O.P., delivers the House to the Democrats — the odds are that come January, Hillary Clinton will be president, and Mr. Ryan still speaker. So I was interested to read what Mr. Ryan said in a recent interview with John Harwood. What has he learned from recent events?

And the answer is, nothing.

Like just about everyone in the Republican establishment, Mr. Ryan is in denial about the roots of Trumpism, about the extent to which the party deliberately cultivated anger and racial backlash, only to lose control of the monster it created. But what I found especially striking were his comments on tax policy. I know, boring — but indulge me here. There’s a larger moral.

You might think that Republican thought leaders would be engaged in some soul-searching about their party’s obsession with cutting taxes on the wealthy. Why do candidates who inveigh against the evils of budget deficits and federal debt feel obliged to propose huge high-end tax cuts — much bigger than those of George W. Bush — that would eliminate trillions in revenue?

And economics aside, why such a commitment to a policy that has never had much support even from the party’s own base, and appears even more politically suspect in the face of a populist uprising?

But here’s what Mr. Ryan said about all those tax cuts for the top 1 percent: “I do not like the idea of buying into these distributional tables. What you’re talking about is what we call static distribution. It’s a ridiculous notion.”

Aha. The income mobility zombie strikes again.

Ever since income inequality began its sharp rise in the 1980s, one favorite conservative excuse has been that it doesn’t mean anything, because economic positions change all the time. People who are rich this year might not be rich next year, so the gap between the rich and the rest doesn’t matter, right?

Well, it’s true that people move up and down the economic ladder, and apologists for inequality love to cite statistics showing that many people who are in the top 1 percent in any given year are out of that category the next year.

But a closer look at the data shows that there is less to this observation than it seems. These days, it takes an income of around $400,000 a year to put you in the top 1 percent, and most of the fluctuation in incomes we see involves people going from, say, $350,000 to $450,000 or vice versa. As one comprehensive survey put it, “The majority of economic mobility occurs over fairly small spans of the distribution.” Average incomes over multiple years are almost as unequally distributed as incomes in any given year, which means that tax cuts that mainly benefit the rich are indeed targeted at a small group of people, not the public at large.

And here’s the thing: This isn’t a new observation. As it happens, I personally took on the very same argument Mr. Ryan is making — and showed that it was wrong — almost 25 years ago. Yet the man widely considered the G.O.P.’s intellectual leader is still making the same old claims.

O.K., maybe I’m just indulging a pet peeve by focusing on this particular subject. Yet the persistence of the income mobility zombie, like the tax-cuts-mean-growth zombie (which should have been killed, once and for all, by the debacles in Kansas and Louisiana), is part of a pattern.

Appalled Republicans may rail against Donald Trump’s arrogant ignorance. But how different, really, are the party’s mainstream leaders? Their blinkered view of the world has the veneer of respectability, may go along with an appearance of thoughtfulness, but in reality it’s just as impervious to evidence — maybe even more so, because it has the power of groupthink behind it.

This is why you shouldn’t grieve over Marco Rubio’s epic political failure. Had Mr. Rubio succeeded, he would simply have encouraged his party to believe that all it needs is a cosmetic makeover — a fresher, younger face to sell the same old defunct orthodoxy. Oh, and a last-minute turn to someone like John Kasich would, in its own way, have similar implications.

What we’re getting instead is at least the possibility of a cleansing shock — of a period in the political wilderness that will finally force the Republican establishment to rethink its premises. That’s a good thing — or it would be, if it didn’t also come with the risk of President Trump.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 21, 2016

March 22, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Federal Budget, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Most Damning Insult Of All”: Here’s What The GOP Needs To Say To Scare Voters Away From Trump

How has the Republican establishment tried, and failed, to take out Donald Trump?

Let me count the ways.

The GOP’s first line of defense against Trump is usually to claim that his policies would be disastrous. Last week Mitt Romney declared that, “If Donald Trump’s plans were ever implemented, the country would sink into prolonged recession.”

This argument is less than compelling, though, when you consider how little daylight lies between Trump’s policies and those of his two chief rivals, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

All three would blow up the deficit by trillions of dollars, losing more tax revenue as a share of economic output than any tax cut on record. Their health-care plans are virtually indistinguishable. All three promise to build a wall on the Mexican border, and both Cruz and Trump want to round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. None accepts the scientific consensus on man-made climate change. All want to further restrict access to abortion and further expand access to guns. And so on.

Caught undercutting their own arguments that Trump’s policies would be uniquely intolerable, Republican elites then confusingly resort to arguing that Trump may not actually believe all those intolerable policies after all.

Party elders and campaign rivals have doubled down on claims that Trump’s not a “true conservative,” and that he may not uphold his hard-line rightist stances, because not so long ago he espoused more liberal views. But this merely gives Trump an opportunity to invoke Ronald Reagan, another late-in-life party-switcher. More important, voters just don’t seem to care much about ideological purity.

When that tactic fails, Republican bigwigs attack Trump’s indecorousness and vulgarity. But there’s little high ground for them to stand on here, either, given that their preferred candidate recently crawled into the gutter, too.

Recall that it was Rubio, not Trump, who first invoked Trump’s genital size on the campaign trail. In an instant, what had been a subtext in Trump’s campaign — his big wall, big buildings, big wealth, big poll numbers — became text. But that was Rubio’s doing, not Trump’s.

Condemnations of Trump’s race-baiting and nationalism likewise fall flat, for the same reason: hypocrisy. Party leadership turned a blind eye when Trump spewed birtherist nonsense about President Obama’s citizenship and faith, and when talk radio hosts rallied the base with their own racially tinged rhetoric. Why should anyone, let alone Trump supporters, be swayed by the party’s protestations about such bile now?

Then, elites try targeting Trump’s opacity and lack of accountability in his financial dealings.

But the other candidates also only pretend at transparency. Rubio, Cruz and John Kasich all purport to have released their “tax returns,” but in fact the abbreviated documents they’ve published leave out charitable donations, income sources and all the other substantive details that are part of a real tax return — you know, the full documents that every major-party nominee has released since 1980.

Cruz likewise complains that the lamestream media has withheld negative coverage and exposés of Trump and his financial activities. This accusation is both demonstrably false and demonstrably funny, when you consider Cruz’s declarations that you shouldn’t trust anything you see in the media anyway.

Republicans have hacked away at both the customs and the institutions that impose accountability and now have the gall to complain that a party insurrectionist is not held to account.

Of all the ploys that Republican leadership has deployed to curb Trumpmentum, perhaps the most pitiful is the #NeverTrump campaign. Anti-Trump enthusiasts have spread the hashtag far and wide on social media. Rubio’s website even sells hats, stickers and other swag featuring the slogan.

Yet when asked during the last debate whether they’d support Trump if he became the Republican nominee, every candidate left standing pledged he would. If the other candidates believe a Trump presidency would really be so unendurable, agreeing to support him in November is a strange way to show it. Perhaps #NeverTrump is short for #NeverTrumpExceptDuringTheGeneralElection.

So why have none of the GOP’s attacks on Trump stuck? Maybe it’s because Trump, the new Teflon Don, has unusually effective nonstick properties. Or maybe it’s because party honchos have been too cowardly to do the one thing — an admittedly very unpleasant thing — that might convince Republican voters that Trump is a real threat to the liberal world order.

They’d need to voice the most damning insult of all, at least in the minds of Republicans: an acknowledgment that even Hillary Clinton would make a better president than Donald J. Trump.

 

By: Catherine Rampell, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 7, 2016

March 8, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“At The GOP Debate, America Was The Loser”: Republicans Aren’t Remotely Serious About Governing

Last night’s debate in Houston was not only the first time Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz really attacked Trump. It was also the first time anyone went after Trump for the appalling superficiality of his statements and ideas about policy, and it did reveal that Trump is someone who neither knows nor particularly cares how government works or about what you need to do to address complex problems.

That’s good. But the debate revealed something else, too: That Trump is right at home in the GOP, because even the supposedly more serious candidates on that stage had barely anything more to say about policy than he did.

Let’s look, for instance, at an exchange Rubio and Trump had on health care. When Trump started to talk about it, it became obvious he doesn’t understand the first thing about health care policy. “We’re going to have something much better, but pre-existing conditions, when I’m referring to that, and I was referring to that very strongly on the show with Anderson Cooper, I want to keep pre- existing conditions,” he said. What he means there is that he wants to keep the ban on insurance companies denying people coverage because of pre-existing conditions, which is one of the central (and most popular) components of the ACA.

But soon after, they had this enlightening exchange:

RUBIO: Here’s what you didn’t hear in that answer, and this is important guys, this is an important thing. What is your plan? I understand the lines around the state, whatever that means. This is not a game where you draw maps…

TRUMP: … And, you don’t know what it means…

RUBIO: … What is your plan, Mr. Trump?

(APPLAUSE)

RUBIO: What is your plan on healthcare?

TRUMP: You don’t know.

BASH: (inaudible)

TRUMP: … The biggest problem…

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: … What’s your plan…

TRUMP: … The biggest problem, I’ll have you know…

RUBIO: … What’s your plan…

TRUMP: … You know, I watched him meltdown two weeks ago with Chris Christie. I got to tell you, the biggest problem he’s got is he really doesn’t know about the lines. The biggest thing we’ve got, and the reason we’ve got no competition, is because we have lines around the state, and you have essentially….

RUBIO: … We already mentioned that (inaudible) plan, I know what that is, but what else is part of your plan…

TRUMP: … You don’t know much…

RUBIO: … So, you’re only thing is to get rid of the lines around the states. What else is part of your healthcare plan…

TRUMP: … The lines around the states…

RUBIO: … That’s your only plan…

TRUMP: … and, it was almost done — not now…

RUBIO: … Alright, (inaudible)…

TRUMP: … Excuse me. Excuse me.

RUBIO: … His plan. That was the plan…

TRUMP: … You get rid of the lines, it brings in competition. So, instead of having one insurance company taking care of New York, or Texas, you’ll have many. They’ll compete, and it’ll be a beautiful thing.

It keeps going for quite a while like that. “Lines around the states” refers to the question of allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines, instead of only within one state. This is one of a very small number of ideas that Republicans have settled on so that they have something to say when asked what they’d do about health care.

And Marco Rubio supports that, too. The lengthiest explication Rubio has offered on his plans for health care came in this op-ed from August, which basically presents that Republican grab-bag: let insurance companies sell policies across state lines, give people tax credits instead of subsidies, block-grant (i.e. cut) Medicaid, turn Medicare into a voucher program, expand health savings accounts. And oh, you’re one of the tens of millions of people with pre-existing conditions? Um…well, you can go in a high-risk pool, which is just about the worst and most expensive way to cover those people. Throw in some meaningless drivel about “patient-centered reforms” and “empowerment” and you’ve got your standard-issue Republican health care “plan.”

What’s the difference between that and when Trump says he’ll repeal the ACA and replace it with “something terrific”? Almost nothing. If there’s anything the last seven years have taught us, it’s that health care policy is extraordinarily complex, and any reform you make has to grapple with that complexity. Republicans can’t seem to bring themselves to grapple with it: they talk about repealing the ACA as if that would be no big deal, when in truth repealing the law would represent a massive disruption to the American health care system in history, much more so than the passage of the law itself.

And it isn’t just health care. We see it over and over again in other areas: Trump offers some ridiculously simplistic notion about what he’d do in a critical policy area, and anyone with a brain says, “My god, he has no clue what he’s talking about,” but then when you look at the other candidates, you see that their ideas are barely more coherent or realistic. Trump says he’ll kick the crap out of the Islamic State. That’s no plan. But what do the other candidates say? Call it “radical Islamic terrorism,” and, uh, form a coalition! And also some crap-kicking!

Trump says he’ll go to China and tell them to give us back our jobs, then we’ll have a spectacular economy. And the other candidates? They say that if we cut taxes and curtail regulations, then we’ll have a spectacular economy. Their plan is to bring back George W. Bush’s economic policies, which will somehow produce Bill Clinton’s economic growth. Such a clever strategy.

Trump says he can eliminate the deficit by finding “waste, fraud, and abuse,” a line from the 1980’s that he doesn’t seem to realize is now considered a joke. “We are going to cut many of the agencies, we will balance our budget, and we will be dynamic again,” he says. It’s obviously inane. And the other candidates? They want to hugely increase the deficit with their tax cuts and increases to military spending. But they’ll do things like “prevent massive, irresponsible spending bills” (that’s from Rubio’s deficit reduction “plan”) or eliminate the IRS and “evaluate areas of waste and fraud” (that’s Cruz). And people wonder why the deficit always goes up under Republican presidents.

So yes, Trump is an ignoramus. He has no idea what is actually involved in running the government. But what’s really depressing is that even the other guys, who have been in government and do have at least some grasp of how it works, haven’t bothered to present anything that’s more than a notch or two more sophisticated to the voters. Either they don’t care enough to be remotely serious about governing, or they think the public won’t care that they aren’t remotely serious about governing. Or maybe both.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 26, 2016

February 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Governing | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Doubling Down On W”: Determined To Take What Didn’t Work From 2001 To 2008 And Do It Again, In A More Extreme Form

2015 was, of course, the year of Donald Trump, whose rise has inspired horror among establishment Republicans and, let’s face it, glee — call it Trumpenfreude — among many Democrats. But Trumpism has in one way worked to the G.O.P. establishment’s advantage: it has distracted pundits and the press from the hard right turn even conventional Republican candidates have taken, a turn whose radicalism would have seemed implausible not long ago.

After all, you might have expected the debacle of George W. Bush’s presidency — a debacle not just for the nation, but for the Republican Party, which saw Democrats both take the White House and achieve some major parts of their agenda — to inspire some reconsideration of W-type policies. What we’ve seen instead is a doubling down, a determination to take whatever didn’t work from 2001 to 2008 and do it again, in a more extreme form.

Start with the example that’s easiest to quantify, tax cuts.

Big tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy were the Bush administration’s signature domestic policy. They were sold at the time as fiscally responsible, a matter of giving back part of the budget surplus America was running when W took office. (Alan Greenspan infamously argued that tax cuts were needed to avoid paying off federal debt too fast.) Since then, however, over-the-top warnings about the evils of debt and deficits have become a routine part of Republican rhetoric; and even conservatives occasionally admit that soaring inequality is a problem.

Moreover, it’s harder than ever to claim that tax cuts are the key to prosperity. At this point the private sector has added more than twice as many jobs under President Obama as it did over the corresponding period under W, a period that doesn’t include the Great Recession.

You might think, then, that Bush-style tax cuts would be out of favor. In fact, however, establishment candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are proposing much bigger tax cuts than W ever did. And independent analysis of Jeb’s proposal shows that it’s even more tilted toward the wealthy than anything his brother did.

What about other economic policies? The Bush administration’s determination to dismantle any restraints on banks — at one staged event, a top official used a chain saw on stacks of regulations — looks remarkably bad in retrospect. But conservatives have bought into the thoroughly debunked narrative that government somehow caused the Great Recession, and all of the Republican candidates have declared their determination to repeal Dodd-Frank, the fairly modest set of regulations imposed after the financial crisis.

The only real move away from W-era economic ideology has been on monetary policy, and it has been a move toward right-wing fantasyland. True, Ted Cruz is alone among the top contenders in calling explicitly for a return to the gold standard — you could say that he wants to Cruzify mankind upon a cross of gold. (Sorry.) But where the Bush administration once endorsed “aggressive monetary policy” to fight recessions, these days hostility toward the Fed’s efforts to help the economy is G.O.P. orthodoxy, even though the right’s warnings about imminent inflation have been wrong again and again.

Last but not least, there’s foreign policy. You might have imagined that the story of the Iraq war, where we were not, in fact, welcomed as liberators, where a vast expenditure of blood and treasure left the Middle East less stable than before, would inspire some caution about military force as the policy of first resort. Yet swagger-and-bomb posturing is more or less universal among the leading candidates. And let’s not forget that back when Jeb Bush was considered the front-runner, he assembled a foreign-policy team literally dominated by the architects of debacle in Iraq.

The point is that while the mainstream contenders may have better manners than Mr. Trump or the widely loathed Mr. Cruz, when you get to substance it becomes clear that all of them are frighteningly radical, and that none of them seem to have learned anything from past disasters.

Why does this matter? Right now conventional wisdom, as captured by the bookies and the betting markets, suggests even or better-than-even odds that Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz will be the nominee, in which case everyone will be aware of the candidate’s extremism. But there’s still a substantial chance that the outsiders will falter and someone less obviously out there — probably Mr. Rubio — will end up on top.

And if this happens, it will be important to realize that not being Donald Trump doesn’t make someone a moderate, or even halfway reasonable. The truth is that there are no moderates in the Republican primary, and being reasonable appears to be a disqualifying characteristic for anyone seeking the party’s nod.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 29, 2015

December 31, 2015 Posted by | 2015, George W Bush, GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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