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“He Believes In Nothing And Everything”: If This Was Trump At His ‘Presidential’ Best, He’s In Big Trouble

After Donald Trump’s big speech yesterday on foreign policy, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Twitter, “Washington elites mock Trump for mispronouncing Tanzania. They don’t get it. He said the most important word correctly: America. He gets it.”

I suppose this is true in a literal sense. It is “important” for an American presidential candidate to pronounce the name of their own country correctly, and if this is the new standard for success, I’m pleased to report that Gingrich is correct: Trump cleared this absurdly low bar.

But aside from pronouncing “America” correctly, the rest of Trump’s remarks were an unnerving mess. MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported:

Looking to soothe fears that he lacked the experience and gravitas necessary to manage the most powerful military in the world, Donald Trump delivered a rare pre-written speech Wednesday in Washington outlining his foreign policy vision.

In many ways it raised more questions than it answered, bouncing between typical anti-Obama talking points, jarring threats to America’s friends and rivals, and soothing talk of peaceful global cooperation.

“Jarring” is the ideal adjective in this case. At one point, Trump said the United States must be prepared to tell our old allies that they should “defend themselves” and not look to us for support. In the next breath, Trump expressed dismay that so many U.S. allies feel abandoned by President Obama.

How did the Republican frontrunner reconcile the contradiction? He didn’t – Trump simply transitioned to new contradictions before anyone could fully come to terms with the last one.

Americans were told, for example, that a Trump administration would replace “randomness with purpose” through “a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy.” He then insisted, “We must as, a nation, be more unpredictable.”

Trump opposes the idea of a foreign policy based on “ideology,” rejecting the idea of exporting Western-style democracy abroad. He then emphasized the importance of “promoting Western civilization” around the globe.

Trump lamented the way in which our “resources are overextended.” He also believes the United States must “continually play the role of peacemaker” and “help to save lives and, indeed, humanity itself.”

Trump boasted about all of the leverage we have over China, around the same time as he complained about how we no longer have leverage over China.

And don’t get me started about Trump’s ridiculous factual errors.

So, what does Donald Trump believe about foreign policy? He believes in nothing and everything, all at once. As president, he would do more and less, wage war and peace, reach out and push away, all while being unflinchingly consistent and wildly unpredictable.

In other words, Trump doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about – and unfortunately for him, quite a few folks noticed. Politico reported:

[A]cross the ideological spectrum, and even among natural allies, Trump’s speech received a failing grade for coherence and drew snickering and scorn from foreign policy insiders who remain unconvinced that Trump is up to the job.

“It struck me as a very odd mishmash,” said Doug Bandow, a foreign policy scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, who shares many of Trump’s beliefs about scaling back America’s role abroad. “He called for a new foreign policy strategy, but you don’t really get the sense he gave one.”

Trump’s speech was “lacking in policy prescriptions,” and its “strident rhetoric masked a lack of depth,” said Robert “Bud” McFarlane, a former national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan who attended the speech.

If Trump had merely presented a blueprint for a bad foreign policy, that would at least be the basis for a credible debate. Plenty of candidates offer misguided ideas and dangerous solutions, and if nothing else, they serve as the foundation for something that can be critiqued.

But dealing with an incoherent, contradictory mess is far more difficult.

The irony is, yesterday’s speech, coming on the heels of his five landslide primary victories the day before, was supposed to help Trump appear more presidential. Speaking from a teleprompter, the Republican frontrunner hoped to convey a sense of seriousness and gravitas. But for anyone who actually listened to the content of his remarks, yesterday served as a powerful reminder that the former reality-show host isn’t yet prepared for the role of Leader of the Free World.

 

By: Steve Beben, The Maddow Blog, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, U. S. Allies | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Trump Upends Coalition”: How The Bathroom Controversy Exposes Rifts In The Increasingly Fragile Republican Coalition

It wouldn’t be an election without a good dose of culture-war sexual politics, and now Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are arguing about bathrooms. Specifically, the question of the law that North Carolina passed — mandating that transgender people use not the bathroom of their identity but of the sex written on their birth certificate — is now a part of the presidential campaign. When Trump was asked about it yesterday, he gave a perfectly sensible answer — but it was the wrong one. And in doing so, he highlighted just how fragile his impending nomination makes the complicated Republican coalition.

Here’s how it went down:

Trump said there was little controversy before the law was passed, and the measure has done nothing but hurt North Carolina economically. Businesses including American Airlines, Facebook and Google have condemned the measure, and the National Basketball Association hinted it might relocate next year’s all-star game from Charlotte.

“You leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble,” Trump said on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday. “And the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic. … I mean, the economic punishment they’re taking.”

Trump’s comments were met with fierce opposition from Cruz, who defended the law last week.

Cruz seems positively giddy to be able to talk about this issue. He describes the idea of transgender women using women’s rooms as, “Men should be able to go into the girls’ bathroom if they want to.” You’ll notice the contrast of “men” and “girls,” used so that you’ll think this is some sort of issue about pedophiles preying on children. To emphasize the point, he concludes, “Grown adult men — strangers — should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls.”

I won’t even bother refuting that rancid fear-mongering, except to say that the legislators in North Carolina were unable to cite a single case where a transgender woman assaulted someone in a bathroom in North Carolina, let alone any “little girls.”

But now Trump is gingerly walking back his statement, saying that the question should be decided at the local level, which is the best he can do to make Republican culture warriors less suspicious of him. And that’s where we get to the nature of the GOP coalition, which Trump doesn’t quite seem to grasp.

There was always an implicit bargain within that coalition, one that said that even if various kinds of conservatives had different priorities, they would sign on to each other’s agendas. The supply-siders would say that unfettered gun rights are deeply important, even if most of them don’t actually own guns. The antiabortion crusaders would say that military spending should always be increased. The neoconservatives would praise tax cuts for the wealthy. It’s a circle of interdependence and common cause, and to a great degree, they all came to believe in each other’s positions, even if they didn’t agree on what the top priority for the party should be.

But Trump has upended this bargain, partly because he has nothing resembling a coherent ideology, but also because he doesn’t appreciate the need to keep the coalition together. There are some issues, such as guns, where Trump has adopted the standard Republican position (without a trace of evident sincerity). But on others, he has been willing to anger parts of the Republican coalition. Perhaps it’s because of a careful calculation about what will play well in the general election, but I suspect it’s more impulsive — since Trump didn’t rise through Republican politics, he doesn’t have an intuitive sense of what’s important to which conservatives and what will make them angry.

So when a question he hasn’t thought about comes up, he just gives an answer that seems right for him at that moment. Then what often happens is that people who understand what Republicans think about that issue — reporters and Republicans themselves — say, “What?!?,” somebody clues Trump in to why his allies are mad, and within a day or two he comes back and clarifies what he meant to say, which winds up being something more palatable to the party. This has happened multiple times.

On issues that touch on sex, Trump’s impulses often seem basically libertarian (there are those New York values!), and as he tries to shift them so they can work within the GOP, he winds up ticking people off and going through multiple iterations before he can come up with the appropriate answer. So he says the wrong thing on transgender people, and he says that women should be punished for having abortions (which runs counter to the “We’re taking away your reproductive rights for your own good because you just don’t know any better” stance of the pro-life movement) but also says that there should be exceptions for rape and incest, which the hard-core pro-lifers don’t like either.

The bathroom issue highlights how Red America and Blue America are moving farther and farther apart. If you live in a state controlled by Republicans, your state legislature and your governor will ensure that gay people aren’t protected from discrimination, make abortions almost impossible to obtain, slash social services, undermine unions, make sure you can take your gun to church and generally do what they can to turn your state into a paradise of “traditional” values and right-wing economics. If you live in a Democratic state, your representatives are probably busy raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, expanding government-provided health care and child care, protecting people from discrimination and generally doing all the things the people in red states find horrifying.

Presidential candidates from either party can come from either kind of state, but if you cross over — if you’re a blue-state Republican or a red-state Democrat — you have to assure your voters that you believe deep in your heart that their kind of state embodies all the proper values. Trump doesn’t do that, or at least he doesn’t do it often enough.

For those who are already behind him, it doesn’t really matter. His supporters don’t have specific issues that are absolute deal-breakers, in large part because his campaign is built on personality. Cruz, on the other hand, has a campaign built on ideology. And when there’s a chance to pick up a culture-war baton like this one, he isn’t going to let it pass.

Does that mean that once Trump is the nominee, the social conservatives who really care about the culture war aren’t going to vote for him? Might they just sit the election out? We don’t know yet. What we do know is that they’re the ones who are most likely to get the short end of the stick from the GOP nominee, even as Republicans at the state level work like mad to advance the right’s social agenda.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 22, 2016

April 26, 2016 Posted by | Culture Wars, Donald Trump, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Truth Is What The Truth Is”: Conservatives Lie About History To Exonerate Conscience

This one’s for John. He’s a reader who took issue with my recent column arguing that conservatism has become an angry and incoherent mess.

John was particularly upset that I described conservatives as resistant to social change. Wrote John:

“[sic] Tell that to the right side of the aisle who signed in the civil rights voting act in 1965. Which party resisted that? … Who resisted the proclamation that freed the slaves? Southern democrat party of course and who was it’s military arm during reconstruction? The KKK. Today that organization is tied into the liberalism more than conservatism. … Your party, the liberals who now call themselves progressives, are the party of Strom thurmond, Robert Byrd, Lester Maddox, George wallace — and … Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.”

Please note what John did there. He responded to a critique of social conservatism by mounting a defense of the Republican Party, as if the two were synonymous. Granted, they are now, but in the eras John mentions? Not so much.

Indeed, when Abraham Lincoln issued that proclamation John is so proud of, it was considered an act not of conservatism, but of radical extremism. And those Republicans who voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were moderates, i.e., the kind of people who have been driven out of a harshly conservative party that now considers moderation apostasy.

The truth, as any first-year history student could tell you, is that Republicans were the more socially liberal party and Democrats the more socially conservative for at least seven decades after Lincoln. But in the years since then, they have essentially swapped ideologies.

The reason John engages in this linguistic shell game, the reason he defends the party that wasn’t attacked instead of the ideology that was, is simple: The ideology is indefensible, at least where civil rights is concerned. You must be a liar, a fool or an ignoramus of Brobdingnagian proportions to suggest social conservatives have ever supported African-American interests.

They didn’t do it a century ago when “conservative” meant Democrats. They don’t do it now.

Sadly for John, pretending otherwise requires him to twist logic like a birthday party clown making balloon animals. How addlepated must you be to see common ground between the segregationist Lester Maddox and civil-rights activist Al Sharpton? How cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs are you when you consider the Ku Klux Klan and Strom Thurmond “liberal”?

And yes, you may think this a lot of energy to lavish on one man. But it isn’t one man. I hear John’s “reasoning” literally a hundred times a year from conservative readers. Indeed, a few weeks ago on CNN, a Donald Trump apologist pimp-slapped reality by branding the Klan a “leftist” group. So John is hardly the only one.

These people must lie about history in order to exonerate conscience. Yet the truth is what the truth is. John need not take my word for what conservative means. Merriam-Webster backs me up. He need not even take my word for the history. A hundred history books back me up.

But honest, grown-up Republicans, assuming there are any left, may want to take my word for this: They cannot achieve their stated goal of a more-welcoming and inclusive party while clinging to an ideology whose entire raison d’etre is exclusion. You see, social conservatism only works for those who have something to lose, those who have an investment in status quo.

I’m reminded of an anecdote about a Howard University professor who visited the Soviet Union in the 1930s. He explained to his hosts that some “Negroes” were politically conservative. They were astonished.

“Why?” asked one. “What do they have to conserve?”

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald;The National Memo, April 17, 2016

April 18, 2016 Posted by | American History, Conservatism, Conservatives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Don’t Care What Works”: Speaking To The Heart Of What Has Gone Wrong With The Republican Party

What little attention the right wing media machine isn’t devoting to the sordid mudslinging between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump is focused on a statement President Obama made about practicalities and ideologies:

I guess to make a broader point, so often in the past there’s been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist. And especially in the Americas, that’s been a big debate, right? Oh, you know, you’re a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you’re some crazy communist that’s going to take away everybody’s property. And I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don’t have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory — you should just decide what works.

For Republicans this is tantamount to heresy and treason. The Washington Times is raving about it, as is Michelle Malkin, the Daily Caller and other conservative outlets.

This isn’t terribly surprising, of course, but it speaks to the heart of what has gone wrong with the Republican Party and conservatism itself. While the neoliberal and progressive wings of the Democratic Party are often at loggerheads, the arguments aren’t about pure ideology but about practicality. Clinton’s supporters see her as more electable, more able to work with Congress to implement policy, and more experienced with the policy nuances that will allow incremental progress to be made alongside a GOP Congress. Sanders’ supporters see the economic and political system as fundamentally broken, believe that a more aggressive approach to the bully pulpit and policy negotiation will be necessary to fix what’s wrong, and feel that more holistic and universal government approaches to problems will work better than means-tested half measures. But both sides are making practical arguments about what will actually work from an electoral and political standpoint.

Not so with Republicans. The GOP has devolved into a party that no longer cares about what works. The GOP is now divided between the Trumpists who (like Sanders’ supporters) believe that the system is broken and working against them while also (unlike Sanders’ supporters) raging against a complex multicultural and tolerant modernity, and the Cruzites who are wedded in an almost cult-like fashion to economically objectivist and Christian fundamentalist orthodoxy.

The result of the conservative movement’s failure to acknowledge policy realities can be seen most prominently in Kansas and Louisiana, where the red-state model of governance is failing catastrophically even as blue states like California are booming. In a functional political ecosystem that would be a cause for reckoning and introspection, but no acknowledgement of failure has been forthcoming from the GOP. Instead its candidates are doubling down on more of the same. For them, conservative orthodoxy cannot fail; it can only be failed.

In the days of the Cold War when capitalism and communism vied for supremacy, there was an understanding that one’s preferred system of governance had to actually deliver results or the people would revolt and make a change. The openness of democracies and market economies allowed them to soften the sharp edges and mitigate the flaws of capitalism with a healthy dose of compensatory socialism, while the closed systems of state communism led to brutal totalitarian outcomes. So capitalism won the war of ideas and appropriately so–but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system. Modern Republicans have totally lost sight of that fact. For them, markets don’t exist to serve people. Rather, people exist to serve markets.

The obvious human shortcomings of that belief system are what is allowing Trump to run a successful counterinsurgency within the GOP that tosses aside donors’ dearly held shibboleths about trade and taxation. Even David Brooks acknowledges that the GOP has to ideologically change course to account for capitalism’s failure to address rising inequality.

But for now, the leadership and media organs of the conservative movement remain obsessed with promoting ideology over practicality so much that a simple statement from the President that economies should simply pick solutions that work, somehow becomes a fundamental betrayal.

That lack of flexibility and cultish devotion to ideological purity (in addition to an intentional reliance on racial and cultural resentment) is what ruined the Republican Party in the first place. Now it’s paying the price.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 26, 2016

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Conservative Media, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“GOP Is More Ayn Rand Than Strom Thurmond”: Donald Trump Is Bad, But Karl Rove And David Brooks Are Worse

Few serious observers of American politics would dare to suggest that Donald Trump’s emergence as the Republican frontrunner is having a salubrious effect on America. The violent racial tensions at his rallies are enough to make many of us fear for the health and safety of our fellow citizens, and the prospect of his potential victory in a general election make us fear for the future of our democracy. His policy proposals range from vague (tax cuts that pay for themselves!) to impossible (make Mexico pay for a border wall!) to monstrous (waterboarding is for girly men too weak for real torture!)

Even despite all this, however, we can still thank Donald Trump and his supporters for doing the country a service. There is little Trump or his backers could do that would outweigh the blessing they are providing by disempowering and humiliating the traditional Republican establishment. No matter how uncomfortable Trump’s crowds may make us, they pale in comparison to the disgust we should feel at the politics of Karl Rove and David Brooks.

It’s not just that Rove, Ailes, Krauthammer, Podheretz and even ultimately Buckley himself laid the economic, social and media foundations for Trump’s racist nationalism. It’s that unless carried to its farthest extreme, racist nationalism isn’t as damaging as corporatist objectivism.

Bigotry is ugly and it can be deadly. But it is also ultimately a sin of ignorance. Prejudice has existed in many forms, it will continue to exist in the future, and there are no doubt many assumptions we take for granted as normal today that will be seen as forms of prejudice by future generations. As the human race becomes more educated, as cultures collide and the world shrinks, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain institutionalized discrimination. Progress on this front is slow, but it is also mostly constant. When we say that the moral arc of the universe is long but bends toward justice, we generally understand this to mean in terms of social justice rather than economic justice.

But while modern conservatism depends politically on the prejudices of large swaths of the public, its controlling donors and legislators enforce an agenda of ruthless objectivist philosophy. When one looks at the laws it actually passes, the Republican Party is in truth far more Ayn Rand than Strom Thurmond. Its prejudiced public policies are less for their own sake than in the service of ensuring that the super-rich take an even greater share of the wealth. Its policies toward the poor are less a function of institutional racism than of an ideological sickness that assumes the poor simply lack adequate threats of desperation and starvation to work harder to survive. It is a form of economic royalism and just world fallacy that explains the injustices of the world by asserting that they are not injustices at all, but rather that the strong dominate the weak by virtue and right.

Unlike simple prejudice, that worldview isn’t a sin of ignorance. It’s a sin of moral corruption. Given the choice between Strom Thurmond and Ayn Rand, Rand is by far the greater evil. By extension, Donald Trump is a lesser evil than Karl Rove and the kinder, gentler faces of corporate conservatism like David Brooks.

The supposedly respectable conservatives of the National Review and the Washington Post editorial pages see themselves as of a nobler and purer disposition than those they dismiss as the mouth-breathing yokels who back Trump. But it’s actually the reverse. Trump’s supporters are more interested in the advancement of their own tribe than in the promotion of an ideology of pure greed. Neither are laudable, but the former is at least morally understandable within the context of fearful ignorance. The latter is a deep seated character flaw. It’s no surprise that in more morally advanced social democracies, the conservative parties tend to be more nationalist than overtly objectivist.

In the end, the victory of the nationalists over the corporatists in the GOP will likely be beneficial to our character as a nation.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 13, 2016

March 14, 2016 Posted by | Ayn Rand, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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