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“Donald Trump Is A Wildly Promiscuous Liar”: Trump’s Lies And Trump’s Authoritarianism Are The Same Thing

On February 7, Donald Trump told an audience of supporters in New Hampshire that he would represent their interests, but Jeb Bush would not, because Bush was in the pocket of special interests. Trump singled out Woody Johnson, the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune, owner of the New York Jets, and contributor to Bush. Trump suggested, not unreasonably, that Johnson’s support would ensure that Bush would never allow the federal government to negotiate for lower prescription-drug prices. “I don’t get any money from any of these special interests, and I know the special interests — I know them better than anybody. But I don’t want their money,” he said. “So tell me, let me ask you: Do you think Jeb Bush is going to make drug prices competitive?” he asked. The crowd shouted, “No!”

This week Trump announced that Johnson would serve as vice-chair of the Trump Victory Fund. “He’s a terrific guy, he’s been a friend of mine a long time,” Trump announced. It was a head-spinning move — the very man Trump had held up as the embodiment of corruption, and whose funds he pledged never to accept, would now take a prominent role as a Trump fund-raiser.

Donald Trump is a wildly promiscuous liar. He also has disturbing authoritarian tendencies. Trump’s many critics have seized upon both traits as his two major disqualifications for the presidency, yet both of them frustratingly defy easy quantification. All politicians lie some, and many of them lie a lot, and most presidents also push the limits of their authority in ways that can frighten their opponents. So what is so uniquely dangerous about Trump? Perhaps the answer is that both of these qualities are, in a sense, the same thing. His contempt for objective truth is the rejection of democratic accountability, an implicit demand that his supporters place undying faith in him. Because the only measure of truth he accepts is what he claims at any given moment, the power his supporters vest in him is unlimited.

Trump lies routinely, about everything. Various journalists have tried to tally up his lies, inevitably giving up and settling for incomplete summaries. Some of these lies are merely standard, or perhaps somewhat exaggerated, versions of the way members of his party talk about policy. (The “real” unemployment rate is as high as 42 percent, or his gargantuan tax-cut plan “will be revenue-neutral.”) At times he engages in especially brazen rewriting of his own positions, such as insisting he opposed the Iraq War when he did not, or denying his past support for universal health insurance. Some of his lies are conspiracy theories that run toward the edges of respectable Republican thought (Barack Obama was actually born abroad) or even well beyond it (Ted Cruz’s father may have conspired to kill John F. Kennedy). In all these areas, Trump has merely improved upon the methods used by the professionals in his field.

Where he has broken truly unique ground is in his lies about relatively small, routine matters. As I’ve pointed out before — it’s become a small personal fixation — after Mitt Romney mocked the failure of Trump Steaks, Trump held a press conference in which he insisted Trump Steaks remained a going concern, despite the undeniable fact that the business no longer exists. (His campaign displayed store-bought steaks for the media, not even bothering to fully remove the labels of the store at which they purchased them.) The New York Times actually reported this week that Trump had displayed his steaks, without mentioning the blatant deception. Another such example is Trump’s prior habit of impersonating an imaginary p.r. representative while speaking to reporters. Obviously, the practice itself is strange enough, but the truly Trumpian touch is that he admitted to the ruse publicly, and then subsequently went back to denying it.

The normal rules of political lying hold that when the lie has been exposed, or certainly when it has been confessed, the jig is up. You have to stop lying about it and tell the truth, or at least retreat to a different lie. Trump bends the rules of the universe to his own will, at no apparent cost. His brazenness is another utterly unique characteristic. His confidence that he can make the truth whatever he wishes at any moment, and toggle back and forth between incompatible realities at will, without any cost to himself, is a display of dominance. Possibly Trump’s most important statement of the campaign was his idle boast that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue without losing any votes.

Finally, there is Trump’s habit of settling all disputes with his own peculiar form of ad hominem. He dismisses all criticisms of his statements and his record with an array of put-downs, and likewise confirms all endorsements with praise. Anybody who disagrees with Trump is ugly, short, corrupt, a loser, a habitual liar, a total joke, and so forth. People who support him are smart, beautiful, fair, esteemed, etc. But politics being as it is — and, especially, Trump’s positions being as fluid as they are — the composition of the two categories is in constant flux. One day, you are a failing, ridiculous, deranged liar, and the next day a citizen of the highest regard. Trump literally called Ben Carson a “violent criminal” and a “pathological liar,” akin to a “child molester.” When later accepting Carson’s endorsement, Trump praised his “dignity.” Once Trump mocked Rick Perry as a moron who wore glasses to look smart and who should be required to take an IQ test to participate in presidential debates. Now he is a “good guy, good governor.” This is the pattern Trump uses to dismiss all media criticism, or to amplify friendly coverage. Every reporter or publication is either pathetic and failing or fair and wonderful, and the same reporters and publications can be reclassified as one or the other as Trump sees fit.

1984 is a cliché for invoking totalitarianism, and in any case, Trump is merely an authoritarian and a bully, not a totalitarian. (A totalitarian government, like North Korea, exerts control over every aspect of its citizens’ lives; an authoritarian one, like Putin’s Russia, merely uses enough fear and violence to maintain control.) Nonetheless, the novel does capture the relationship between dictatorial authority and the power to manipulate any fact into a binary but permeable scheme:

The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia. Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford were guilty of the crimes they were charged with. He had never seen the photograph that disproved their guilt. It had never existed, he had invented it. He remembered remembering contrary things, but those were false memories, products of self-deception.

Truth and reason are weapons of the powerless against the powerful. There is no external doctrine he can be measured against, not even conservative dogma, which he embraces or discards at will and with no recognition of having done so. Trump’s version of truth is multiple truths, the only consistent element of which is Trump himself is always, by definition, correct. Trump’s mind is so difficult to grapple with because it is an authoritarian epistemology that lies outside the democratic norms that have shaped all of our collective experiences.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 26, 2016

May 28, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Special Interest Groups, Woody Johnson | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Enthusiastic Embrace Of Ignorance”: It’s Not Cool To Not Know What You’re Talking About

President Obama delivered a powerful commencement address at Rutgers University over the weekend, taking some time to celebrate knowledge and intellectual pursuits. “Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science – these are good things,” the president said, implicitly reminding those who may have forgotten. “These are qualities you want in people making policy.”

He added, “Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be. In politics, and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not ‘keeping it real,’ or ‘telling it like it is.’ That’s not challenging ‘political correctness.’ That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.”

Donald Trump heard this and apparently took it personally. The presumptive Republican nominee responded last night with arguably the most important tweet of the 2016 presidential campaign to date:

“ ‘In politics, and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.’ This is a primary reason that President Obama is the worst president in U.S. history!”

I assumed someone would eventually tell the GOP candidate why this was unintentionally hilarious, prompting him to take it down, but as of this morning, Trump’s message remains online.

In case it’s not blisteringly obvious, candidates for national office generally don’t argue publicly that ignorance is a virtue. But Donald Trump is a different kind of candidate, offering an enthusiastic, albeit unconventional, embrace of ignorance.

Don’t vote for Trump despite his obliviousness, support him because of it. The Know-Nothing Party may have faded into obscurity 150 years ago, but it’s apparently making a comeback with a new standard bearer.

There’s been a strain of anti-intellectualism in Republican politics for far too long, and it comes up far too often. House Speaker Paul Ryan last month dismissed the role of “experts” in policy debates; former President George W. Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have publicly mocked those who earn post-graduate degrees; Jeb Bush last year complained about Democrats using too many “big-syllable words.”

As a rule, prominent GOP voices prefer to exploit conservative skepticism about intellectual elites to advance their own agenda or ambitions. They don’t celebrate stupidity just for the sake of doing so; anti-intellectualism is generally seen as a tool to guide voters who don’t know better.

Trump, however, has come to embody an alarming attitude: ignorance is a virtue. If the president believes otherwise, it must be seen as proof of his awfulness. The Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee intends to lead a movement of those who revel in their lack of knowledge.

History will not be kind.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 17, 2016

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Can A Party Divided Against Itself Still Stand?”: For Trump, Unity Is An Unnecessary Luxury

As Donald Trump made the transition from Republican presidential frontrunner to presumptive Republican presidential nominee, one of the more common words in GOP circles has been “unity.” As in, “How in the world will the party achieve anything resembling ‘unity’ with this nativist demagogue at the top of the Republican ticket?”

For his part, Trump has said, on multiple occasions, that he can and will bring the party together. Yesterday on ABC, however, the Republican candidate, no doubt aware of the broader circumstances, suggested that unifying the party may be an overrated goal.

“Does [the party] have to be unified? I’m very different than everybody else, perhaps, that’s ever run for office. I actually don’t think so,” Trump told George Stephanopoulos in an interview that will air Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week.” […]

“I think it would be better if it were unified, I think it would be – there would be something good about it. But I don’t think it actually has to be unified in the traditional sense,” Trump said.

It’s an unexpected posture, borne of conditions outside of Trump’s control. Less than a week after wrapping up the nomination, the Republican candidate has stopped looking for ways to bring the party together and started looking for ways to justify intra-party strife as a tolerable inconvenience – not because Trump wants to, but because so many in the party are repulsed by his candidacy.

The New York Times added over the weekend, “Since a landslide victory in Indiana made him the presumptive Republican nominee, Mr. Trump has faced a shunning from party leaders that is unprecedented in modern politics. Mr. Trump has struggled to make peace with senior lawmakers and political donors whom he denounced during the Republican primaries, and upon whose largess he must now rely.”

In a fitting twist, Republicans are divided over the nature of their divisions. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, became one of the most notable GOP Trump endorsers Friday, despite Trump’s condemnation of the Bush/Cheney administration’s handling of 9/11 and the war in Iraq.

Cheney probably wasn’t thrilled about extending his support, but he’s a Republican, Trump’s the presumptive Republican nominee, and apparently that’s the end of the discussion. For the former vice president, partisan considerations are, for all intents and purposes, the only consideration. (The fact that Trump is a cheerleader for torture probably helped tilt the scales for Cheney.)

But the former vice president’s announcement was striking in part because so many other national Republican leaders are moving in the exact opposite direction.

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have both said they will stay out of the 2016 race and withhold their official support from their party’s nominee. Jeb Bush, a former Trump rival, signed a pledge last year promising to support the GOP’s 2016 candidate, but he’s since decided to break that promise and oppose Trump.

I haven’t yet seen a comprehensive list of every notable Republican officeholder who has vowed to withhold support for Trump, but as best as I can tell, the list would include at least three sitting governors (Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, Illinois’ Bruce Rauner, and Maryland’s Larry Hogan), three sitting U.S. senators (South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, Nevada’s Dean Heller), and 10 or so U.S. House members. If we include former officials, the list grows much longer.

And then, of course, there’s 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who’s vowed to oppose Trump, and his former running mate, current House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who said Thursday he’s not yet ready to decide either way. Many more in the GOP have offered grudging support along the lines of, “I’ll back my party’s nominee, but let’s not call it an ‘endorsement,’ and for the love of God, please don’t make me say his name out loud.”

It’s tempting to look for some kind of modern parallel for a dynamic like this, but there really isn’t one. The only thing that comes close was when far-right Southern “Dixiecrats,” outraged by Democratic support for civil rights, broke off in 1948 and 1968, en route to becoming Republicans.

Those examples probably don’t offer much of a parallel here – or at least GOP officials have to hope not.

The more immediate question, of course, is whether a party divided against itself can stand. According to Trump, unity is an unnecessary luxury, though if you’re thinking this sounds like wishful thinking, you’re not alone. Given the presumptive Republican nominee’s unpopularity, Trump has very little margin for error, and having a sizable chunk of his party express contempt for his campaign poses an existential electoral risk. Winning primaries in a divided party is vastly easier than what Trump will face in November.

There’s a school of thought, of course, that says all of this strife will eventually pass. Emotions are still raw – the last contested primary was less than a week ago – and the argument goes that wayward Republicans will “come home” by the fall.

Maybe.

In a typical election cycle, this model would certainly apply, but this isn’t a normal year; Trump isn’t a normal candidate; and the scope and scale of the fissures in Republican politics are without modern precedent.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 9, 2016

May 11, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“As Confused As Goats On Astroturf”: The Clueless GOP Establishment Is Fueling Hurricane Donnie Trump

Elites tend to be… well, elite. As in, “clueless” about what your everyday working stiff is thinking.

This is not a problem for most hoity-toities, for they don’t deal with the great unwashed. But cluelessness about the masses can become a major occupational hazard for political elites — including campaign operatives, candidates, pundits, and the big-money donor class. And while this is a problem for the establishments of both major political parties, today’s Republican establishment now finds that it is so out of touch with regular voters that it now faces a howling, Category-5 hurricane that’s threatening to implode the Grand Old Party.

None of the elites saw Hurricane Donnie coming, and with the blow-hard now raging at full force, the GOP’s upper-crusters still don’t seem to know what hit them, much less what to do about it. They are so out of it that they even tried to blunt his surge by having Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush rush out and say bad things about The Donald, imploring voters to turn their backs on him. To see these two buttoned-down pillars of the moneyed establishment huffing and puffing at the storm was hilarious – and as hopeless as them trying to blow away a real hurricane.

What the aloof, affluent leaders of the Republican Party don’t get is that the source of the storm presently wrecking them is not Trump, but infuriated, rank-and-file, working-class voters who feel betrayed by them. None other than Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, the Koch brothers, the corporate CEOs and lobbyists, Mitt & Jeb, and the other well-off swells who run the GOP are the ones who’ve stripped the party of any blue-collar appeal. They’ve single-mindedly pushed a plutocratic agenda of trade scams, tax cuts for the rich, and subsidies for runaway corporations, while constantly slashing at Social Security, Medicare, and other programs that their own non-affluent voters need.

The Party powers now wail that Trump is stealing their voters. But he’s not — he’s just picking up the people the GOP elites threw away.

All that said, the Republican Party’s establishment has come up with a secret plan to peel off its long-faithful, blue-collar supporters from the Donnie Trump spectacle. Their plan is code-named: “Operation Paul Ryan.”

Good grief — the GOP’s old line clique of congressional bulls, corporate funders, lobbyists and right-wing think tanks is as confused as goats on Astroturf when it comes to grasping a core part of Trump’s appeal. He’s reaching out to longtime Republican voters who’ve finally realized that it’s the party’s own Wall Street elites who knocked them down economically and the party’s insider cadre of K-Street influence peddlers who’ve shut them out politically.

The party powers are trying to comfort themselves by insisting that The Donald is winning only because he’s drawing voters who’re ignorant, racist, xenophobic and misogynistic. In fact, he’s drawing huge numbers of disaffected Republicans who’re mainly antiestablishment and deeply-anti the party’s own power players. These hard-hit, angry voters are not Koch-headed, laissez-faire ideologues — they like Trump’s opposition to job-busting trade scams, his mocking of big-money campaign donations, his call to hike taxes on Wall Street’s pampered hedge-funders, his support for Social Security, etc.

For these voters, “Operation Paul Ryan” is a dud, a farce … and an insult. Rep. Ryan has long been the kept-darling of the Wall Street/K Street crowd and the Koch brothers. The obtuse establishment snootily calls him “serious” presidential material — only because he champions such plutocratic policies as privatizing Social Security, cutting taxes on the superrich, deregulating Wall Street, and turning Medicare into a voucher system. The only thing serious about Ryan’s agenda is that it’s a dead-serious loser with the great majority of Americans.

Trying to knock-off Trump for Ryan is a sign of the GOP’s irreversible decline into cluelessness and political irrelevance.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, April 6, 2016

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is Ted Cruz The New Republican Establishment?”: Pick Your Poison, The GOP Is Truly In Crisis

Ted Cruz isn’t exactly what you’d call a member of the Republican establishment. He says outlandish things. He doesn’t play nicely with others. He wears no cloak of gentility over his criticisms of opponents. “Nobody likes him,” former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole said of Cruz, the U.S. senator from Texas and presidential hopeful.

Yet the establishment’s arbiters are increasingly lining up behind Cruz. This morning’s news brought word of an endorsement by a pillar of the Republican establishment, former presidential hopeful Jeb Bush. “For the sake of our party and country, we must move to overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena,” Bush wrote in a statement issued on Wednesday morning.

It is well known in Washington circles that Cruz is not well liked by his Capitol Hill colleagues. His willingness to use Senate rules, in defiance of his party’s leaders, to bring the U.S. to the brink of default, along with his more general penchant for grandstanding, have soured his relations with many of his fellow Republicans. Then there was that time he called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar.

In January, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina described a choice between frontrunner Donald Trump and Cruz for the presidential nomination as a decision between “being shot or poisoned.” He added: “What does it really matter?”

Earlier this month, Graham apparently decided that it actually did matter, and endorsed Cruz, prompting the Newark Star-Ledger to headline an editorial, “Senator Prefers Poison to Gunshots.”

In Tuesday night’s Utah caucuses, which he won with 69 percent of the vote, Cruz enjoyed the support of former GOP standard-bearer Mitt Romney who, while not offering an outright endorsement, declared that he would vote for Cruz. (Trump won Arizona the same night, leaving him well ahead of Cruz in the delegate count.)

If Ted Cruz, who has turned on his own party’s leaders and cast President Barack Obama as something just short of a traitor, who has accused the Black Lives Matter movement of celebrating the murder of police officers, who has called for the “carpet-bombing” of Mosul regardless of the devastating number of civilian casualties it would entail—if this Ted Cruz is the Republican Party’s best hope for ending divisiveness within its ranks and the American population, then the GOP, as many have written, is truly in crisis. It’s almost as if Ohio Governor John Kasich, a far more establishment figure, weren’t in the race. What the establishment figures lining up behind Cruz seem to have deduced is that while Kasich matches up favorably for the party against Democratic opponents in polls predicting a general election outcome, they don’t think he can win the nomination, which will be decided by a conservative party base.

For all the talk among Republican and conservative elites about the threat posed to the country by Trump, it’s more likely that the concern is for their own control of the party. Cruz may not play nicely with party leaders, but he is still part of the party structure, relying on its donors and leaders to fuel his presidential campaign and to support his political career overall. Cruz’s victory speech in Texas would seem to speak to that. He offered little of the red meat he throws to Joe Average primary voter, and instead emphasized environmental deregulation and tax reduction—favorite issues of the Koch brothers and other well-heeled Republican donors.

Trump, on the other hand, not only has little interest in appealing to the Republican establishment with his mostly self-funded campaign; it’s in his interest to see the party weakened. Trump has his own brand—one bigger, I suspect he has calculated, than that of the GOP. His strategy is that of a cult of personality.

It seems as if Trump is figuring that the most the party has to offer him is ballot access as a major party nominee, and the free television airtime that comes with the convention. He has little investment in the policy positions adopted by the party through the influence of donors and advocacy groups. He’s not running on policy, as his many changes of heart and lack of conservative orthodoxy on various issues, ranging from Middle East diplomacy to his assessment of Planned Parenthood, have shown.

Should Trump win the Republican Party nomination, scores of party leaders will become previously important people. But if Cruz wins, he will owe much to the establishment figures who ultimately, if reluctantly, backed him. The pooh-bahs will accordingly pick their poison.

 

By: Adele M. Stan, The American Prospect, March 23, 2016

March 28, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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