Will the Blowhard Blow Us Up?

Administration officials have been trying to reassure journalists that James Mattis, John Kelly and Rex Tillerson have a pact designed to ensure that one of them is always in the country to watch over Trump in case he goes off the deep end.

.. a Nixon defense secretary, James Schlesinger, got so worried about a cratering Nixon — who was drinking and telling congressmen, “I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead” — that he told military commanders to check with him or Henry Kissinger if the president ordered up nukes.

.. In all my interviews of Trump over the years, he never seemed very chesty about foreign intervention. “If only we could have Saddam back, as bad as he was, rather than $2 trillion spent, thousands of lives lost and all these wounded warriors,” he told me during the campaign.

.. His pitch was mostly about turning inward, so America could shore up its economy, security and infrastructure. “Unlike other candidates, war and aggression will not be my first instinct,” he said in his maiden foreign policy speech on the trail.

.. Now, in case North Korea is too far away, Trump is threatening “a possible military option” closer to home, in Venezuela.

.. Watching Trump, 71, and Kim, 33, trade taunts is particularly disturbing because they mirror each other in so many unhinged ways. Trump is a democratically elected strongman and Kim is a fratricidal despot, but they both live in bizarro fantasy worlds where lying and cheating is the norm.

They’re both spoiled scions who surpassed less ruthless older brothers to join their authoritarian fathers in the family business. They both make strange fashion statements with their hair and enjoy bullying and hyperbole. They both love military parades, expect “Dear Leader” displays of fawning and favor McDonald’s and Madonna.

They both demand allegiance. When Trump feels he isn’t getting it or paranoia takes over, he publicly mocks his lieutenants or jettisons them. Kim simply gets out his antiaircraft machine guns and calls up his nerve-agent assassins. He had his uncle killed for, among the reasons, clapping halfheartedly, The Times reported.

“Kim understands Trump better than Trump understands himself,” Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio told me. “He is only comfortable dominating and forcing others into submission. When that’s not happening, he experiences an almost physical discomfort because he feels unsafe. He doesn’t know any other way to achieve status.”

.. Proving there’s no method to his madness, Trump went after Mitch McConnell, who is literally the most important person to Trump in pushing his agenda through Congress and who, as Carl Hulse wrote in The Times, secured the president “the signature accomplishment of his young presidency” by getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed

What is the Trump administration’s greatest accomplishment to date?

  • average monthly job growth in 9 months since Trump’s election: 179K
  • average monthly job growth in 9 months before Trump’s election: 199K

Both Harwood and Drum are correct, and yet this misses the larger point. Before Trump’s November victory, economic experts were petty dire in their predictions of what would happen to the global economy if Trump won.

.. And here we arrive at the biggest dog not to bark in the Trump era. It’s not that economic progress has accelerated — it hasn’t. But there hasn’t been a slowdown either, globally or in the United States. The global economy has not imploded with Trump sitting in the Oval Office. That is a pleasant surprise.

.. If there is anything that pleases Trump supporters, it is pointing out when experts have been wrong. Experts have not been wrong about the garbage fire that is the Trump White House, but they have been wrong about the effect of Oval Office incompetence on the global economy.

Trump Knows How to Push Our Buttons

The Trump administration hopes “Democrats will react by defending immigration and look ‘soft on gangs,’ ” aware that “if they push the envelope on this issue they can get coverage for their efforts and drown out Democratic efforts to change the topic.”

.. Brodnitz described Trump’s tactics as offering “ideas that sound really outlandish but that they believe have popular support — at least with their core voters” and that the Long Island speech was based on “the hope that Democrats would look more concerned about criminals than about crime and its victims.”

.. it has been difficult for the Democrats to recruit key white voters to consider an economic agenda in the face of concerted efforts by the Trump campaign and his administration to shift the focus to crime.

.. the percentage of Americans who said they had “great respect” for the police had risen from 64 percent in 2015 to 76 percent in 2016.

.. I think, yeah, a lot of people, whites anyway, think that the police are too constrained. When I watch the anarchists tear up Oakland, which happens pretty regularly, a part of me thinks “where are the 1968 Chicago police when we really need them?” These thugs behave the way they do in part because there are no consequences. Also, we see a lot of cases on TV where someone is resisting arrest, the police wrestle him down and hit him a few times, and then there are complaints about excessive force. Heavens’ sakes, if someone doesn’t comply with an order, what are the police supposed to do?

.. “Trump is endorsing the lex talionis — an eye for an eye,” Jonathan Haidt, the author of “The Righteous Mind” and a professor of ethical leadership at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, wrote in an email. In his own surveys, conducted at YourMorals.org, “only a subset of people on the right endorse such beliefs; it’s basically the authoritarians, not the Burkean or ‘status quo’ conservatives.”

.. One question Haidt’s survey asks respondents is whether they agree or disagree with the idea that “a criminal should be made to suffer in the same way that his victim suffered.”

Haidt said “progressives strongly reject it, and it correlates fairly well with politics — the farther right you are, the more you endorse it.”

.. It appeals to one of our worst angels, the desire for “rough justice” — quick and brutal revenge inflicted on a suspected wrongdoer. The ultimate evolutionary rationale for revenge, vendettas, blood feuds, mob violence, summary justice, lynching, vigilantes, deadly ethnic riots, the code of the streets, and other forms of rough justice is deterrence: if a person anticipates getting beaten up for exploiting people, he’ll think twice about exploiting them.

Trump, in Pinker’s view, has focused on the most primitive and regressive emotions among voters:

.. Pinker sees this as part of an ongoing struggle.

The appeal of regressive impulses is perennial. The forces of liberalism, modernity, cosmopolitanism, the open society, and Enlightenment values always have to push against our innate tribalism, authoritarianism, and thirst for vengeance.

And yes,

at times in history the darker forces prevail — the two world wars, the American crime wave from the 1960s to early 1990s, the rise of civil war in the developing world over that same period. These darker forces, moreover, are not just raw instincts, but often rationalized in ideologies.

.. This puts the Democrats in a dangerous position. The more they succeed in pushing Trump up against a wall, politically speaking, the more they risk the possibility that the he will inflict real damage, whether it is hostile engagement abroad or increasingly aggressive attacks on democratic institutions at home.

..  In an excerpt that was published by Politico, Flake describes

the strange specter of an American president’s seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians created such a cognitive dissonance among my generation of conservatives — who had come of age under existential threat from the Soviet Union — that it was almost impossible to believe.

.. What Flake recognizes, and what Democrats are only coming to realize, is that Trump represents a systemic assault on the legitimacy of America’s democratic processes, an attack that needs to be countered by far more that a modest collection of economic policies organized under the rubric “a better deal.”

Trump’s poll numbers are bad. Here’s when the bottom will drop out.

While views of the economy closely correlate with partisanship, this means, all things being equal, that Trump’s overall approval rating should drop four or five points for each 10-point drop in views of his economic performance. Because Trump supporters are largely unconcerned with his personal antics, economic woes — not the Russia scandal or zany tweets — are what would doom Trump in public opinion.

.. The problem for Trump is many of his populist promises are starting to look fraudulent.

  1. Remember that Carrier plant in Indiana that Trump claimed to have saved? It’s reportedly beginning to lay off 600 people.
  2. The Boeing plant in South Carolina that Trump visited in February to showcase his fight for manufacturing jobs? Layoffs there, too.
  3. Trump denounced plans by Ford to move production of the Focus from Michigan to Mexico. Now Ford is moving the work to China instead.
manufacturing employment hit a record low last month of 8.47 percent of overall employment. It has long been trending that way and is forecast to continue. Manufacturing wages rose less than the overall private sector.
.. This isn’t primarily because taxes are forcing production overseas. It’s productivity: Manufacturers can produce twice as much in the United States as they did a few decades ago with a third fewer workers.
.. Likewise, coal mining jobs aren’t leaving the country because of regulations, as Trump tells his supporters; the jobs have been lost to market forces in the form of cheap oil and gas.
.. The Congressional Budget Office, led by a Republican appointee, forecast last week that the economy would grow at just a 1.9 percent clip under Trump’s proposed budget, far less than the 3 percent the White House claims
.. The CBO also said the Trump budget would leave a $720 billion deficit in a decade, contrary to Trump claims.

So what happens if — and when — Trump’s core backers discover that they’ve been had:

  • They’re losing health-care coverage and other benefits,
  • while manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back and
  • a Trump-ignited trade war is hurting U.S. exports?