Why Hillary Clinton Could Not Beat Our Insane Clown President

In their quick and Orwellian rewriting of the campaign history, the Clinton camp quickly moved from being in an election they could not lose to one in which multiple external factors conspired to make it an election which Hillary could not win. Even many Democrats continue to accept Clinton’s excuses and ignore what Andrew Sullivan calls, “one of the worst campaigns in recent history, leading to the Trump nightmare.” Matt Taibbi, who recently  debunked the arguments from the Clinton camp that opposition to Clinton from Sanders’ supporters was based upon Russian propaganda,  had excellent coverage of the race, which showed many of the weaknesses in Clinton and her campaign. He collected some of his articles in the book Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus. The book concludes with an epilogue which explains why Clinton lost.

The epilogue dealt with many topics I have also written about, including the betrayal betrayal of liberal principles staring while Bill Clinton was president. He wrote about how the Clintons were doomed by their greed, as they violated principles to make money from their position without consideration of the consequences. He wrote that, The Clintons probably should have left politics the moment they decided they didn’t care what the public thought about how they made their money.” Instead we had an election in which Clinton’s lack of ethics, seen in stories ranging from the Foundation scandals to her paid speeches, verified the suspicions of voters that Hillary Clinton could not be trusted, negating Donald Trump’s major negatives.

Following is from Matt Taibbi’s epilogue:

The only “ideas” at the core of the DLC strategy were that Democrats were better than Republicans, and that winning was better than losing. To make Democrats more competitive, they made two important changes. One was the embrace of “market-based” solutions, which opened the door for the party to compete with Republicans for donations from Wall Street and heavy industry.

The other big trade-off was on race. The Clinton revolution was designed as a response to Dick Nixon’s Southern Strategy, which was based on dominating among whites from the South who nurtured resentments about the post–civil rights consensus.

To win those white voters back, the Clintons “triangulated” against liberal orthodoxies, pledging to end “welfare as we know it” and to punish criminals instead of “explaining away their behavior.” Liberal dog-whistling, if you will. Candidate Bill Clinton even went out of his way to attend the execution of a mentally deficient black man named Ricky Ray Rector during the 1992 campaign to signal his seriousness.

The original DLC positions on policing sound almost identical to current Trumpian rhetoric. “The U.S. has unwittingly allowed itself to unilaterally disarm in the domestic war against violent crime,” the group wrote, as part of its argument for a bigger federal role in law enforcement and the expanded use of “community policing.”

These moves worked in large part because of the personal magnetism of the Clintons. Bill and Hillary both seemed energetic and optimistic. Much of the world was enthralled by them, this power couple of intellectual equals. They were something modern, with their can-do positive attitude, which was marketed almost like a political version of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign.

Moreover, Bill Clinton was nobody’s idea of a plutocrat back then. He was a self-made success story from a hardscrabble background, raised by a single mom in a rural Arkansas town literally called Hope. He was thought of both as an overgrown hillbilly and “the first black president.”

Clinton looked like a man of the people. He had to be torn away from campaign stops and chatted up everyone from truckers to waitresses to toll operators. He even had a bad junk-food habit, a quality then-Bill shares with today’s Donald Trump.

It helped that Bill Clinton’s first presidential opponent, George H. W. Bush, was a calcified Connecticut aristocrat who had been pampered in power for so long, he didn’t know how checkout lanes worked when he visited a supermarket.

They won, and kept winning, their success papering over fault lines building in the party.

 

In the sixteen years after Bill left office, a lot changed. For one thing, the Clintons personally emerged from the experience of the presidency deeply embittered by press criticism. They became fatalistic rather than optimistic about the burdens of power.

In that Politico piece after the election, an unnamed “longtime confidant” explained that Hillary and Bill decided to embark on a moneymaking campaign after Bill left office because they figured they would get criticized either way.

“Her outlook is, ‘I get whacked no matter what, so screw it,’ ” the person explained. “I’ve been out here killing myself for years and years and if I want to give the same speech everyone else does, I will.”

So the Clintons went from being plausibly accessible to ordinary people to living in a world where it was nobody’s business if they wanted to make $153 million in speaking fees.

Soon they were the politicians who’d been on Olympus so long, they couldn’t navigate the metaphorical supermarket line. Shortly before she announced her 2016 run, Hillary gave a speech to Goldman Sachs executives admitting that she was “kind of far removed because [of] the economic, you know, fortunes that my husband and I now enjoy.”
There was another change.

The original Clinton strategy of the Nineties had stressed a rejection of liberal mantras about identity politics, and even the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign had aggressively run against the “fairy tale” of Barack Obama.

That Hillary Clinton generated quite a lot of heat among white voters on the campaign trail. The emotional high point of her campaign came during the Pennsylvania primary, after Barack Obama had made his infamous “they cling to guns and religion” speech.

Hillary Clinton wasted no time in calling Obama “elitist and out of touch,” hammering him for his “demeaning remarks…about people in small-town America.”

I was at some of her Pennsylvania rallies that year, when she railed against her eggheaded opponent and riffed on her background as the “granddaughter of a factory worker” who was raised “outside” of a big city. Her mostly white and middle-class audiences whooped and hollered.

Hillary may have been very wealthy already by then. But the former “Goldwater Girl” clearly enjoyed playing the role of the champion of the silent majority. Her stump speech in that race was an almost exact replica of Nixon’s “forgotten Americans” theme from 1968: Hillary’s version was a call to the “invisible Americans” of the betrayed middle class.

But she lost that race, and the size and breadth of the Obama victory against McCain inspired the change to what her aides described to reporters as the “far narrower” Obama mobilize-the-base strategy in 2016.

But decades of those triangulating politics made her an unconvincing vehicle for that plan, and unforeseen developments like the Bernie Sanders campaign forced her to spend an enormous amount of time trying to hold the Democratic coalition together.

Meanwhile, on the other side, she was now pushing a strategy that couldn’t possibly have been less appealing to the so-called white working-class voter. Always an economic globalist, Hillary Clinton was now an enthusiastic convert to multiculturalism as well, the worst conceivable combination.

In the end, the Clinton revolution went the way of a lot of revolutions. The longer any group of intellectuals sits at or near power, the more they tend to drift away from their founding ideas and resort more and more to appeals to authority.

Trump’s rise massively accelerated this process. By late summer 2016, the Clinton campaign spent virtually all its time either raising explorations of Trump’s evil up the media flagpole or denouncing anyone who didn’t salute fast enough.

The Clinton campaign dismissed flyover Republicans as a “basket of deplorables” and then developed their own Leninist mania for describing factional enemies and skeptics within their own tent. In place of parasites, cosmopolitanites and wreckers, the campaign railed against “Bernie Bros,” “neo-Naderites,” “purity-testers” and a long list of other deviants.

In 2014, before the start of his wife’s presidential run, Bill Clinton was saying things like, “The biggest threat to the future of our children and grandchildren is the poison of identity politics that preaches that our differences are far more important than our common humanity.”

But by the last months of the general election race, the Clinton camp had done a complete 180 on identity politics, deploying it as a whip in an increasingly desperate effort to keep their coalition in place. They used language against other Democrats they would previously never have used against Republicans. Even ex-hippies and New Dealers were denounced as bigots whose discomfort with Clinton was an expression of privilege and an attack against women, people of color and the LGBT community.

Meanwhile members of the press who wrote anything negative about Clinton, made jokes, or even structured their ledes in the wrong way could be guilty of anything from “both-sidesism” (Lenin would have loved this tongue-mangling term) to “false equivalency” to the use of “weaponized” information, to say nothing of actual treason.

“You are a criminal agent of Putin conspiracy. And a profound enemy of progressive politics,” raged Democratic strategist Bob Shrum to journalist Glenn Greenwald, after the latter made a sarcastic comment about the campaign’s outrage toward previously lauded FBI director James Comey.

There are a lot of people who will probably say that all of these tirades against Clinton’s critics were on the mark. But it’s surely also true that once you reach the stage of being angry with people for wanting a reason to vote for you, you’ve been in this game too long.

The Clintons probably should have left politics the moment they decided they didn’t care what the public thought about how they made their money. Their original genius was in feeling where the votes were on the map and knowing how to get them. But that homing mechanism starts to falter once you make a conscious decision to tune out public criticism as irrational and inevitable.

It was a huge gamble to push forward toward the White House after they crossed this mental line. Moreover to run for president at a time when you’re admitting in private that you’re out of touch with regular people is wildly irresponsible, a violation of every idea even they once had about how to win elections.

All of these things played a role in the still-stunning loss to Trump. They spent virtually all their time attending corporate fund-raisers—more than 400 of them, according to one source I spoke to in Washington the day after the election—and relatively little on traditional canvassing. And they relied upon a preposterous computerized fortune-telling machine called “Ada” to gauge the feelings of voters, instead of sounding them out in person.

After the loss to Trump, the inclusive, upbeat Fleetwood Mac vibe of the original Clinton revolution vanished forever, replaced by anger, recrimination and willful myopia. A movement begun by future-embracing intellectuals ended on notes like, “I don’t want to hear it,” which became a ubiquitous phrase in Democratic circles.

“Samantha Bee Doesn’t ‘Want to Hear a Goddamn Word’ About Black Turnout” was HuffPo’s headline, after the comic’s postelection tirade against any explanations for Trump’s rise other than “white people.”

“I don’t want to hear it” became an expression of solidarity. It felt like a real-world extension of a social media response, where publicly blocking people during this season became a virtue even among upper-class white guys (Vox’s Matt Yglesias boasting in the summer of 2016 about having blocked 941 people on Twitter is one bizarre example).

The “hear no evil” campaign was surely in part messaging from the Clinton campaign, which went from pooh-poohing any poll numbers that showed a tight race (the media was often blamed for pushing poll numbers “without context” in search of a better horse race) to describing Trump’s victory as the inevitable triumph of an irrepressible white nationalist movement.

We somehow went from “suggesting it’s close is a vicious lie” to “we never had a chance” overnight.

The Clintons throughout their history had been survivors. They made it through controversy after controversy by unfailingly finding the lee shore in a storm. Their talent at spinning was legendary.

Any journalist who ever tried to call a Clinton aide for a comment on a negative story was inevitably treated to a master class in double-talk. The bad thing didn’t happen, or they didn’t do the bad thing if it was done, or even if they did do it you shouldn’t report it, because it helped worse people, and so on. They were like junkies: They always had a story. Their confidence was unshakeable and exhausting, their will to persevere a thing to behold.

But in the end, they ran out of stories, except one last one: They lost because there was no hope. They went from optimism, to fatalism, to absolute pessimism, all in the space of 25 years.

The pessimism of the Democratic leadership is like that of a person in a catatonic crisis. Once they were heroes for finding a way to win by selling out just enough on race and economics. But now that that strategy has been closed, they seem stunned to the point of paralysis by the seemingly incurable divisions of our society, as if they’re seeing them for the first time.

Meanwhile the pessimism of Trump’s revolution is intentional, impassioned, ascendant. They placed a huge bet on America’s worst instincts, and won. And the first order of business will be to wipe out a national idea in which they never believed.

Welcome to the end of the dream.

Taibbi is right that the Clintons should have left politics when they decided to concentrate on making money, regardless of how unethically. It is possible to see how such greed and lack of ethics would have compelled Hillary Clinton to remain in politics, as this is what enable the Clintons to make their fortune in influence peddling. What is even harder to understand is how the Democratic Party, which claims to be so shocked by the corruption under Bush and now under Trump, was so willing to ignore their actions.

The nomination of Hillary Clinton by a major political party was ethically inexcusable. It was even stranger that they would rig the process to enable her nomination. Party rules established after the loss by McGovern, and reinforced by the loss of Walter Mondale, supported the nomination of a more conservative Clinton-type candidate who they thought was more electable. The party further changed their rules and policies in 2016 to virtually rig the process for Hillary Clinton–who still managed to be challenged in the nomination battle despite all the factors in her favor.

Rigging the nomination for Clinton  backfired as the party establishment failed to understand that times have changed since McGovern and Mondale lost badly. Instead Clinton was now the type of candidate least likely to win, and a liability against a perceived outsider such as Donald Trump. The party rigged the nomination for the candidate who could not win, and ignored how an unexpected candidate like Bernie Sanders who could have led the party to a major victory.

Update: Thanks to a comment to this post, I found that the painter of the two pictures which capture Trump and Clinton, and fit in so well with the title of Taibbi’s book, is Tony Pro.

GAO To Investigate Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Trips And Hotel Profits

The Government Accountability Office is going to investigate the security of classified information at  Mar-a-Lago and hotel profits. Reuters reports:

A U.S. government watchdog has agreed to review how classified information is kept secure at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the agency said on Monday, after Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about the issue last month.

The Government Accountability Office’s review will examine whether Secret Service agents subject Mar-a-Lago guests to any security screening, and evaluate the expenses incurred by government employees who travel with Trump to Mar-a-Lago, according to a letter the agency sent the lawmakers on Friday.

The GAO will also check whether Trump has made any payments to the U.S. Treasury from profits at his hotels, the letter said. Trump’s lawyer pledged at a Jan. 11 news conference to donate Trump Hotel profits from foreign governments to the Treasury.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s handling of U.S. security information at Mar-a-Lago came under congressional scrutiny in February after photos taken by private guests in the club’s public dining area showed Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reviewing documents following a North Korean missile launch.

The White House denied afterward that any classified material was present in the dining room.

This might turn out to be just one of several investigations into Donald Trump in the upcoming months. Last week I posted about a public corruption prosecutor hired to investigate Trump.

In somewhat related news today, Gallup reports that Donald Trump’s approval has hit a new low:

President Donald Trump’s job approval rating fell to 36% for the three-day period of March 24-26, following Republican House leaders’ failed effort to pass a new healthcare bill that would have replaced the Affordable Care Act.

Trump’s three-day reading prior to Friday’s events was 41%. His previous low point was 37%, recorded March 16-18. His highest reading was 46% in the week following his Jan. 20 inauguration, and he has averaged 42% for his term to date.

Trump’s current 36% is two percentage points below Barack Obama’s low point of 38%, recorded in 2011 and 2014. Trump has also edged below Bill Clinton’s all-time low of 37%, recorded in the summer of 1993, his first year in office, as well as Gerald Ford’s 37% low point in January and March 1975. John F. Kennedy’s lowest approval rating was 56%; Dwight Eisenhower’s was 48%.

Presidents George W. Bush (lowest approval rating: 25%), George H.W. Bush (29%), Ronald Reagan (35%), Jimmy Carter (28%), Richard Nixon (24%), Lyndon Johnson (35%) and Harry Truman (22%) all had job approval ratings lower than 36% at least once during their administrations.

Trump Returns To Madman Role In Tweets Accusing Obama Of Wiretapping His Phone

The attempts to portray Donald Trump as a sane president in his speech before Congress earlier in the week were destroyed in a series of Tweets this morning. Without citing any evidence, Donald Trump accused Barack Obama of having wiretapped his phones prior to the election. The Tweets said:

Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!

I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!

This round was preceded by a Tweet accusing the Obama administration of setting up Jeff Sessions, and followed by a Tweet attacking Arnold  Schwarzenegger (who recently announced he is leaving Celebrity Apprentice).

Trump’s speech on Tuesday, received strong approval in the polls and the stock market soared. There were subsequently questions as to whether Trump was at least managing to act sane in public, and the Trump administration even postponed the release of the updated travel ban to take advantage of the positive reception. By late in the week, the news was dominated by stories of Attorney General Jeff Sessions having lied to the Senate about having met with the Russian ambassador. This does look like a warped response by Trump to the negative stories, and resolves any questions as to whether Trump is capable of changing his behavior.

While no evidence was cited, it appears Trump is repeating thing being said on right wing talk radio and at Breitbart. Once again, it is hard to take Trump’s attacks on “fake news” seriously when he, and his administration, have become the major source of spreading “alternative news.”

Former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes Tweeted in response to Trump: “No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens like you.”

The New York Times adds:

Mr. Trump’s aides declined to clarify whether the president’s explosive allegations were based on briefings from intelligence or law enforcement officials, or on something else, like a news report. A spokesman for Mr. Obama did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The president’s decision to lend the power of his office to such an accusation — without offering any proof — is remarkable, even for a leader who has repeatedly shown himself willing to make assertions that are false or based on rumors.

It would have been difficult for federal agents, working within the law, to obtain a wiretap order to target Mr. Trump’s phone conversations. That would mean the Justice Department had gathered sufficient evidence to persuade a federal judge that there was probable cause to believe that he had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power, depending on whether it was a criminal or foreign intelligence wiretap.

Politico reports that Trump’s top aides were caught off guard:

Trump’s top aides were caught off guard by the tweets Saturday morning, a senior administration official said. The president is scheduled to spend a quiet day golfing and relaxing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. After several days without a controversial tweet and a relative message discipline following his speech to Congress Tuesday evening, Trump’s angry Twitter tirade marked a return to form—and a trusted tactic of turning around the exact words being used against him on his opponents.

Trump Continues To Receive Criticism For His Attacks On The News Media

Donald Trump’s attack on the media as an enemy of the American people has received widespread criticism. Carl Bernstein has called Trump’s attacks on the media worse than those which came from Richard Nixon:

“Trump’s attacks on the American press as ‘enemies of the American people’ are more treacherous than Richard Nixon’s attacks on the press,” former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein said Sunday on CNN.

Trump’s comments — made publicly, whereas Nixon attacked his enemies in private — brought to mind “dictators and authoritarians, including Stalin, including Hitler,” Bernstein said.

He immediately walked back a comparison to the Nazi leader, while doubling down on the comparison to Nixon.

Bernstein — whose reporting of the Watergate break-in and coverup helped bring about Nixon’s resignation — said Trump’s rhetoric is potentially more dangerous than Nixon’s attacks on the news media.

“There is no civic consensus in this country like there was at the time of Watergate about acceptable presidential conduct,” Bernstein said on “Reliable Sources.”

“Trump is out there on his own, leading a demagogic attack on the institutions of free democracy,” he said. “We are into terrible authoritarian tendencies.”

“We’re not enemies of the American people,” Bernstein said on CNN. “In fact, we’re the last resort of the American people to a dictatorial and authoritarian-inclined president.”

Even Fox was critical of Trump, with Chris Wallace saying he crossed the line:

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace cautioned his colleagues and the network’s viewers Sunday that President Trump’s latest attack on the media had gone too far.

“Look, we’re big boys. We criticize presidents. They want to criticize us back, that’s fine,” Wallace said Sunday morning on “Fox & Friends.” “But when he said that the fake news media is not my enemy, it’s the enemy of the American people, I believe that crosses an important line.”

The “Fox & Friends” anchors had shown a clip of Trump recounting that past presidents, including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, had fought with the press. They then asked Wallace whether Trump’s fraught relationship with the media was a big deal.

In response, Wallace told his colleagues that Jefferson had also once written the following: “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Context was important, Wallace said. All presidents fight with the media, but Trump had taken it a step further in making them out to be “the enemy,” he added.

“Yes, presidents have always had — and politicians have always had — problems with the press. They want good press. The press doesn’t always give it to them,” Wallace said. “But what Jefferson [was saying] is, despite all of our disputes, that to the functioning of a free and fair democracy, you must have an independent press.”

My previous post on this subject quoted John McCain in criticizing Trump, along with other comparisons to Richard Nixon.

John McCain isn’t the only Republican who has been critical of Donald Trump recently. The Wall Street Journal has a story on how Justin Amash, a libertarian-leaning Congressman from Michigan, has emerged as “Leading Critic of Fellow Republican Donald Trump.”

President Donald Trump’s “constant fear-mongering’’ about terrorism is “irresponsible and dangerous.’’ He needs to “stop attacking the legitimacy of the judiciary.’’ He picked an attorney general with “anti-liberty” positions on surveillance and police seizure of property…

Mr. Amash says his opposition is based on principle, as a libertarian concerned about government overreach and adherence to the Constitution. While many Republican lawmakers hold similar beliefs, Mr. Amash has been an especially outspoken proponent of smaller government, even on issues—such as reducing surveillance—where his views put him out of step with the more mainstream elements of the GOP.

Donald Trump Versus Freedom Of The Press

Donald Trump got off to what might be the worst first month of a presidency since William Henry Harrison (who died after his first month in office). While  the apparently impotent White House chief of staff Reince Priebus denies it is a reset, The Washington Post reports that Trump attempts a reset with a rally, new staff and a renewed fight with the media. Regardless of whether it is part of a reset, Donald Trump appears to be further escalating his war on the media. This includes some of his latest Tweets, such as this one proclaiming the media to be “the enemy of the American People.”

Balloon Juice responded to the Tweet in asking if Trump is “a paranoid, unhinged demagogue who doesn’t understand the role of the press in a free society.”

The news media, broadcast more than press, does have serious problems, but we must not confuse legitimate criticism of the media with opposition to the free press, or ignore the importance of the role of the press in a free society. Just look at Donald Trump’s Twitter account, or watch his last press conference. Imagine if there was no free press, and this was our main source of information. Look at the media in totalitarian societies. With all failings of the news media, their reporting is far more representative of reality than what we would get from Trump. As John McCain warned, “That’s how dictators get started.”

CHUCK TODD: I’m curious of your reaction to a tweet that the president sent Friday night. “The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people.” You believe the press is the enemy? You believe any group of Americans are the enemy of another group of Americans?

JOHN MCCAIN: I was talking about the period as, you know, of the new world order. A fundamental part of that new world order was a free press. I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve – I’m very serious now – if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.

CHUCK TODD: That’s how dictators get started, with tweets like that?

JOHN MCCAIN: No. They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, a consolidation of power when you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.

Daniel Politi put this in further historical perspective at Slate:

Trump blasting the news media is nothing new, of course. Even a day earlier, Trump uttered the phrase “fake news” seven times during a White House news conference. Yet labeling the media the “enemy of the American people” seemed to take things to a new level and many quickly drew parallels to tyrants throughout history that were fond of the phrase. Although it harkens back to ancient Rome, many remember that the phrase was used during the purges ordered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. “It is one of the most controversial phrases in Soviet history,” explained Mitchell Orenstein, professor of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “What it basically meant was a death sentence.”

The expression was also a favorite of China’s Mao Zedong, who used the “enemies of the people” label against anyone who opposed his policies. Identifying and later punishing those enemies was central to Mao’s rule. A Chinese journalist, Li Yuan, pointed out the parallel on Twitter, noting that “every dissenting voice was ‘the enemy of the people’ under Mao.”

Beijing seems to be welcoming this fresh attack on the news media with glee. China’s state-run newspaper Global Times noted in an editorial that Trump’s “war with mainstream media” would make it difficult for the president to challenge Beijing on “ideological” issues such as human rights. “His war with mainstream media makes it difficult for Trump to ally with the media on [the] ideological front against China,” the newspaper said. “Many have predicted that Trump’s presidency would exacerbate the recession of liberalism.”

Presumably we will also hear some Democrats speaking out against Trump, but far too often they give the impression of opposing Trump more based upon opposition politics and not principles. The Democratic Party has put itself in a poor position to defend civil liberties after nominating someone with as conservative a record on First Amendment issues as Hillary Clinton in 2016. (The nomination of Clinton similarly weakens the position of Democrats on foreign policy and matters of government corruption.)

While written before his latest attack on the media, Jonathan Rauch looked at comparable problems under Richard Nixon and George Bush when writing Containing Trump for the The Atlantic:

The 45th president, Donald Trump, might pose the gravest threat to the constitutional order since the 37th. Of course, he might not. Perhaps we’ll get Grown-up Trump, an unorthodox and controversial president who, whatever one may think of his policies and personality, proves to be responsible and effective as a chief executive. But we might get Infantile Trump, an undisciplined narcissist who throws tantrums and governs haphazardly. Or perhaps, worse yet, we’ll get Strongman Trump, who turns out to have been telegraphing his real intentions when, during the campaign, he spread innuendo and misinformation, winked at political violence, and proposed multiple violations of the Constitution and basic decency. Quite probably we’ll get some combination of all three (and possibly others).

If we get Strongman Trump or Infantile Trump, how would we protect our democratic institutions and norms? “Don’t be complacent,” warns Timothy Naftali, a New York University historian who was the founding director of the Nixon presidential library. “Don’t assume the system is so strong that a bad president will be sent packing. We have someone now saying things that imply unconstitutional impulses. If he acts on those impulses, we’re going to be in the political struggle of our lifetimes.” Meeting that challenge, I think, hinges on whether civil society can mobilize to contain and channel Trump. Fortunately, that’s happening already.

It’s tempting to think of Trump as a fluke, and to believe that at the end of his administration everything will return to normal. Many people hold a darker view, though—among them Yascha Mounk, the co-founder of a new watchdog group called After Trump. A lecturer on government at Harvard and a fellow at the New America Foundation, Mounk thinks the stakes are high. “Most people,” he told me, “are thinking about Trump as a policy problem: how he will lead to the deportation of undocumented immigrants or lead the U.S. to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. But I think Trump is also potentially an authoritarian threat to the survival of liberal democracy.”

The bad news is that we are not seeing any signs of this fictional Grown-up Trump. The good news is that resistance is already mounting to Strongman Trump and Infantile Trump:

“Civil society had a huge and unprecedented impact during the Bush administration,” Goldsmith told me. The networks that constrained Bush are still there, and Trump has put them on red alert. “Every single thing he does will be scrutinized with an uncharitable eye,” Goldsmith said. “That’s true of most presidents, but it’s true to an even greater degree with Trump.”

The forces are already mobilizing. In the first five days after the election, the American Civil Liberties Union saw what it called the greatest outpouring of support in its history: more than $7 million from 120,000 contributors, a 25 percent increase in Facebook followers (to nearly 1 million), and 150,000 additions to its email list. By early January, the ACLU had raised an impressive $35 million online, from almost 400,000 contributors. Meanwhile, according to Politico, progressive donors were discussing “forming a liberal equivalent to the right’s Judicial Watch, which spent much of the past eight years as a thorn in the Obama administration’s side, filing legal petitions under the Freedom of Information Act.”

I have seen evidence of mobilization firsthand. Just days after the election, a friend told me that he and others were organizing a network of law firms willing to provide pro bono legal services to people fending off harassment or bullying by the new administration or its allies. Before November was out, the Niskanen Center, a center-right think tank in Washington, announced a project to bring together intellectuals and activists and politicians (especially Republicans) to make the case for liberal democracy, hold the line against incursions, and try to prevent Trump’s excesses from being normalized. “It’s important for people coming from the center and center-right to resist the forces and ideas coming out of the Donald Trump campaign,” Jerry Taylor, the center’s director, told me. “We’ll be keeping a very close eye on administration undertakings and events on Capitol Hill, and when things cross the line we will be energetically pushing back.”

Update: Trump Continues To Receive Criticism For His Attacks On The News Media

Two Down In Trump Administration

Two days ago I wrote about how James Flynn was on thin ice, and that Andrew Puzder’s confirmation as Labor secretary were in jeopardy. Later that day Flynn was forced to resign, and today Puzder has withdrawn his nomination.

Both the choices of Flynn and Puzder were examples of poor management from Donald Trump and a failure to perform traditional vetting. The Puzder withdrawal is a fairly straightforward story, but Flynn’s resignation has only led to many additional questions which do require further investigation.

Objective people recognize that there was something improper with Flynn lying to both Vice President Pence and the American people, and with the attempted cover-up by the Trump administration. We have no way to know the degree to which Flynn was acting on his own or under the direction of Donald Trump. We do know that Trump waited three weeks after being informed of Flynn’s calls (regardless of what he might have known previously) to take action. We do not know the full story regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.

We are seeing considerable partisan hypocrisy here, such as in Rand Paul saying it would not make sense to investigate other Republicans. The Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the importance of the Flynn scandal, or question how much leads directly to Trump, sound just like the Democrats who refused to acknowledge the importance of Clinton’s scandals. Partisan politics creates such blindness. This deserves to be investigated regardless of your overall opinion of Trump, and regardless of where you stood in the race between Clinton and Trump.

Of course, while we have strong reasons for further investigations, this does not mean we should buy into every claim made about Trump without evidence. There is no evidence that Trump knew anything until three weeks ago. There is no evidence tying Trump to any attempts to influence the election the results. Claims about Trump’s business dealings with Russians appear to be exaggerated but we should have more information including, but not limited to, his tax returns for further evaluation.  We need to get the facts before coming to conclusions.

There has been a lot of anti-Russia hysteria being spread by Clinton and her neocon allies. The Clinton camp has strong reasons of their own to distort the facts, stemming from both their history of hostility towards Russia and their use of Russia as an excuse for their loss. Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate and ran a terrible campaign, regardless of what Russia did. We need to find out exactly what Russia did without jumping to conclusions based upon hysteria being created for political reasons.

Dan Rather, who has considerable experience in White House cover-ups, compared this to Watergate:

Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now. It was the closest we came to a debilitating Constitutional crisis, until maybe now. On a 10 scale of armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at a 9. This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around a 5 or 6, in my opinion, but it is cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour. And we may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.

When we look back at Watergate, we remember the end of the Nixon Presidency. It came with an avalanche, but for most of the time my fellow reporters and I were chasing down the story as it rumbled along with a low-grade intensity. We never were quite sure how much we would find out about what really happened. In the end, the truth emerged into the light, and President Nixon descended into infamy.

This Russia story started out with an avalanche and where we go from here no one really knows. Each piece of news demands new questions. We are still less than a month into the Trump Presidency, and many are asking that question made famous by Tennessee Senator Howard Baker those many years ago: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” New reporting suggests that Mr. Trump knew for weeks. We can all remember the General Michael Flynn’s speech from the Republican National Convention – “Lock her up!” in regards to Hillary Clinton. If Hillary Clinton had done one tenth of what Mr. Flynn had done, she likely would be in jail. And it isn’t just Mr. Flynn, how far does this go?

The White House has no credibility on this issue. Their spigot of lies – can’t we finally all agree to call them lies – long ago lost them any semblance of credibility. I would also extend that to the Republican Congress, who has excused away the Trump Administration’s assertions for far too long.

We need an independent investigation. Damn the lies, full throttle forward on the truth. If a scriptwriter had approached Hollywood with what we are witnessing, he or she would probably have been told it was way too far-fetched for even a summer blockbuster. But this is not fiction. It is real and it is serious. Deadly serious. We deserve answers and those who are complicit in this scandal need to feel the full force of justice.

He is right. This all needs to be settled by finding the facts–not by ideology or partisanship.

Trump’s Incompetence And Mental State Alarm Washington

Donald Trump continues to show both his bigotry and his incompetence in his attacks against the federal judges ruling on his travel ban. The Hill reports:

Trump argued the law gives him broad powers to control who enters and leaves the U.S.

“A bad high school student would understand this. Anybody would understand this,” he said.

Yes, a bad high school student very well might be fooled into thinking that Trump is right. Fortunately judges who went beyond high school to study law are more likely to understand how Donald Trump is violating the law and violating the Constitution.

If we can trust Huffington Post as a source, reportedly his own staff is alarmed at Trump’s conduct. Leaks include the content of a rather strange 3 am call:

President Donald Trump was confused about the dollar: Was it a strong one that’s good for the economy? Or a weak one?

So he made a call ― except not to any of the business leaders Trump brought into his administration or even to an old friend from his days in real estate. Instead, he called his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, according to two sources familiar with Flynn’s accounts of the incident.

Flynn has a long record in counterintelligence but not in macroeconomics. And he told Trump he didn’t know, that it wasn’t his area of expertise, that, perhaps, Trump should ask an economist instead.

The story goes on to describe how leaks are becoming commonplace because of government officials who are alarmed by Trump’s bizarre conduct:

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s volatile behavior has created an environment ripe for leaks from his executive agencies and even within his White House. And while leaks typically involve staffers sabotaging each other to improve their own standing or trying to scuttle policy ideas they find genuinely problematic, Trump’s 2-week-old administration has a third category: leaks from White House and agency officials alarmed by the president’s conduct.

“I’ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen anything like this,” said Eliot Cohen, a senior State Department official under President George W. Bush and a member of his National Security Council. “I genuinely do not think this is a mentally healthy president.”

There is the matter of Trump’s briefing materials, for example. The commander in chief doesn’t like to read long memos, a White House aide who asked to remain unnamed told The Huffington Post. So preferably they must be no more than a single page. They must have bullet points but not more than nine per page.

Earlier in the week, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times reported on the isolation of Donald Trump and difficulties faced by the Trump administration in its first two weeks:

Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing, Mr. Trump’s provocative chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, finishes another 16-hour day planning new lines of attack.

Usually around 6:30 p.m., or sometimes later, Mr. Trump retires upstairs to the residence to recharge, vent and intermittently use Twitter. With his wife, Melania, and young son, Barron, staying in New York, he is almost always by himself, sometimes in the protective presence of his imposing longtime aide and former security chief, Keith Schiller. When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home…

The bungled rollout of his executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and Trump insiders said…

Cloistered in the White House, he now has little access to his fans and supporters — an important source of feedback and validation — and feels increasingly pinched by the pressures of the job and the constant presence of protests, one of the reasons he was forced to scrap a planned trip to Milwaukee last week. For a sense of what is happening outside, he watches cable, both at night and during the day — too much in the eyes of some aides — often offering a bitter play-by-play of critics like CNN’s Don Lemon.

Until the past few days, Mr. Trump was telling his friends and advisers that he believed the opening stages of his presidency were going well. “Did you hear that, this guy thinks it’s been terrible!” Mr. Trump said mockingly to other aides when one dissenting view was voiced last week during a West Wing meeting.

But his opinion has begun to change with a relentless parade of bad headlines.

Can a president whose reading is limited to single page memos make the changes needed to turn this around, or will he become increasingly isolated, perhaps to the point of talking to the pictures on the White House walls like Richard Nixon in his final days in office?

Philip Roth On The Election Of Donald Trump

Last week, prior to the inauguration of Donald Trump, I had recommended the novel It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis on Facebook. The 1935 novel had a populist demagogue beat FDR and establish a dictatorship, while promising to restore America to greatness and promoting patriotism. Lewis died in 1951 and cannot comment on current events, but I have also read a novel with a similar overall plot from a living author. Philip Roth, who described a similar scenario in The Plot Against America, has provided his views on the election of Donald Trump. From The New Yorker:

In 2004, Philip Roth published “The Plot Against America.” The four main characters of the novel, which takes place between June, 1940, and October, 1942, are a family of American Jews, the Roths, of Newark—Bess, Herman, and their two sons, Philip and Sandy. They are ardent supporters of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but, in Roth’s reimagining, Roosevelt loses his bid for a third term to a surprise Republican candidate—the aviator Charles Lindbergh—whose victory upends not only politics in America but life itself.

The historical Lindbergh was an isolationist who espoused a catchphrase that Donald Trump borrowed for his Presidential campaign, and for his Inaugural Address: “America First.” The fictional Lindbergh, like the actual Trump, expressed admiration for a murderous European dictator, and his election emboldened xenophobes. In Roth’s novel, a foreign power—Nazi Germany—meddles in an American election, leading to a theory that the President is being blackmailed. In real life, U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating Trump’s ties to Vladimir Putin and the possibility that a dossier of secret information—kompromat—gives Russia leverage with his regime.

Roth wrote in the Times Book Review that “The Plot Against America” was not intended as a political roman à clef. Rather, he wanted to dramatize a series of what-ifs that never came to pass in America but were “somebody else’s reality”—i.e., that of the Jews of Europe. “All I do,” he wrote, “is to defatalize the past—if such a word exists—showing how it might have been different and might have happened here.”

Last week, Roth was asked, via e-mail, if it has happened here. He responded, “It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s ‘The Confidence-Man,’ the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’ ”

American reality, the “American berserk,” Roth has noted, makes it harder to write fiction. Does Donald Trump outstrip the novelist’s imagination?

Roth replied, “It isn’t Trump as a character, a human type—the real-estate type, the callow and callous killer capitalist—that outstrips the imagination. It is Trump as President of the United States.

“I was born in 1933,” he continued, “the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated. He was President until I was twelve years old. I’ve been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since. I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

…Many passages in “The Plot Against America” echo feelings voiced today by vulnerable Americans—immigrants and minorities as alarmed by Trump’s election as the Jews of Newark are frightened by Lindbergh’s. The book also chronicles their impulse of denial. Lindbergh’s election makes clear to the seven-year-old “Philip Roth” that “the unfolding of the unforeseen was everything. Turned wrong way around, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied as ‘History,’ a harmless history, where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable. The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.”

Asked if this warning has come to pass, Roth e-mailed, “My novel wasn’t written as a warning. I was just trying to imagine what it would have been like for a Jewish family like mine, in a Jewish community like Newark, had something even faintly like Nazi anti-Semitism befallen us in 1940, at the end of the most pointedly anti-Semitic decade in world history. I wanted to imagine how we would have fared, which meant I had first to invent an ominous American government that threatened us. As for how Trump threatens us, I would say that, like the anxious and fear-ridden families in my book, what is most terrifying is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe.”

Both It Can’t Happen Here and The Plot Against America are worth reading, but if I had to pick one I preferred the former. (As I read them years apart, it is possible that my opinion could change if I reread them). As It Can’t Happen Here is older, the copyright has expired and ebook versions can be downloaded for free. Goodreads has download links in epub, Mobipocket, and epub versions here.

Donald Trump Again Acts Like Hillary Clinton In New Year’s Message

While there is no question there are also major differences between the two, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton also have far more similarities than supporters of either are likely to admit. They both have problems with financial ties including a Foundation and involving family. Trump has acted like Clinton in avoiding press conferences. Policy wise, both will continue the warfare/surveillance state, both have a similar disdain for freedom of speech, and both were seen as a threat to freedom of the press.

Trump also reminded me of Clinton when he released this Tweet: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

I have often noted similarities between Hillary Clinton and Richard Nixon. There is something rather Nixonian to this Tweet (along with Trump’s earlier talk of being the law-and-order candidate, a phrase also used by Bill Clinton). Trump referring to his “enemies” reminded me of Clinton dismissing half of Trump voters as “irredeemable” and fitting into a “basket of deplorables.” Clinton’s statement was foolish for alienating a large segment of the country when trying to attract voters, just as Trump’s tweet is foolish for alienating those who voted against him at a time when he should be seeking to unite the country around him as he prepares to take office.

It is debatable as to how accurate Clinton’s statement was about Trump supporters, while Trump’s statement is clearly wrong on the facts. He did win, but it was a narrow win. Perhaps trying to distract from his loss in the  popular vote, Trump has been falsely attributing it to illegal voters, and exaggerating the degree of his victory in the electoral college. Fact checkers including Factcheck.org and PolitiFact have debunked him on these claims.

He is also wrong in saying that those who fought him “just don’t know what to do.” There has been a tremendous increase in donations to progressive organizations, and organization to prepare to oppose Trump’s agenda. The good that could come from a Trump presidency as it stimulates progressive action:

Trump’s ascendancy is already calling forth social and political initiatives aimed at defending the achievements of the Obama years (particularly Obamacare), protecting the environment, standing up for immigrants and minorities, preserving civil liberties, civil rights and voting rights, and highlighting how Trump’s policies contradict his promises to working-class voters. Here is a bet that the mobilization against Trump will rival in size and influence the tea party uprising against Obama.

Another positive for the future: Trump’s campaign forced elites and the media to pay attention to the parts of the country that have been falling behind economically and to the despair that afflicts so many, particularly in rural and small-town America.

It should not have taken Trump (or Bernie Sanders) to bring their problems to the fore. If the powers that be had been paying more attention, the resentments and dissatisfactions that Trump exploited might not have been there for him to stoke.

Of course we would be in a completely different situation if the Democrats had listened to their base and nominated Sanders instead of Clinton.

While Dionne probably would not agree, I would extend his argument to pointing out that, rather than leading to such mobilization of progressives, a Clinton victory would have its dark consequences. Democrats would be split in pushing more liberal goals versus rationalizing and justifying Clinton’s conservative positions, as many did during the campaign, and as they ignore the negative aspects of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Hillary Clinton’s Nixonian Attacks On The Rule Of Law

nixon-clinton

There have been many disturbing things to come out of this election, from both sides. This includes the racism, xenophobia, and misogyny from Donald Trump, and the McCarthyism from Hillary Clinton in her attempts to distract from her own transgressions and attacks on opponents by raising Russia. The latest outrage of the campaign has been the attacks on James Comey from Clinton and her supporters after last week’s announcement.

The Clinton attacks on Comey are a direct attack on the rule of law. They remind me of the Saturday Night Massacre when Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox, attempting to block the Watergate investigation. The attacks are purely politically motivated. There is no doubt that if Comey had made a statement regarding an investigation into Donald Trump, the same Democrats would be applauding Comey, and would have been appalled if Trump had criticized Comey. The Clintons had no objection when a Republican was indicted four days before the election in 1992, in what was seen by some as an attempt to sway the election in Bill Clinton’s favor.

The partisan nature of how Comey’s announcement is being interpreted is verified in a Morning Consult poll. The New York Times reports:

In an online Morning Consult poll of approximately 3,200 registered voters, only 19 percent agreed with the statement that prosecutors should wait until after Election Day to make announcements about investigations concerning political figures or elected officials. Instead, 60 percent agreed that prosecutors should be able to make announcements about investigations concerning political figures or elected officials close to Election Day even if it might affect the election. (Another 21 percent said they don’t know or had no opinion.)

Not surprisingly, these results differ along partisan lines. Democrats were five times more likely than Republicans to say prosecutors should wait to make announcements about political figures (33 percent versus 6 percent). Conversely, people who identified as Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to endorse the idea of announcing cases before elections (79 percent versus 47 percent).

To understand the extent to which partisanship affects people’s opinions on the issue, Morning Consult asked the same question to three randomly selected groups. The first group saw a generic statement without reference to Mrs. Clinton or Donald J. Trump, which yielded the results described above. Other groups were prompted with either a statement about the F.B.I. inquiry into Mrs. Clinton or one about the New York attorney general’s investigation into the practices of Mr. Trump’s foundation.

When the investigation into Mrs. Clinton was mentioned before the question, partisans differed by almost 50 percentage points in their attitude toward pre-election disclosures, which were endorsed by 83 percent of Republicans but just 34 percent of Democrats — an even larger gap than observed with the generic prompt. By contrast, mentioning Mr. Trump’s foundation eliminated the gap between the parties in support for publicizing investigations, which was backed by 57 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Republicans.

The lesson from these findings is clear: The public wants to know everything it can about the candidates in advance, especially if they are from the other party.

***

In related news, Jon Stewart attacked Donald Trump at a charity event over the matters I mentioned in the opening paragraph.

In follow-up of a post yesterday, Foreign Policy columnist James Bamford, provides further reason to cast doubt on the Clinton conspiracy theories linking Donald Trump and Russia.

Walker Bragman  looks at the reaction to Comey’s statement for Paste Magazine and wrote, If Trump Wins Due to the FBI’s October Surprise, Hillary Clinton Has Nobody to Blame But Herself. He pointed out how Clinton did this to herself by using the private server (violating rules then in effect), the DNC made matters worse in how they tilted the election towards Clinton (in violation of party rules), that Comey had no better options than to handle this as he did, and that Clinton is setting a dangerous precedent in her attacks on Comey. He concluded:

Put another way, an embattled candidate for public office who happens to be under criminal investigation by the FBI for mistakes she made is using the court of public opinion to intimidate the agency’s director. If Clinton succeeds, and the agency is in any way influenced in its investigation, she will have truly damaged American democracy, establishing different rules for public figures. The whole point of our justice system is its impartiality, and it will be utterly compromised.

Even if Comey’s actions turn out to be politically motivated—in which case he will have committed an egregious offense—Clinton’s actions are troubling.

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