The Haberdasher, the General and the Imposter

Harry Truman, commenting about General Dwight Eisenhower succeeding him in the Oval Office, said, “He’s going to sit at this desk and say ‘Do this’ and ‘Do that’ — and nothing’s going to happen.”

As a general, Ike could order people to do things and they’d do them. As president, not so much.

Truman would be amused, but not surprised, watching Donald Trump struggle in the office the haberdasher once occupied. As a businessman, Trump could give orders to his minions and the orders would be followed. Dealing with people now who aren’t on his payroll and who aren’t afraid of him, he’s flopping around, mouth gaping, like a fish tossed on shore.

Giving Orders - WWI

It’s one more piece of evidence that the notion of running the government like a business is so very wrong. It’s wrong because it doesn’t work, and it’s wrong because, philosophically, it’s way off base. Business exists — especially in the grubby hands of bandits like Trump — for private enrichment. The government exists to advance and protect the common good.

It’s very clear that Trump and his family and his henchmen are blurring the line between running the government to serve others and running it to serve themselves. The ethical conflicts of interest Trump and his family have are so numerous and so glaring that there’s hardly a decision the president can make that doesn’t have a financial impact on him and his family. From pipelines to banks to hotels, Trump is using our tax money and mortgaging our national security to fill his Scrooge McDuck money bins. I think he can’t see any difference between his private pelf and the public good. That moral vacancy is frightening.

Business works to increase efficiency to grow shareholder value. And who are the largest shareholders? The white guys who run the company. The impact of business decisions that increase share prices or increase the sales and value of private companies is often damage to the community and the company’s employees. Government decisions have to take into consideration the impact on the public, on the economy, on the nation’s resources and the environment for decades and centuries to come, and on the nation’s security, values and reputation.

Whether it’s a toll road or a privately-built and -run prison or a school or retirement savings, the model of increasing shareholder value just does not cover all the bases. Even without Trump owning stock in two companies involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline, his coziness with big banks and big energy companies makes his approval of the pipeline  at the least raise questions about his motives — serve the public, protect the environment or backscratch his cronies? A spokesminion claims Trump has sold his stock in the pipeline partners — but with his history of lying and his refusal to release his tax returns, who can know?

Government is not a business. It has very different aims and responsibilities than a business has. Its moral purposes are completely different.

It’s actually refreshing to see Trump fail using his corporate pirate tricks. As a business bully he could get away with not knowing the details of the projects he was hustling. Underlings could marshall the facts and figures while figurehead Donald handled the bluster and the bullshit. When he didn’t know much of anything about the healthcare bill he was pushing, House members were shocked, and mocked him.

Trump said over and over during the campaign that he would make great deals. Snarking about President Obama playing golf, Trump said he would probably never play golf (!!!) as president because he’d just want to stay in the White House and make deals. But a president’s deal-making ability has to be in service of something, as LBJ’s was with Medicaid and the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Trump just likes to make deals, and then skips town before his victims can heat up the tar and pluck the feathers. And deal-making is only part of what a president does. Other qualities — leadership, inspiration, fairness, judgment, steadiness in crises, compassion, empathy, vision, diplomacy — are just as important. And absent in the current Oval Office pretender.

Harry Truman must have been smiling wryly if he paid attention, from wherever dead presidents reside, as Trump’s odious consigliere, Steve Bannon, tried to carry The Boss’s orders to vote for the Frankenstein health care bill to the Freedom Caucus in the House. Bannon tried the strong arm, telling them “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.” Might have worked for LBJ, a master of carrots, sticks, pork and human nature. Didn’t work for the windbag who told us we’d be tired of winning by this time. One Freedom Caucus member — bless his pointed little head — replied to Bannon: “You know, the last time someone ordered me to do something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”

My friend Dave Kuhn, a fellow recovering journalist, taught me so much about helping senior executives deal effectively with the media. People from the military and business don’t like the press, Dave said, because it’s one of the few things they can’t control. So they’re not very good at handling the challenges journalists throw at them or at letting criticism slide off their backs.

Trump’s efforts at strong-arming the media aren’t any more successful than his orders to the House members of his own party have been. And thank god for that.

— Bruce Benidt

So You’re Sean Spicer …

It’s easy to lampoon Sean Spicer, Donald Trump’s press secretary. He does it himself every day.

But what would you do?

Your boss tells you that you need to go out and spank the media, be tough like he is, and tell them that the crowd at your inauguration was the biggest ever. Period. It’s your first day on the job. It’s a job you really like and want to keep. So you give the president your advice, that saying this about the crowd will make all of you look foolish. The president asks you “Whose side are you on?” If you won’t go out there and straighten the press out he’ll find someone who will. Trump’s decision is made, and you have your marching orders.

So what do you do? Easy to say, those of us who don’t have such cool apex-predator jobs, that we’d resign rather than say something we know is not true. But would we? Would you? You make your case, you lose, the boss tells you what to do. He’s the boss.

What about something not so black and white. The message to be delivered today as the House tinkers with the Trumpcare bill is that, by removing the requirements in Obamacare that 10 essential benefits be covered, consumers will have more choice and their coverage will cost less. The essential benefits are things like prenatal care, mental health and substance abuse care, therapy and devices to help recovery after injuries or for chronic conditions, prescription drug coverage and six more. An older man, say, could chose a plan that doesn’t cover prenatal care. Sounds good, right?

But by letting people pick and choose, costs will go up for the people who do need things like prenatal care. And, if the costs get too high and a mother doesn’t get prenatal care, guess who pays for the ensuing problems her child has once born? Everybody pays, especially when care is sought through emergency rooms by people who can’t afford the coverage after it’s been cherry-picked.

So, what you’re telling people — that choice is good for everybody — simply isn’t true. At least that’s a reasonable argument. But your job is not to present both sides of a case. It’s to support the case you’re advocating for. If you’re selling soda-pop, it’s not your job to point out that a 12-ounce can of soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar in it. But it’s probably also not your job to say that soda-pop is healthy.

Spicer today eagerly and strongly asserted that doing away with the requirement that health plans cover these 10 essential services is better for health-care consumers. If you were told to say that, what would you do?

My easy answer #2 is that I wouldn’t work for someone in the first place who has shown his entire career that he sides with the rich and doesn’t give a damn about the little guy, whom he has consistently stiffed. I wouldn’t work for someone in the first place whose values are based on selfishness — I’ve got mine and you’re on your own to get yours, even when mine is crowding out yours.

But Spicer wanted this job. He’s not just some guy who came out of Trump University with a bubble-gum-card diploma. He has a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College. He’s worked in communication for Congress and for the Republican Party. He’s not a rube or a dupe. I don’t think.

So … the president tells you to go out and say, for example, that Paul Manafort played “a limited role for a very limited time” in the Trump campaign. That’s nonsense, of course, for a man who was campaign chairman.

What do you do? Chime in here, let us know your thoughts.

— Bruce Benidt

Melissa-McCarthy-Spicer-650x330

 

 

Hillary — Meet the Press, Dammit

Let’s just say it out loud: Hillary Clinton is wrong, selfish, stupid and irresponsible to not hold regular press conferences. Or at least one for goodness sake.

She is either a coward, or her ambition has crowded out her soul and what shreds of ethics she may still keep in a jar by the door.

If you read Carl Bernstein’s book A Woman in Charge, you’ll take this great journalist’s view that her ambition leads her to do whatever it takes to get to where she wants to go. Whatever it takes.

Including spurning much of the media. She hasn’t had a news conference in almost nine months. Yes she does some interviews one-on-one. Yes she calls in to some chosen news shows. Yes she sat down with Chris Wallace of Fox, one of the best, most fair and toughest interviewers out there. And she stuck her foot in her mouth.

But this is part of how you let America see you. You meet the press. This is part of what we voters deserve. To see how you handle tough inquiries from reporters in an uncontrollable scrum. Unruly? Sure. Unpredictable? Yes, thank god. And an important part of democracy. The media is not part of your marketing department, Madame Secretary. I’ve worked with a few public relations clients who felt that way. It’s wrong. It’s cynical.

Listening to Clinton answer journalists like Anderson Cooper’s questions on why she doesn’t hold a press conference is excruciating. If Clinton listens to herself she must shiver like someone tasting spoiled milk, or like John McCain every night when he realizes he’s gone another day without retracting his endorsement of Donald Trump. “Well Anderson I talk to lots of reporters, as I am right now with you, and I have done hundreds of interviews and…” blah blah blah. Answer the question. Answer them all.

Are you a less-skilled communicator than Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale’s VP nominee, who in 1984 took questions from 200 reporters for nearly two hours about shady financial dealings she and her husband were accused of? She stood there and took everything they could throw at her. And here’s Ragan’s PR Daily’s assessment of the outcome, from a 2011 piece on Ferraro’s death:

It helped reverse the narrative that she was not transparent;

It turned her into a more sympathetic figure;

It offered Ferraro a vital opportunity to show her mettle as a female candidate who could endure the intensity of the media’s scrutiny.

Don’t you have Ferraro’s guts, don’t you have what it takes, Madame Secretary? Is that why you’re hiding?

I’m a former daily newspaper reporter and a former college journalism teacher and I believe deeply in the role of the free press in helping us make crucial civic decisions. Those who avoid the press, who seek only to manipulate it and use it for their own ends, are putting their own interests before the best interests of the country. It’s wrong. It’s pathetic. Stop hiding, Hillary. Let us see how you handle tough times. Yes, we’ve seen you stand up to tough questioning before, as with the House Benghazi committee. Get out there again. Regularly.

Your failure to meet the press undermines any criticism you rightly make about Donald Trump’s despicable and willful refusal to release his tax returns. His failure is greater, but it’s on the same scale of cowardly hiding of what the public has a right and duty to know and understand.

Some people in your campaign are saying you’re playing a “run down the clock” campaign now, lying low to not blow your lead. If you are doing that, you risk my vote. I’m very liberal, I agree with you on most policy positions, but your actions are showing deep character flaws. I hope you thank god every night that the idiot Republicans have put up a barbarian to run against you. An actual human being would defeat you. And you’d deserve it.

— Bruce Benidt

The Incoherency of Donald Trump

NATOThe foreign policy world is abuzz today about the latest pronouncement from Donald Trump that casts doubt on his willingness to fulfill our NATO treaty commitments.

The policies Trump puts forward are wildly outside the mainstream of any Republican or Democratic administration in the last 60 years, but what really caught my eye in the transcript of the interview – which was put out because the campaign is now claiming Trump was misquoted – is the basic incoherence of his words. At almost every point, the words Donald Trump speaks literally make no sense.

To wit (emphasis added):

“If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich. Then if we cannot make a deal, which I believe we will be able to, and which I would prefer being able to, but if we cannot make a deal, I would like you to say, I would prefer being able to, some people, the one thing they took out of your last story, you know, some people, the fools and the haters, they said, “Oh, Trump doesn’t want to protect you.” I would prefer that we be able to continue, but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth — you have the tape going on?”

“In the meantime, what have we done? So we’ve kept peace, but in the meantime we’ve let North Korea get stronger and stronger and more nuclear and more nuclear, and you are really saying, “Well, how is that a good thing?” You understand? North Korea now is almost like a boiler. You say we’ve had peace, but that part of Korea, North Korea, is getting more and more crazy. And more and more nuclear. And they are testing missiles all the time.

“And we’ve got our soldiers sitting there watching missiles go up. And you say to yourself, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ Now we’re protecting Japan because Japan is a natural location for North Korea. So we are protecting them, and you say to yourself, ‘Well, what are we getting out of this?'”

Just so you understand though, totally on the record, this is not 40 years ago. We are not the same country and the world is not the same world. Our country owes right now $19 trillion, going to $21 trillion very quickly because of the omnibus budget that was passed, which is incredible. We don’t have the luxury of doing what we used to do; we don’t have the luxury, and it is a luxury. We need other people to reimburse us much more substantially than they are giving right now because we are only paying for a fraction of the cost.

By the way, and I know what I’m talking about is massive. If we ever felt there was a reason to defend the United States, we can always deploy, and it would be a lot less expense.

“I don’t think so, but I do give great credit to him for turning it around. You know, the first hour, it seemed like it was over. Then all of a sudden, and the amazing thing is the one that won that was the people. They came out on the streets, and the army types didn’t want to drive over them like they did in Tiananmen Square when they sort of drived them over, and that was the end of that.”

“Meetings. If I ever have the opportunity to do it, meaning if I win, we will have meetings, we will have meetings very early on.”

David, I have statisticians, and I know, like if I went to Pennsylvania, I say, “Give me the statistics on what is going on with respect to manufacturing.” Numbers — 45, 55, 65, I have states that are so bad. New England. Look at New England, what happened.

Cyber is absolutely a thing of the future and the present. Look, we’re under cyberattack, forget about them. And we don’t even know where it’s coming from.

Because we’re obsolete. Right now, Russia and China in particular and other places.

Yes. I am a fan of the future, and cyber is the future.

We have nuclear that we don’t even know if it works. We have nuclear where the telephone systems are 40 years old and they have wire that’s so corroded that they can’t call from one station to the next.”

And I hope you say that I do know my subject. And I do know it. I know it better than, I know it better than the people that do it for ——

It’s possible to puzzle out of these comments what the reader THINKS Mr. Trump is saying but the reality of the words he speaks are incoherent and nonsensical. He does not deserve the benefit of the doubt. No one should level up his words. He deserves to be judged on the basis of what he actually says and the way he says it.

– Austin

 

“I Believe…”

4917998Parsing the various ways that “establishment” Republicans support their presumptive presidential candidate is a wonderful exercise in linguistics. You can tell that most of them are using talking points that have been honed to within a micron of their rhetorical content. Even the simple word “support” is subject to a range of definitions that have come into play only in the last several months. To some, it means voting for, endorsing, campaigning for. Some say their support means voting for only. Some have yet to tell us what their support means.

A regular feature, though, of all of these tortured pronouncements is a phrase along the lines of, “I believe that Donald Trump believes that…” I’ve seen it used to justify supporting him because of vacancies on the Supreme Court, on gun rights, on abortion, on supporting the family values and religious freedom concerns of the evangelical voters, on immigration, on trade, on foreign policy. Check out Tom Cotton’s use of the phrase in The Atlantic to explain how a classic conservative hawk – someone who believes in a muscular, robust, outward-looking foreign policy – could support a man who has advocated pulling out of NATO, reneging on bilateral treaty commitments in every corner of the world, supporting the spread of nuclear weapons and wants to turn our foreign policy into a series of one-time financial transactions.

These people are deluding themselves. No one, not even Donald Trump, knows what he believes. No one, especially not Donald Trump, considers the candidate bound by anything that comes out of his mouth. Like his approach to foreign policy, Mr. Trump treats every utterance as a one-time transaction in which he will say literally anything to close whatever deal he thinks is in front of him at that very instant.

Honest to God, I think if you could book Donald Trump into back-to-back conventions – say, for example, the White People’s Party annual convention and the National Black Republicans Association – he wouldn’t skip a beat:

“Thank you…thank you…what a great crowd…wow, it’s packed in here and I hear there is a huge line trying to get in. Thank you. What a great bunch of Americans, people who want to take their country back, who want to make America Great Again. And we are going to do that, don’t you worry. You’re going to get so tired of winning, you’ll beg me to stop. We’re going to win on trade, on the military, on our police – aren’t they great? – on immigration. And that includes winning on your issues. There will never be – I guarantee you – a president who’s going to more for your people and the issues you care about than Donald Trump. I will be so good to you. Because I’ll bring back the jobs. I’ve created so many great jobs – including hiring thousands of your people – and built such a great company with the best properties that it’ll be easy. So easy.”

Of course, I am – thankfully  – not in Donald Trump’s head so I can’t say for sure that his calcified brain is wired this way, but I would submit that his entire career and his entire candidacy is built on this mindset: Donald Trump will say whatever he needs to say to get the deal, the loan, the government approval, the wire transfer, the contract, the work done, the item placed on Page Six, the interview, the caucus win, the primary votes and then – when the deal is closed – he’ll do whatever he wants.

Repeat over and over and over for more than 40 years. End up as the Republicans’ nominee.

Sad!

– Austin

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Trump is Making America Great

It sets my hair on fire that journalists treat Donald Trump like he’s remotely qualified to serve as president of the United States. By casting this election as simply a more extreme or unusual of politics as usual, they make Mr. Trump appear more acceptable and mainstream. He’s neither.

Consider, for example, this lead from The Atlantic:

On Wednesday, Donald Trump gave, by his standards, a restrained and subtle speech.

True, the Republican candidate referred to his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as “a world-class liar,” “maybe the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” and someone whose “decisions spread death, destruction, and terrorism everywhere.” And yes, the speech was full of lies and half-truths. Yet Wednesday’s speech, delivered at an upscale hotel the candidate owns in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, was nonetheless the most focused and cohesive address he has yet given, one that laid out a cogent populist argument without resorting to overt racism or long insult-comedy riffs.

This is how “normalizing” happens. This is how we become desensitized to the awfulness of Mr. Trump’s candidacy. By giving him credit for occasionally not making racist, misogynistic, violence-inciting comments. By being quick to give credit to him for a speech that is – in parts – coherent (which are clearly written by someone else and spoken by Mr. Trump who gives this speechwriter every impression that he’s reading the words for the first time).

Mr. Trump should not be given any credit for “pivoting,” “rebooting” “moderating” or “being disciplined.” All he’s doing is pretending to be something other than he is: a shallow, ignorant, incurious, emotionally immature narcissist who is less qualified to be president than the average person on the street. (I’m not kidding about that, by the way: I think I’d take my chances with a person chosen at random from anywhere in America than Mr. Trump.) All he should be given credit for is a willingness to do anything he thinks will advance his interests at any given moment. That includes reading aloud words written by someone else. Any notion that he understands, agrees with, will be bound by those words is simply wrong.

I’ve buttonholed a couple of journalists on these points and they have uniformly 1) gotten defensive about the media’s efforts to report on the various aspects of Mr. Trump 2) hidden behind the notion that “it’s not their job” to decide who and who isn’t qualified to be president. I’ve also seen in their eyes the panicky look that says they know I’m right (or that I’ve gone stark raving crazy and they’re trapped in a conversation with a lunatic).

In normal elections – i.e. any other election in my lifetime – I would agree with them. Not this one. This election makes a higher claim on all of us to not simply do our jobs but to stand up and be counted. As the saying goes, “When your grandchildren ask you, ‘What did you do to stop Donald Trump?’ what will you say?”

That applies to journalists too.

– Austin

A Rose by Any Other Name…

I’m going to start a collection of Donald Trump descriptions and invite you to play along at home. I’ll update this post whenever I stumble across a new one.

The rules are simple: Any description is eligible as long as you can cite a link to an article or video somewhere on the web. Descriptions can be positive or negative, as short as a single word or up to a sentence in length.

At the end of the election, we’ll hold a vote to pick our favorites.

Here’s a couple to get us started:

Positive

“The best sex I ever had.” Marla Maples, Access Hollywood (h/t to Ellen Mrja)

Negative

“…dangerous buffoon…” Frances Wilkinson, Bloomberg View

“…a small, insecure money-grubber…” Elizabeth Warren, Huffington Post

“…a thin-skinned, racist, sexist bully…” Elizabeth Warren, Huffington Post

“He is a man-baby.” John Stewart, CNN (h/t to Mike Keliher and Jeremy Powers)

“…a megalomaniac…” Trump: What’s the Deal (h/t to Gary Gilson)

“…a pathological liar…” Carl Bernstein, CNN

“…a strong man who doesn’t believe in democratic institutions.” Carl Bernstein, CNN

“…a grifter always dancing one step ahead of bankruptcy court and concocting one failed scheme after another to separate people from their money.” Paul Waldman, Washington Post

“…a shallow, ignorant, incurious, emotionally immature narcissist.” Jon Austin, The Same Rowdy Crowd

I look forward to your entries.

– Austin