Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Defending your narrative

I had a sense before the inauguration - before the election, really - that Donald Trump was fairly incompetent.

His businesses had gone through bankruptcy - what was it? Four times? Six? - after he somehow managed to lose money running a casino. So much for the saying that, "The house always wins."

And he had that long record of stiffing contractors who'd worked for him, claiming they'd done inadequate work for him.

There was the use of language. Someone can use non-standard English and be hella smart. Trump's language is something different. It seems to betray a simple inability to think clearly.

So when he moved into the White House, I was expecting incompetence, along with fearing anti-democratic actions.

Still, I couldn't have imagined it would look like this.

In my defense, he does represent an unprecedented level of incompetence, so there's no benchmark for what it would look like if this incredibly complex role were being filled by an individual with pretty limited mental capacities, aided by charlatans and mountebanks.

It is tempting to turn to his supporters - the ones who thought he'd be great because he was a successful businessman and we need someone who can bring the fairy dust of the private sector to the government - and say, "Do you still think he's such a good executive?"

But I suspect it would be pointless, in most cases.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Open letter to John Faso

February 1, 2017

Dear Representative Faso,

Congratulations on your victory in last November’s election. You have the privilege of serving our country at an unprecedented time. And that means that you have a chance to play a much more meaningful role than the typical freshman member of Congress.

You won your election by a sizeable margin, so there can be no question that, among the people in our district who bothered to vote, a majority preferred that you represent us in Washington, rather than Zephyr Teachout.

And similarly, of those in our district who bothered to vote, a majority clearly preferred that Donald Trump be president rather than Hillary Clinton. It’s true that, nationally, Mr. Trump lost the popular vote by a historic margin for a person who won, but it’s also true that we don’t have a national popular vote and that Mr. Trump got the votes where they mattered and was duly elected under our system, and that he was the more popular choice in our district.

The question is, what did the people of our district mean to vote for when they filled in the bubble for Donald Trump, and for you.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Scale of action

My friend Andree Zalesk linked on FB to a post by Yonatan Zunger, Trial balloon for a coup. It's not uplifting reading, but I think it is very well argued, and I recommend it.

In comments on Andree's page, someone wrote, "Bannon must go. Period." And Andree responded:
Do you have a strategy in mind? I have NO IDEA how we organize against something this complex and interior. Even some of the best activists I know are refusing to take this in.
I weighed in with some thoughts about government as the organ for collective action combined with the legitimate wielding of compulsion, and the possibility - but more the difficulty - of building alternative means of collective action.

Andree observed, "I don't see here where you're suggesting a strategy for resistance." And she was right. As I wrote to her.
In retrospect, I was answering in a limited way, "What can we do?" But I don't know what we do to resist beyond what we're doing: demonstrating, calling members of Congress, connecting with other people. In the end, if the judiciary declines to declare the executive to be in violation of the law, or the executive decides to ignore the judiciary (as it is apparently already doing), and the arms of the executive (like Customs and Border Patrol) obey the boss rather than the courts, and Congress declines to assert itself (or it asserts itself but the executive ignores Congress and the arms of the executive obey), then I don't know what you do.
Last night I remembered the term "people power" from when the Filipinos turned out in such massive numbers that Marcos fled. What scale of nonviolent action would it take to render Bannon's plans ineffective?
Andree gave me a pat on the back: "There you go: That last sentence is the real question."

OK, but if it is the real question, it's actually just the first real question. Because the one after that is, "How do you achieve that scale of action?"

It's an organizational question, and also one of messaging.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The all-purpose alibi

Trump's madness with the entry ban has been pretty widely panned, with John McCain saying it's misguided (my newly elected Representative, John Faso (R), did as well - ignore the typo in that article that has him listed as "D - NY", in an article about Republican reactions to the order).

A lawyer who describes himself as having been in favor of pretty much every previous anti-terrorism measure describes this one as "malevolence tempered by incompetence."

Similar reaction has greeted Trump's restructuring of the National Security Council. It's hardly reached the volume of the response to the entry ban, but it's a couple days newer, and there's only so much people can push back on at once. And even so, it's gotten some heavy, coherent pushback, including from such an experienced voice in national-security affairs as Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA and the CIA, and a man who has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

But to a convinced Trump supporter, how can it possibly make a difference?

They already know that "Washington" is "broken." Trump is acting decisively, getting things done, not like those worthless politicians who never get anything done.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

No way to run a republic

So the first overt violation of rights has happened, the first act that touches people directly, stops ordinary residents from going about their accustomed business and puts them in a dangerous legal limbo.

Customs and Border Patrol says it only affects a small number of the millions of travelers entering the U.S., which is an asinine way to defend an unjustified action. "Yes, I did take those two kids' lunch money, but they're only a  small percentage of all the students at the school."

For now there has been partially effective pushback: demonstrations at airports, a judicial stay, detainees released.

The new administration tried to do something patently wrong, there was resistance, and the extent of the wrong has been reduced. I am grateful to patriots who took the initiative to go demonstrate at the airports, and to the ACLU for doing the complementary legal work. Thinking about what "victory" might look like in the age of Trump, this is about the best I would have hoped for.

But it is only a partial win, and look what it took. Thousands of people had to drop whatever else they were doing to go put out a fire.

We can be energized by responding meaningfully to danger, but it's like a stress reaction: the phenomenon is necessary in the short run, but harmful if continued over long periods of time.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

"You'll pay for this!"

So Trump found a way to make Mexico pay for The Wall: slap a 20% tariff on imports from Mexico.
"I think the president is using every tool available to him to make sure that, as we put this wall up, he honors his commitment he made to the American people that it's going to be paid for and that Mexico will pay for it," Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), a close Trump ally and member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, told The Hill at the GOP retreat in Philadelphia.
OK, about that, ...

This is something covered in probably every introductory microeconomics class: Who pays the tax?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Waiting and seeing

Back in November I wrote about a conversation my parents and I had with one of the nurses who was taking care of Dad.

In her view, the media was biased against Trump and took things out of context to make him look bad. She didn't like the appointment of Steve Bannon, but she wanted to keep an open mind and see what Trump was actually going to do.

The conversation devolved into whether Trump was going to take us on a path like Hitler did with Germany. She was insistent that "It's not going to come to that." And of course, she may turn out to be right.

Our question was, "What will you do if it does come to that?"

And her answer was essentially, "But it won't."

Which isn't a great answer, but on reflection, we weren't asking the best question, either.

Because presumably, there's something short of full-on Hitler that's still very, very bad, and somewhere that the U.S. shouldn't be going.

I still see this idea on Facebook threads: You need to keep an open mind. He hasn't done anything yet. Give him a chance.