Talk Tough but Temporize

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During the 2016 presidential campaign Donald Trump criticized President Obama’s Cuba policy and promised to reverse it. However, after Trump’s win, during the transition, “he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson privately expressed support for Obama’s Cuba policy,” according to a June 2 ABC News report.

In typical Trump fashion, the candidate talked tough but the president is keeping his options open as he educates himself on the issues. And in typical government fashion, a “policy review” under the auspices of the National Security Council was set up to study the issues. It was supposed to report its recommendations on May 20, the 115th anniversary of Cuban independence, but the issues turned out to be more complex than originally envisioned, and Saudi Arabia — President Trump’s location on that hallowed day — didn’t seem like an appropriate venue to berate Cuba on its human rights record.

Yes, that’s right: in a Wilsonian-Carterian flourish, Trump’s Cuba policy “will have important differences with respect to that of Barack Obama, especially with a ‘major emphasis’ on human rights,” according to Francisco Palmieri, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America.

Saudi Arabia — President Trump’s location on the appointed day — didn’t seem like an appropriate venue to berate Cuba on its human rights record.

It seems — to a cynic who might ignore the president’s ostensible, stated reason — that Trump’s thrust is based on two objectives. One is the aim, originating in a gut reaction, to reverse anything Obama did; the other is more nakedly political: according to the Associated Press, the Trump administration wants to maintain good relations with Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate committee investigating Trump’s relations with Russia, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee — both Cuban-Americans, and the latter a not-too-distant relative of the Castros.

Meanwhile, in a Trumpian flourish just before leaving office, Obama restricted Cuban immigration by rescinding the so-called “Wet foot, Dry foot” policy whereby a Cuban caught on the waters between Cuba and the United States ("wet feet") would summarily be sent home or to a third country. One who makes it to shore ("dry feet") can remain in the United States, and would later qualify for expedited legal permanent resident status in accordance with the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, and eventually US citizenship.

The Trump administration’s ambivalence toward Obama’s Cuba policy proceeds from the fact that its favorable aspects conflict with its unfavorable consequences. While the reduced restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba that President Obama signed as an executive order in 2014 have tripled leisure travel to nearly 300,000 last year, much of the tourist money is spent at all-inclusive resorts run by Cuban military conglomerates that fuel the state security (repressive) apparatus. Organized tours, especially in the “people-to-people” and “educational” categories are little better, spending all their time under direct government control, visiting such exciting venues as printing workshops, organic farmers’ cooperative markets, and other government-organized venues, while traveling in government tour buses with government guides.

Those dollars strengthen the security organs. According to ABC News, arrests and detentions climbed from 8,899 in 2014 to 9,940 in 2016.

Much of the tourist money is spent at all-inclusive resorts run by Cuban military conglomerates that fuel the repressive state security apparatus.

On the other hand, continues the ABC report, a significant proportion of travelers eschewed organized tours, opting instead to explore Cuba on their own and thereby “injecting hundreds of millions in US spending into privately owned businesses on the island,” businesses made possible by the 201 private enterprises (especially B&Bs and restaurants) legalized by the regime since 2010, and “supercharging the growth of an entrepreneurial middle-class.”

Still, the hype has blinded what ought to be sober players into overreach. President Obama did not change the requirements for US travelers to Cuba; he only put compliance with them on the honor system, a system that still requires registering with the US Treasury Dept. The same ABC News report I quote here incorrectly states that “Obama eliminated that requirement.”

And it’s not just ABC News. Airlines such as JetBlue, American, Silver Airways, and Frontier, anticipating tens of thousands of travelers to book their own, independent trips to Cuba, have had to cut back considerably. Silver and Frontier have both canceled all their flights, citing "costs in Havana to turn an aircraft significantly exceeded our initial assumptions." In other words, the costs involved with unloading bags, cleaning the aircraft, customs procedures, etc. were higher than expected, doubtless because of the Cuban government milking the airlines. Earlier this year, JetBlue announced it would use smaller planes for its Cuba flights, and American Airlines cut its daily flights to Cuba by 25%.

The Obama changes did increase US travel to Cuba, just not as much as some expected. NBC News reports that “according to the state-run site CubaDebate, the number of Americans traveling to Cuba spiked in January of this year at 43,200. CubaDebate said that's a 125% increase from January of last year.” In addition, it reported 31,000 Cuban-Americans traveled to the island in January.

The costs involved with unloading bags, cleaning the aircraft, customs procedures, etc. were higher than expected, doubtless because of the Cuban government milking the airlines.

Those Cuban-Americans recently became a political football for cruise lines, which also dove into the liberalized US-Cuba travel market. The Cuban government does not recognize naturalized US citizenship by any Cuban-born individual: in their eyes such people are still Cuban citizens. Many of these expatriates, although allowed to visit relatives in Cuba under one of the allowed US categories of travelers, refused to set foot on the island for any prolonged length of time, declining to give even one dollar to the regime. But the promise of a cruise with all the amenities provided by a US ship and onshore visits a matter of only hours on terra firma suddenly attracted many.

But it was not to be.

The Cuban government declared that Cuban-born Cuban-Americans would not be allowed on shore from any visiting US cruise ship, referring to an earlier Cuban law that prohibited any Cuban-born person returning from to the island by sea. This was probably meant to place a fig leaf over the prosecution of any foreign-based infiltrators.

So, initially, Carnival Corporation refused to sell tickets to Cuban-born Americans. Two lawsuits put paid to that. They were filed in federal court in Miami: a class-action suit and a civil suit, by Cuban-born Americans who attempted to book and were denied tickets on Fathom Cruise Lines, a subsidiary of Carnival. According to the Miami Herald, “the lawsuits alleged that the cruise line was violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by following a policy that discriminates against a class of Americans on a place of public accommodation for transient guests — a cruise ship.”

Carnival then decided to sell tickets to Cuban-Americans but delayed its cruises until Cuba changed its policy — which it did, effective April 26, 2016. The first cruise sailed on May 1, 2016.

Cuba has not adapted well to the increase in visits. Forget booking a hotel room in Havana during the peak season of November-April on your own; rely instead on a package tour. And good luck finding a B&B, called in Cuba a casa particular. Under the Obama initiatives, both governments have struck agreements to cooperate on issues ranging from human trafficking to oil spills, and even increased internet access — a pledge extracted out of Raul Castro by President Obama. The Cuban government has “opened nearly 400 public Wi-Fi access points across the country,” according to the AP. But that reality is much less than meets expectations. The outlets are mostly in parks and plazas and only provide email connections. Full internet access, while more available than before, is beyond most Cubans’ budgets and remains frustratingly slow.

Cuba owes about $8 billion for confiscations and expropriations to US citizens. At that rate, repayment would take about 400 years.

The challenge for the Trump administration’s policy reset is to keep the good bits — full diplomatic relations, some relative freedom of travel, the benefits to Cuba’s private sector, etc. — while limiting Americans from doing business with the Cuban security organs, “according to a Trump administration official and a person involved in the ongoing policy review” (ABC report). Additionally, what with President Trump’s emphasis on jobs, Engage Cuba, a pro-détente group, released a study this May asserting “that a complete rollback of Obama’s Cuba policy would cost airlines and cruise lines $3.5 billion over the next four years and lead to the loss of 10,154 travel jobs.” (Wow, really? Such incredible specificity!)

One novel proposal that might be included in the Cuba policy reset — to ensure the support of the Cuban-Americans — is to impose a 2% export tax on US agricultural products sent to the island. “It is a politically creative, financially plausible measure and may possibly be a first step toward a comprehensive settlement of compensation to those who hold certified claims,” said Richard Feinberg, a former assistant to President Clinton and author of a Brookings Institution study on Cuban claims published in 2015. Of course, whether that 2%, factored into the price of the exports, would come out of the exporters’ profits or out of the Cuban government’s pockets is up for negotiation — if the proposal is implemented. Cuba owes about $8 billion for confiscations and expropriations to US citizens. At that rate, repayment would take about 400 years, though the majority of small claims could be settled with dispatch.

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Oh, yes . . . and what about those extra 1,041 arrests and detentions in 2016? ABC News reports, “Cuban officials say many of those arrests are deliberately provoked by dissidents who are funded and backed by anti-Castro groups with the deliberate objective of driving up detention statistics.”

No doubt those officials saw the May issue of the Cuban American National Foundation’s Boletín Informativo, displaying a photograph of a protester racing in front of Havana’s May Day parade waving an American flag in the air and wearing a Cuban flag on his chest. Daniel Llorente Miranda’s action took the security organs by surprise. After a few seconds’ chase, they threw him to the tarmac and brutally beat him.




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On the Good Ship Lollipop

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No one knew it, but this column offers an award — annually, semi-annually, monthly, or whenever it feels like it — called the Shirley Temple Prize for Saccharine Speech. Yeth, it doth; and today’s award goes to former FBI Director James Brien Comey. Ohhhhh goodee!

On May 3, Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Huma Abedin, cupbearer-in-chief to Hillary Clinton, had “forwarded hundreds and thousands of e-mails, some of which contain classified information,” to Huma’s unclassified and unclassifiable husband, Antony Weiner. Six days later, the assistant director of the Bureau notified Congress that Comey was (as usual) in error; there were only 12 email chains, presumably not hundreds and thousands of items long.

I’ve known many people who violated the law, and some who went to prison, and none of them carried a sign that said, “I know I’m violating the law.”

In itself, Comey’s misstatement wasn’t worthy of any award, except the one that President Trump presented on May 9, when he fired James Brien Comey. It’s worthy of notice that Comey’s investigation of Huma’s emails, an investigation that determined, some think, the presidential election of 2016, should have been so misleadingly characterized by him. But the really impressive, award-engendering feature of Comey’s remarks was his contribution to legal and moral philosophy. It’s this contribution that puts him in the Shirley Temple class of child stars, or at least childish ones.

Explaining why he didn’t think of prosecuting Huma Abedin Weiner, who was in manifest violation of the law, no matter how many classified messages she supplied to her husband’s computer, Comey said:

With respect to Ms. Abedin in particular, we — we didn't have any indication that she had a sense that what she was doing was in violation of the law. Couldn't prove any sort of criminal intent. Really, the central problem we have with the whole e-mail investigation was proving that people knew — the secretary and others knew that they were doing — that they were communicating about classified information in a way that they shouldn't be and proving that they had some sense of their doing something unlawful.

Here is a way of emptying the federal prisons: insist that people who commit banking fraud, for example, or write off their real estate investments as charitable contributions, or use their positions in Congress to operate phony charities, cannot be prosecuted unless it is proved that they have a sense that what they are doing is in violation of the law.

In Hemingway’s short story “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” a man has a nasty quarrel with someone who is trying to cheat him, and his wife, a reader of consoling religious books, says:

“Dear, I don’t think, I really don’t think that any one would really do a thing like that.”

“No?” the doctor said.

“No. I can’t really believe that any one would do a thing of that sort intentionally.”

I’ve known many people who violated the law, and some who went to prison, and none of them carried a sign that said, “I know I’m violating the law.” They just went ahead and did it. So I guess they’re innocent, though not as innocent as Former FBI Director James (“Jim”) Comey, who like those sweet little girls that Shirley used to play is unable to see anything consciously wrong in the strange doings of other people.

Comey’s sunny disposition is something that we may all wish we had. It would save us a lot of trouble with certain situations. I caught you cheating on a test. Maybe I should do something about it. But gosh, maybe you didn’t intend to cheat. Maybe there’s no indication that you had a sense that what you were doing was in violation of the rules. You took money from the company’s accounts and spent it on yourself? Maybe you were just trying to stimulate the economy. You took secret documents and gave them to your friends? It’s good that you have friends, honey. You operated a foundation to fleece people who want government influence? Well, nothing to be done about it. Maybe you didn’t know it was wrong. And after all, who’s to judge? I can’t see your heart. Here — have another lollipop.

In the Shirley Temple movies there was always someone whose crusty, judgmental attitude was reformed by contact with little Shirley’s beneficent naiveté. Crusty ol’ grampa, or whoever it was, soon started babbling endearing comments so fast that Shirley could hardly keep up with them. Comey, the former Tough Prosecutor, callin’ ’em as he sees ’em, has also experienced this Hollywood reform. The current angel of light is the former mean bastard who, in the words of the Cato Foundation’s Alan Reynolds, sent Martha Stewart to prison for “having misled people by denying having committed a crime with which she was not charged.”

You took money from the company’s accounts and spent it on yourself? Maybe you were just trying to stimulate the economy.

It’s true that Comey’s conversion from hanging judge to sweetiekins might have resulted not from spiritual impulses but from a desire to act as kingmaker on the national stage without incurring the hardship of running for office or saying what he means. It could also be that Comey is like Addison as portrayed by Pope: “Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike.” But Comey’s analysis of Huma & Co. is so astonishingly warm-hearted, so amazingly insipid, as to transcend all churlish skepticism. To use the vernacular of Shirley Temple’s time, Comey is a sap, pure and simple. He’s also a chump. And if he did have dreams of glory, he pursued them like a sap and a chump.

Join me, therefore, in congratulating James Comey on his selection as the May 2017 recipient of the Shirley Temple Prize. It’s the culminating award of his career; he won’t get any better ones. And as Shirley would say, he weally, weally desewves to get it.

But what’s a first prize without a second prize? The question answers itself. We proceed then to the Second Prize for Saccharine Speech. And the winner is . . . (drum roll) . . . the President of the United States, Donald John Trump!

Comey is a sap, pure and simple. He’s also a chump. And if he did have dreams of glory, he pursued them like a sap and a chump.

As in his race for the White House, Trump has achieved a come-from-behind victory in this contest. He is identified more with aggressive, accusatory, pseudo-masculine, look-on-the-worst side utterances than with girlish insipidity. But he is a man of many roles, a man who is just as productive of empty compliments as of empty bombast. “You’re doin’ great, just great, just absolutely great” comes as easily to his lips as “Send her to jail.” And while less perceptive columnists attend only to his performance in Ranting Man roles, Trump has many unrecognized achievements playing the Sweetly Bewildered Youth.

The one that is, to my mind, the conclusive example is an interview broadcast on May 12. Entertaining the question of whether James Comey would be “honest” in discussing their failed courtship, the president said:

I hope he will be. And I’m sure he will be. I hope.

Think about it: President Trump doesn’t just speak his lines; he writes his own material and directs his own performance. Now consider what a huge, incredibly unbelievable, really unbelievable accomplishment that you won’t believe is apparent in those 13 words. Everything comes together: the loose, wandering syntax, so like the prattle of a six-year-old; the invocation of hope at the beginning and the return to hope at the end, with an inspirational rise to surety in the middle; the subtle insistence on the idea that all relationships are personal, that they are all I and he, I’m OK, you’re OK, let’s shake on it. Again we see the child mind at work, perfectly reproduced both in the sentence and in the naïve spontaneity of the speaking voice, which constantly seemed to be crafting the very ideas it was speaking forth.

Trump is a man of many roles, a man who is just as productive of empty compliments as of empty bombast.

Was this childlike performance planned, or was it literally spontaneous? No matter; all the great masters of language have had the heart of a child — J.K. Rowling, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. So for this, and in the hope of still more remarkable achievements, I am proud to congratulate Donald J. Trump, winner of the Shirley Temple Prize for Saccharine Speech (second place). Mr. Trump can pick up his award at any time I’m in the office.

But what’s a second prize without a third prize? Nothing. And, to coin a phrase, three’s a charm. So, without further ado, I am pleased to announce that third prize in this competition goes to (you children will never, never guess, so I will have to tell you): The New York Times.

It’s an odd thing about the Times: from the paper’s own point of view, it would be a preposterous insult to common decency for it ever to be ranked as third in anything; while from the point of view of most attentive readers — indeed, most people with a brain — it would be distressing to think that anyone could rank it that high. We can agree that the Times is always thought-provoking, just as it claims; the difficulty is merely that it provokes various people in various ways.

Again we see the child mind at work, perfectly reproduced both in the sentence and in the naïve spontaneity of the speaking voice.

On May 13, the Times provoked even me to thought. It set me thinking about the special kind of childishness that actually does not see beyond its teddy bear, its little toy horse, and its doll named Pie. Isabel Paterson was concerned with this kind of naiveté when she described the childishness of government planners who go about ruining other people’s lives, never having a clue that those dolls are real:

We feel toward Planners as the heroine of the old-time melodrama felt toward the villain. After having pursued her through four acts with threats of a fate worse than death, which he emphasized by shooting at her, setting fire to her home, and tying her to the railroad track just before the down express was expected, he inquired reproachfully, "Nellie, why do you shrink from me?"

The innocence of Nellie’s antagonist is akin to that of the alcoholic who has no recollection of the bottle of whiskey he’s consumed every day for the past ten years, but who notices his wife cracking open a beer: “Honey, didn’t you have one of those just last week?” And it is akin to the innocence of the New York Times, which on May 13 ran this headline:

Election Is Over, but Trump Still Can’t Seem to Get Past It

No, he can’t. But the marvelous thing isn’t the president’s continual awareness of his victory; it’s the Times’ complete lack of awareness of itself. Every day, sometimes every hour, during the past six months, the New York Times has run headlines attacking Donald Trump. The Times doesn’t require any actual news; its assumption is that of Charles Foster Kane: “If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough.” Gleefully has the Times amassed a mountain of evidence that, far from getting past the election, it is becoming more and more obsessed with it. But now the same paper sits an’ thinks an’ scwatches its wittle head an’ says, “Golly! Ain’t it funny? Mistah Twump jus’ can’t get ovew what happund las’ Novembuh!”

You have to be sincere — sincerely blinkered — to come out with a headline like that. You have to be functioning with as little insight into yourself as the kid who smacks another kid and then is baffled when the kid smacks back.

Every day, sometimes every hour, during the past six months, the New York Times has run headlines attacking Donald Trump.

And so, for a truly classy exhibition of childlike simplicity, the Shirley Temple Prize (third place) is given to that paragon of papers, the New York Times. Let this award be exhibited next to the Pulitzer that Walter Duranty won when he was the Times’ star reporter.

This is the end of the awards ceremony. Good night to all, and to all a good night.

But before you go —  I just want to stipulate: despite my strained attempts to imitate Shirley Temple’s dialect, and my slighting remarks about her movies, she was a great talent, and at least one of her movies was very good. I refer, of course, to Little Miss Marker. Heidi wasn’t bad, either.




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Bring On the Trillion Dollar Coin!

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Most Americans regard the federal deficit and the national debt as a single problem. In reality, they are two separate but related problems. Let’s decouple them and discover whether the widely disparaged idea of a “trillion dollar coin” would actually be an improvement over the practice of continuous borrowing to cover the federal government’s deficit.

Hard money is money backed by a tangible good, typically gold or silver. Fiat money is money backed only by the “good faith and credit” of the government issuing it. In the United States, fiat money comes in two flavors. The vast majority of US currency consists of Federal Reserve Notes and their electronic equivalents, backed by government bonds sold to the public and various central banks. These bonds pay interest that is booked as an expense within the government’s annual budget. For fiscal year 2016 interest payments on these bonds totaled $432 billion, or more than $2,800 for each income tax return filed.

Trump needs no additional congressional authority to mint the coin, since the enabling legislation is already in place.

The second type of US fiat money consists of all coinage and a small amount of paper money with the designation “United States Note” rather than “Federal Reserve Note.” This type of paper money, issued mostly in $2 and $5 denominations, circulated alongside Federal Reserve Notes until the 1970s, and is still occasionally found in circulation today. Coins and US notes are not backed by government debt and pay no interest.

A few years ago, when Republicans in Congress were refusing to raise the national debt ceiling, an idea was floated for minting a platinum coin with a face value of one trillion dollars. This was and still is technically legal, thanks to a 1996 law authorizing the minting of platinum bullion and proof coins. The law empowers the Secretary of the Treasury to strike platinum coins in any denomination that he or she deems appropriate. The idea was that the trillion dollar coin would be minted and deposited at the Federal Reserve, which would then credit the government’s account with a trillion dollars. The government could then spend this newly created money by “writing checks” on this account without having to increase the national debt ceiling or issue additional interest-paying bonds.

The idea died when Republicans caved in and agreed to raise the national debt ceiling. Fast forward to 2017, and now it’s the Democrats who are playing budget brinksmanship in an effort to force President Trump to restore funding for many of their pet causes, such as environmental projects and Planned Parenthood. Currently the fight is over the legislation needed to avoid a government “shutdown” by the end of April. Shortly thereafter, Congress must deal with raising the national debt ceiling. Many Democrats can be expected to oppose such an increase if Trump is unwilling to fund their most critical spending priorities. By teaming up with conservative Republicans who oppose on principle any increase in the national debt, congressional Democrats would likely have the votes to block any debt ceiling increase and thus threaten another government “shutdown.”

However, President Trump has the option to do an end run around the Democrats’ plan by dusting off the “trillion dollar coin” idea and actually implementing it. He needs no additional congressional authority to do so, since the enabling legislation is already in place. This would be a bold move with far-reaching consequences, most of them good.

More importantly, the “trillion dollar coin” would sever the link between mounting federal deficits and ever-higher interest payments on the national debt.

For starters, it would deprive the Democrats of their most potent legislative weapon in their drive to maintain and increase spending on programs that subsidize and empower their core constituencies. Defeating the Democrats’ plans would not eliminate the deficit, but it would lead to less government spending than any plan forged by a “bipartisan consensus.”

More importantly, the “trillion dollar coin” would sever the link between mounting federal deficits and ever-higher interest payments on the national debt. Freezing and then lowering these interest payments are essential to the nation’s economic health, as this interest is a substantial drain on disposable income and productivity.

All government-created fiat money is inflationary, and money backed by hard assets would be preferable. But fiat money backed by “trillion dollar coins” is neither more nor less inflationary than fiat money backed by interest-paying bonds. Of the two choices, the “trillion dollar coin” option is better for both taxpayers’ pocketbooks and the nation’s economic health.




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The Coming of Trump

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Donald Trump is president of the United States.

Few foresaw the Donald’s electoral triumph. Mavens from Nate Silver to veteran Republican strategist Mike Murphy to little old me (actually, I’m over six feet tall) were certain Clinton would win. With the exception of Allan Lichtman, no major American political scientist predicted a Trump victory. (I should mention that Doug Casey, whose name is on the masthead here, also predicted that Trump would win.) Even Trump and his people seemed, on election eve, prepared to face the agony of defeat.

How did most prognosticators get it so wrong? We simply didn’t foresee that Trump would break through to win the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. That was the difference in the election; almost everything else went pretty much as expected. Trump did win Florida, which Obama had carried twice. This was something of a surprise, particularly since many of us believed that Hispanic voters (15% of the Florida electorate) would go overwhelmingly for Clinton. Yet Trump actually did better among Hispanics than Romney in 2012. He won almost 30% of the Hispanic vote, even though pre-election polls showed him with less than half that much support among Hispanics. Clearly there were some hidden Trump voters among this population — “good hombres,” from the Donald’s point of view.

Even Trump and his people seemed, on election eve, prepared to face the agony of defeat.

But hidden supporters weren’t the main reason why Trump outperformed Romney among minorities. More important was the fact that Trump wasn’t running against Barack Obama. A lot of minority voters who got off the couch twice for Barry couldn’t be bothered to vote for a white female Democrat, even though it probably would’ve been in their best interest to do so.

Conversely, the forgotten white voter — the working class whites in the upper Midwest and elsewhere who’ve been left behind in the post-industrial economy and feel threatened by the rise of women and people of color — turned out in unexpectedly high numbers. Economic, racial, and gender ressentiment motivated them enough to put down that can of Bud and drive the pickup over to the polling place.

In the summer of 2016 I had a conversation about the election with a prominent libertarian intellectual. I offered the opinion that the Trump movement represented a revolt of the lower middle class — of the people caught between the nouveau riche of the technology and information economy on the one side, and “coddled” minorities on the other. For years these white working class folks have seen themselves (rightly) as being taken for granted by the Republican establishment, and largely ignored by the Democrats.

A lot of minority voters who got off the couch twice for Obama couldn’t be bothered to vote for a white female Democrat.

A little later I discovered just how many white males without a college degree there are in the voting age population. I don’t recall the exact number offhand, but I do remember being surprised at how large it was. I also remember thinking that if a lot of those guys actually showed up at the polls, Trump could win. But I immediately dismissed that notion from my mind. A high percentage of those folks don’t vote, I said to myself. I believed they would simply continue to accept their fate. But these people, the American lumpenproletariat, saw in Trump a candidate who truly seemed to feel as they do about many issues. They believed that he could be a savior who would improve their lives and preserve their values. And on November 8 they came out to vote for him. Whether they will still support him in four years’ time, or even a year from now, may be another matter, but as of now their support remains pretty firm.

The effect of the Libertarian Party on the election is hard to quantify. Gary Johnson probably took more votes away from Trump, but I don’t see that he gave Clinton any states that Trump would otherwise have won. The Green Party, on the other hand, arguably cost Clinton the election.

I had expected that leftists would hold their noses and vote for Hillary. Given how scary Trump appears from their perspective, and given the example of 2000, when Nader and the Greens handed the election to George W. Bush, voting for Hillary would have been the Left’s best option. But I guess the far Left is as irrational about politics as it is about economics, social policy, human nature, etc. Had Jill Stein’s voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin cast their votes for Clinton, she and not Trump would have been elected. If the Trump administration crushes the hopes and dreams of American leftists, Jill Stein and her wooly-minded supporters will bear a good part of the blame.

An electoral upset of epic proportions was produced by a combination of apathy among many minority voters, enthusiasm for Trump among working class whites, and a few thousand votes cast by clueless leftists. There were in addition two other factors in Trump’s triumph. Two prominent Americans, a man and a woman, played outsized roles in the Donald’s march to victory.

The American lumpenproletariat saw in Trump a candidate who truly seemed to feel as they do about many issues.

The man in question is the late Antonin Scalia. The dead may not vote (outside of Chicago and a few other places), but Justice Scalia exercised, from the grave, a considerable influence over the outcome of the election. A lot of people in places such as the suburbs of Philadelphia were wary of having Hillary Clinton fill not just Scalia’s empty seat on the Supreme Court, but the next two or more vacancies as well. That’s a big reason why a majority of white women were willing to vote for a p***y-grabbing lech like Trump.

The woman, of course, is Hillary Clinton. Some of the hate for her is doubtless based on pure misogyny, or fake news stories swallowed whole by the ignoramuses of America (such as the absurd claim that she was involved in child sex trafficking). But of course it goes well beyond that. Her Kennedyesque penchant for making up her own rules, her money-grubbing, her patronizing style and blatant ambition are all deeply unsympathetic traits. Of course, Trump personifies the same character flaws, on top of which he has no grasp of policy. But it turned out that the voters preferred an uninformed, boorish man to a fairly clever but calculating woman.

What effect Russian hacking had on the election is still unclear, and it’s by no means certain that the investigations now underway will throw real light on the matter. That Putin directed his minions to work against Clinton (and therefore on Trump’s behalf) is pretty obvious, but did the hacking actually change votes, or keep Clinton supporters away from the polls? I find it hard to believe that Russians decided the election. Russian intervention in our politics is certainly something Americans should be upset about. On the other hand, we’ve interfered in so many other countries’ elections during the post-World War II era that the karmic bill had to come due at some point.

The dead may not vote, but Justice Scalia exercised, from the grave, a considerable influence over the outcome of the election.

I happen to favor a friendlier US-Russia relationship. Putin is a gangster, but a friendly Russia would be very helpful in dealing with the two biggest geopolitical threats that we face in the early 21st century, namely Sunni jihadism and Chinese imperialism. The Russian annexation of Crimea (equivalent to the United States taking back Florida if we somehow lost it) and Putin’s little war in eastern Ukraine are not critical to the survival and prosperity of the American people. Russia’s friendship would allow us to make our way in the world with far fewer headaches. That appeared to be candidate Trump’s view, but President Trump has been far more circumspect. Certainly the members of his national security team, now that General Michael Flynn has been removed as national security advisor, are hardly pro-Russian.

We can’t simply ignore Putin’s interference in our election — which, far from being a one-off, was part of a larger, ongoing Russian effort to disrupt the Western alliance. So the future of US-Russia relations remains murky, given the division of opinion on the subject among US elites. Of course, if Russia really has compromising information on Trump, then we face a very different situation, one that could even lead to a constitutional crisis.

To sum up the election: Trump stunned the world. Hillary won the popular vote, but this was due entirely to her lopsided majority in California. In the other 49 states Trump outpolled her by nearly a million and a half votes. He garnered two million more votes than Romney received in 2012. He won 30 states. It was a fairly close election, but a clear victory for the Donald. Like it or not, the result was comparable to John F. Kennedy’s 1960 win.

* * *

As Trump entered office the Republican Party appeared triumphant. Republicans controlled the presidency, both houses of Congress, and more than half of the governorships and state legislatures. But the GOP is in fact in serious crisis. The Republican candidate for president has lost the popular vote in six of the last seven elections. Republican majorities in Congress are magnified by the ruthless gerrymandering carried out by Republican-controlled state legislatures. The core constituency of the GOP, non-Hispanic whites, is shrinking as a percentage of the total population. The party itself is riven by profound ideological divisions. The man who led them to victory in 2016 is probably best characterized as a conservative Democrat (he is of course a ruthless opportunist above all, and better at it than anybody else on the contemporary political scene). Personally and ideologically Trump has little in common with either the Paul Ryan wing of the party or the evangelical-social conservative faction. If he can hold the party together over the next four years, he will go down as the greatest political genius-manipulator since FDR.

Hillary won the popular vote, but this was due entirely to her lopsided majority in California. In the other 49 states Trump outpolled her by nearly a million and a half votes.

Some analysts see this as a real possibility. The creation of such a grand coalition would require that the GOP establishment embrace much of the economic agenda of Trump’s working-class supporters. This is simply not going to happen, as the fights over the repeal of Obamacare and the imposition of a border adjustment tax have shown. The Republican Party has been Balkanized; economic nationalists such as Trump and Steve Bannon are bitterly opposed by economic libertarians such as the Koch brothers and members of the Freedom Caucus in Congress, with Speaker Paul Ryan falling between the two camps (Ryan’s heart is with the libertarians, but he supports the border tax). At the same time, devotees of Wall Street crony capitalism control the main centers of economic policymaking in the administration.

The fact that Grover Norquist supports the border tax sums up the state of flux — or perhaps one should say the schizophrenia — that marks the GOP’s attitude toward economic matters these days. Where it will all lead in terms of policy implementation is anybody’s guess. Confusion or stalemate (or both) seem, at this time, the most likely outcomes.

Meanwhile the social conservatives (some of whom are economic nationalists, while others align with the libertarians) have been thrown a few bones by Trump, such as the abandonment of Obama rules protecting transgender schoolchildren, and the push to defund Planned Parenthood. But social conservatives are toxic in two ways. First, they tend to be absolutist; they despise compromise when it comes to certain issues. Yet in a country as big and diverse as America, compromise is usually necessary. Second, they turn off a lot of people, and not just secularists, when they begin to get their way. Nobody likes moralizing hypocrites (and hypocrites they are — imagine their reaction if Obama’s voice had been heard on the p***y-grabbing tape, yet Trump was given a pass) except perhaps others of their ilk, and the majority of Americans are not moralizing hypocrites. For Trump to keep the social conservatives on board without alienating the rest of us will require a very fine balancing act. And in 70-plus years of life, Donald Trump has not displayed the acumen and tact that such a balancing requires.

At the moment the party is so dependent on Trump, or rather his white working-class supporters, that there’s little it can do but tolerate his personal and policy eccentricities. Nevertheless, many (indeed, most) Republican politicians would much prefer to have Mike Pence sitting in the big seat. The congressional leadership, the people who ran against Trump in the Republican primaries, the internationalists and free traders, and many social conservatives loathe Trump the man, though very few of them have so far dared to say so openly. For the moment they are with him; they have little choice but to support him. They know that without Trump’s working-class support the GOP is doomed to become a minority party nationally, even given the disarray among the Democrats. But if Trump should falter, the party will dispense with him and turn the presidency over to Pence. Trump’s many ethical and legal conflicts, simmering on the political backburner, can be used to ruin him. If his core supporters should abandon him, a scandal or scandals will be brought before the public, followed by congressional and other investigations, ending in resignation or impeachment.

For Trump to keep the social conservatives on board without alienating the rest of us will require a very fine balancing act. And in 70-plus years of life, Donald Trump has not displayed the acumen and tact that such a balancing requires.

Last year I published an essay in Liberty that discussed the existence of “Deep Politics” in post-World War II America. The Trump period, however long it lasts, will be a time of deep political intrigue on a scale unseen since the Nixon years. Only political and policy success — and perhaps not even that — can keep Trump in office for a full term.

* * *

Will Trump’s policies succeed, will his popularity with his core supporters remain high? There are plausible scenarios under which a Trump administration does in fact “succeed.” Yet it’s clear that Trump is the least qualified person to be elevated to the position of leader of the Western world since Elagabalus was made Emperor of Rome in 218 CE. And then there’s the coterie of advisors who surround him.

The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was rejected for a federal judgeship by the Republican-majority Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 because there were indications that he might be a bigot. Bigoted or not, he supports policies that are for the most part reactionary and bound to excite opposition. We may see a new front opened in the War on Drugs, specifically against states that have legalized marijuana (ironic in that this administration will otherwise appeal to “states’ rights” in order to shift policy). Sessions also wants to imprison more nonviolent criminals, even though we already have the highest incarceration rate of any country on earth. He would have made a good attorney general for Woodrow Wilson in 1917, when that president was trampling on the rights of Americans in the name of winning World War I. But Sessions is probably not the man for the America of 2017.

The secretary of defense, retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, was a good fighting general in the Patton mold. He’s a scholar, too, with an extensive private library. But he’s no administrator. He will find it difficult, and perhaps impossible, to master the vast bureaucratic complex he’s been called upon to oversee. Nor is it clear that his intellect and forceful personality will wear well over time with the Ignoramus-in-Chief. His tenure as defense secretary may well end before 2020.

Trump is the least qualified person to be elevated to the position of leader of the Western world since Elagabalus was made Emperor of Rome in 218 CE.

The new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was CEO of ExxonMobil for a decade before becoming our nation’s top diplomat. Many readers of Liberty will be pleased to learn (if they don’t already know) that he’s a devotee of Ayn Rand. Others may agree with Steve Coll that Tillerson’s appointment confirms “the assumption of many people around the world that American power is best understood as a raw, neocolonial exercise in securing resources.” Tillerson, a former Eagle Scout, does not appear well-equipped to perform the duties of the nation’s top diplomat. During his confirmation hearings he created an international incident by threatening China with war in the South China Sea.

Now, I’m very much in favor of taking a stronger line with China, but I don’t believe that a hot war in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Straits is in our interest. Tillerson, with the rich oil and gas resources of the South China Sea in mind, may think otherwise. Additionally, Tillerson has complicated connections to Putin and Russia that may leave him open to charges of conflict of interest as he seeks to manage that very important bilateral relationship.

I am happy to say that Trump’s initial choice as national security advisor, retired Army general Michael Flynn, has disappeared from the scene as a result of ethical lapses and conflicts. His successor, Army general H.R. McMaster, is superbly qualified for the job. A man of courage and integrity, with a fine record of combat leadership in Iraq, he’s also probably the foremost intellect among currently serving general officers. Together with Mattis he should be able to keep Trump’s foreign policy on an even keel.

The most problematic of Trump’s appointments may be those to his economic team. Steve Mnuchin as secretary of the treasury and Gary Cohn as director of the National Economic Council should disturb many of Trump’s most devoted followers. You will perhaps recall how some of those followers berated Ted Cruz on national TV, simply because the senator’s wife worked for Goldman Sachs. Well, the new treasury secretary and the head of the NEA are both Goldman alumni. Until his appointment, Cohn had for many years been Goldman’s second-in-command. Of course, since many of Trump’s most devoted supporters are, objectively speaking, intellectually deficient, the Goldman connection may cause nary a ripple — at least at first.

Rex Tillerson does not appear well-equipped to perform the duties of the nation’s top diplomat.

Trump will need to deliver on his populist promises of more and better jobs, better and cheaper health care, and no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, or he is almost certain to lose the support of the working-class whites who put him in the White House. If he fails, then the cry of “Down with the plutocracy!” will be heard across the land, and none will be shouting it louder than the working class.

Perhaps even more important than the Cabinet members are the councilors who will surround the new president. Of these the most important are White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist and senior counselor Steve Bannon, and Trump’s son-in-law and “senior advisor,” 36-year-old Jared Kushner.

Priebus is the link to Paul Ryan and the Republican leadership in Congress, and to the Republican establishment. A modest man who has much to be modest about, he is likely to be a coordinator rather than a maker of policy. How well he can control, or rather restrain, the Donald remains to be seen. The initial returns are not promising. I would not be surprised if Priebus becomes little more than a cypher, with Bannon and Kushner, more forceful personalities, monopolizing the boss’s ear.

Bannon needs to pick up his game, and soon, or he’ll be back at Breitbart News, writing screeds attacking his former colleagues and boss.

Bannon has been widely castigated as a racist, a fascist, an anti-Semite, etc. He is in fact none of these things. Though a bomb-thrower to be sure, he nevertheless has a great deal of worldly experience and the capacity to look at issues with a fresh (and sometimes withering) eye. He should not be underestimated by his opponents on the left (or the right). He probably sees the best way forward to achieving a successful first term. Like Mattis, McMaster, and Kushner, he should be a very important actor in the unfolding of the Trump administration.

On the other hand, the botched attempt to ban entry to the US by Muslims from seven designated countries, which not only endangered the lives of people who had been of great help to us in Iraq but is still tied up in the courts, and the failure of the badly written bill designed to repeal and replace Obamacare, were largely Bannon’s fault. He needs to pick up his game, and soon, or he’ll be back at Breitbart News, writing screeds attacking his former colleagues and boss.

By all accounts Kushner was a key player in the Trump campaign. Being married to Ivanka Trump further fortifies his position. Yet he’s clearly untested when it comes to both domestic and world affairs. As with many young people, what he knows, he knows well. But what he doesn’t know he hasn’t yet begun to suspect exists. This could be a recipe for trouble, particularly should he come into conflict with more seasoned advisors to the president.

* * *

A successful Trump presidency could provide some satisfaction to libertarians. Lower corporate and individual taxes and less regulation are bedrock principles for most libertarians. But beyond that. . . . Remember, Trump’s margin of victory was provided by white working-class voters. These voters expect certain things from a Trump presidency that are not on the libertarian agenda.

For these folks a successful Trump first term will require that he indeed passes a trillion-dollar infrastructure program that provides millions of $20-$30 per hour jobs in construction and related fields. It will require that some manufacturing jobs come back to America from Mexico and elsewhere (although we know that any major return of such jobs to the United States is, for several reasons, an economic impossibility). It will require that he replace Obamacare with something that gives average Americans the same or better coverage, and at lower cost. It will require that not a cent of Social Security or Medicare benefits be cut, now or in the future. Can Trump do this?

Trump may get his trillion-dollar infrastructure program passed, and given the fact that interest rates are still very low, now would indeed be a good time to borrow that money and do the work. But the rest of what Trump needs to do to secure his presidency and build a new, nationalist Republican Party based on the working class is not only anathema to most libertarians and mainstream Republicans but pure pie-in-the-sky economically.

He is, in short, likely to fail. And if he fails his working-class base will disappear like snow in an oven. And then the knives will come out, and all the people the Donald has traduced and humiliated will have their revenge. The investigations will begin, dirt will be found, and the huckster and showman will no longer have an audience to applaud and bay at his every rich slander and outrageous lie.

Should this scenario become reality, how the final act will play out is far from certain. It’s not likely that Trump will go quietly, as Nixon did. On the contrary, Trump appears to know no limits when it comes to preserving his self-image as a conquering hero. What this may portend for America’s future is difficult to contemplate.




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The Matlock Moment

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METV recently showed an episode from the old television series Matlock in which the eponymous hero is delivering a closing address to a jury in a murder case. He says, in words somewhat similar to the following: “Not only is my client not guilty of murder, but the alleged victim is still alive, and is about to walk through that doorway and into this courtroom!” All eyes turn expectantly to the door — through which, eventually, enters a quite different person. There is a general sigh of disappointment, and Matlock turns back to the jury. “The person who came through that door is not, of course, the alleged murder victim. But the fact that you turned to the door in full expectation that the victim was alive and about to enter indicates plainly that you have a reasonable doubt a murder occurred!” The jury acquits his client.

Sometimes, merely to make a seemingly outrageous claim is enough to show that the claim is credible and that most people are already prepared to believe it.

Then came the now-predictable, hopelessly muddled statements by Obama officials.

I don’t know whether Donald Trump began his political career with an understanding of that principle, but he has certainly put it to good use. He said that Hillary Clinton belonged in jail, and the nation responded with a general feeling that, well, yes, we believe she does. He said that Barack Obama was a disastrous president, and the nation said to itself, “Yes, I already knew he was nothing but talk.” Then, on March 4, Trump said that Obama had been spying on him, and the reaction was far from the media-anticipated, “Now he’s done it. Now everybody can see that he’s crazy.” People in general were quite willing to believe that Obama, or his administration, would naturally have been tapping Trump’s phone, reading his emails, or whatever it was that Trump was suggesting.

Some people continue to demand that Trump prove his claim. The media instantly asserted that the claim could not be proven, that nothing of the kind could even conceivably have happened. Consumers of the media’s own claim were not supposed to have noticed the media’s own, fairly constant, retailing of secret information about Trump — information that must have come from some unfriendly government source. On January 20 the front page of the New York Times had exulted in the alleged fact, certainly leaked to it by people in US intelligence agencies, that said agencies had carried out or were carrying out a program of wiretapping (“intercepted communications”) against Trump or his associates or both. This alone made Trump’s charge seem plausible.

One of the least welcome surprises in the past year has been the extent to which elite opinion has become not merely acquiescent but brazenly complicit in government by intelligence spooks.

Then came the now-predictable, hopelessly muddled statements by Obama officials, and something more important: the realization that, by recent edict of Obama, 17 US intelligence agencies are now able to share “intercepted” or invented information, one with the other, thereby greatly increasing the possibility of leaks, harassment, blackmail, and whatever else any one of them may want to inflict on any US citizen against whom secret investigations have been undertaken. Seventeen times the 16 other agencies is 272. Obama’s action made it 272 times more likely that someone would leak, harass, or blackmail under the succeeding regime than under his own.

Many things about the past year in politics have left my mouth open in amazement. One of the least welcome surprises has been the extent to which elite opinion has become not merely acquiescent but brazenly complicit in government by intelligence spooks, now called “the intelligence community.” People who loudly lamented the activities of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and refused to believe even its most plausible findings now encourage the kind of behavior by which secret agents attempt to control political events — the commissioning of investigations by political hacks, the initiation of investigations that result in nothing except intimidation and implied disgrace, the provision of group statements that cannot be tested for truth because they are based on secret information, and the relentless leaking of information or surmise to a partisan public press.

One doesn’t have to possess any love for conspiracy theories to sense a bad smell coming from the back room of the republic. Now that Trump has announced, in his dumb, clunky way, that he smells it too, maybe someone will open the door and find out exactly who is trying to control this country.




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The Democrats and the Zombie Horde

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I’m not gushing with praise about President Trump’s big speech on February 28, but one of his actions on March 1 does make me gush a little. I chose that verb with cunning: it alludes to his signing of an executive order striking down President Obama’s “Waters of the United States” rule, which gave the EPA the authority to harass people who try to do almost anything about the water on their land, even if the water is nothing but ponds or “vernal pools” (i.e., puddles that show up when it rains). And when I say “harass” I mean harass. The EPA has tried to make malefactors pay tens of thousands of dollars a day in fines.

I usually don’t like to talk about social classes, because the Marxists made such a mess of that, but the rule that Trump wants to get rid of is class legislation of a familiar but very pernicious kind. It’s like all the rules that Democrats have made forbidding you from getting the lightbulb you want or building a house near the suspected hive of some rare insect or drilling for oil in some area that no one ever visits but some environmentalist organization has located on a map and now derives financial support for “caring about.” Such rules — such under-the-table legislation — are meant to help well-off people who live in cities have good feelings or to help their kids get jobs “advocating for the environment,” at the expense of people who work with their hands on farms or oil rigs, or who simply want to maintain a decent environment for themselves. This is legislation that takes wealth (whether money or psychic benefits) out of the control of one group and gives it into the control of another group, which is ignored or ridiculed if it protests.

While he talked, the people in the background sat immobile, staring into space, not daring to move a muscle.

The Democratic Party is the main (not the sole, but the main) engine of class warfare in America, and its view of the exploited class — i.e., the broad mass of people who are hurt by its policies, but have to pay for them — has never been indicated so clearly as it was by the Democrats’ response to Trump’s oration. The Democratic leadership has identified what it thinks is the cause of all its problem: older, white, working-class people who live in that strange, virtually unknown region west of the Hudson and east of Hollywood. So it arranged for a retired Democrat governor from Kentucky, who looks about 180 years old, to sit in a diner in his home state, backed by other white people, mainly old, and talk in a strong Southern accent about himself, his religious connections, and his identification with po’ people and the workin’ class. While he talked, the people in the background sat immobile, staring into space, not daring to move a muscle. This, in the professional Democrats’ view, is the Other that must be tricked into continued subservience to us — the Other that can best be tricked by images of itself as a collection of zombies.

Yes, come to think of it, I do believe that Marx might have had something interesting to say about this.




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Peaceful Riots and Inorganic Cows

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This is the great age of absurdity, of self-evidently ridiculous words that are meant to be taken seriously. The evidence is seemingly infinite, but let’s begin with cows.

The Oakland, California school district, seeking fresh challenges after its wonderful success in teaching students how to read, write, and understand mathematics, has decided to take on the threat of global warming. It has reduced the cheese and meat component of school lunches (please go elsewhere to learn what this has to do with “climate”), and it promises that whatever bovine products are ingested by its students will be derived from “organic dairy cows.”

The Oakland school district is willing to eat not only a peach but a fully organic cow.

The reader’s challenge is to picture an inorganic cow. What does she look like — a thousand-pound vacuum cleaner, slurping up grass? And how do you get the meat out?

Visualization is the key to writing. Remember the command of the New Critics: “Show, don’t tell.” You could say that Prufrock is a nice but feckless gentleman, but it’s more effective to show him wondering, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” Well, the Oakland school district is willing to eat not only a peach but a fully organic cow.

Senator Charles Schumer, a master of malaprop who is also the minority leader of the United States Senate, is constantly instigating Memorable Phrases. He has a childish glee about pushing such slogans as “Make America Sick Again,” which is what he claims Republicans want to do by repealing Obamacare. The slogan flopped; Americans failed to visualize that terrible ante-Obama time when the nation was sick. Yet Schumer joyously pursues his art. A recent attempt at immortal phrasing was his allegation (January 4) that a Republican plan to replace Obamacare “would blow a trillion dollar hole in the deficit.”

For some reason, the senator is always smiling, but he smiled with particular self-satisfaction when he said that. He thought he’d hit a home run. He hadn’t. Picture a deficit. Now picture a hole in the deficit. That’s not easy, but if you can, you’ll discover that it’s a good thing: a hole in the deficit means less of the deficit. So here was another absurd image, although no one seems to have questioned it.

This may be the place to bring up another visualization puzzle, one that I’ve been saving, like a good bottle of wine. It’s a delicious pre-election “news” story that appeared on October 22, on the PBS site. The story is entitled, “Clinton campaign ponders: What if Trump doesn’t concede?” It encourages the thought that Clinton would carry such Republican states as Georgia and Utah.

For some reason, the senator is always smiling, but he smiled with particular self-satisfaction when he said that.

Here’s what actually happened: Georgia — 51% Trump, 46% Clinton; Utah — 46% Trump, 27% Clinton, 22% McMullin (a Mormon spoiler candidate). The “red state strategy” was a tactic invented by Clintonworld to pump news venues such as PBS full of silly ideas (not hard to do) and cause panic among Republicans, who would then divert scarce resources to supposedly threatened states. But even PBS needs to cite some reason for its silly ideas. So, if anyone asked, For what reason could Democrats dream of taking Georgia with a candidate like Hillary Clinton? the answer was: Georgia “has had an influx of diverse voters in the Atlanta area” and is therefore “considered a future battleground state, with many Democrats comparing it to North Carolina.” The comparison was just; Trump won North Carolina by 4%, which was only a little less than the amount by which he won Georgia, and represented a sizable victory.

But what does “diverse voters” mean? Literally, it means nothing: diverse from what? All right-thinking Americans, however, should be able to interpret the code. Diverse means “good,” of course, but it also means “non-white”; and “non-white” means Democrat. Because diverse voters are all alike — right? In other words, they are the opposite of diverse. That’s the idea.

I’ll talk about blatant self-contradiction a little later. First I must entertain some other comments that make no sense but are supposed to be solemnly accepted. Here’s an example that centers around (please note my use of another common expression that is immune to visualization) the phrase on me, as in it’s on me. The it in this phrase is generally supposed to mean something like “the responsibility” or “the mistake,” although it invites earthier images. Anyway, please consider Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly’s declaration that the problems involving President Trump’s famous executive order — the one about entrance to the country by people from certain nations — were on him. In his testimony before Congress on January 7 Kelly showed a sad, indeed a revolting, affection foron me; it appeared to have become his go to phrase:

In retrospect, I should have, and this is all on me by the way, I should have delayed it just a bit in order to talk to members of Congress, particularly leadership of committees like this to prepare them. . . .

Lesson learned on me.

Lesson learned on me. Where is the lesson? It’s on him. No doubt pasted on him, somehow, somewhere — the lesson that has been learned. That’s what he literally said.

What does “diverse voters” mean? Literally, it means nothing: "diverse" from what?

Let’s move along to America’s sweetheart, Bill Gates. Patrick Quealy, one of this column’s most valued friends, writes in with sad news: Gates has issued another public statement. I can’t do better than to quote what Patrick said:

I have long believed that Bill Gates should not be listened to about technology, and I understand that many people disagree with me about this, but one would think we could all unite behind the idea that such a hapless twit is not an ideal person to lecture us about AIDS in Africa or education policy or whatever else his handlers have whispered in his ear that we ought to be concerned about.

To that end, I share this actual thing, reported on CNBC and elsewhere, that Gates said after meeting with Trump:

"I think that whether it's education or stopping epidemics, other health breakthroughs, finishing polio, and in this energy space, there can be a very upbeat message that his administration is going to organize things, get rid of regulatory barriers, and have American leadership through innovation be one of the things that he gets behind."

As Patrick understands, this kind of “exquisite noise” defies analysis and eludes visualization:

Is Gates cooking polio one more minute before it's ready to serve, and doing it in a particularly energetic kitchen? Or has he nearly completed a painting, a study of a viral particle, in a brightly lit studio? I don't know. But so far, from my admittedly privileged point of view, the worst thing about Trump's election is not any policy that has been proposed or implemented. It's that I had to read that f—ing sentence as a result of it.

I can’t improve on that. I can only add that Gates’ comments help me understand why the Help functions on Microsoft products are worse than the problems they’re supposed to solve.

Speaking of New Age benefactors: I’m sure we are all impressed by their ability to enjoy every word that comes out of their mouths. We have all noted the bovine (sorry — I’m still thinking about cows) acceptance of their words by the crackpot (I mean mainstream) media. For the next New Age item I am indebted to John and Ken, Southern Californians’ favorite talk show hosts. They are based in Los Angeles and pay special attention to the decline of that city, where ordinary living becomes less sustainable in direct proportion to the government’s concern with sustainability.

John and Ken recently uncovered a news story solemnly proclaiming the absurd fact that Los Angeles possesses a “chief sustainability officer for the office of the mayor” (yes, the office includes an officer), and that this man has

convened a group of about 20 civil servants and university scientists to determine how to bring the city’s temperature more in line with what it would have been if Los Angeles had never been developed.

The commune of experts reminds me of the passage in Ayn Rand’s Anthem about “the twenty illustrious men who had invented the candle.”But “what we are trying to do,” says the drone in charge of sustainability, “is create a research collective to help us reach our target. It’s a huge challenge.” An even huger challenge would be to explain (A) how we know what the temperature would have been if the city had never been developed and (B) how to convince anyone not on the city payroll or otherwise daft that a community clogged with traffic, bankrupted by welfare, terrorized by crime, and scammed by a vast, almost wholly ineffective school system can put up with perky little officials being paid to theorize about reducing the temperature. The Los Angeles Times pronounces the temperature idea “a noble goal.” That’s tough, skeptical news reporting for you.

The result was a press that remains the perfect image of the snobby, intellectually self-sufficient modern liberal reader, the only person who still cares what editorial boards and noted correspondents have to say.

Contrary to self-serving notions constantly floated by the mainstream media, America never did have a judicious, disinterested, Olympian press. During most of its history it had a press that was unapologetically partisan. Abuse and gross distortion were taken for granted. In the mid-20th century, the press tried to dignify itself by pretending that it was a profession like medicine or physics. The hallmark of professionalism was the science of moderating one’s language so that one could always say, “Who, me?” when confronted by examples of gross though covert partisanship. Its model was the man satirized by Pope, who “without sneering, taught the rest to sneer.” The result was a press that remains the perfect image of the snobby, intellectually self-sufficient modern liberal reader, the only person who still cares what editorial boards and noted correspondents have to say. This is a press that both sermonizes and believes its own sermons, never recognizing how radically they diverge, not just from fair play and a decent regard for truth, but from common sense and logic.

One example, of millions available, is an item in California Magazine; the subject of which is the mob violence that prevented gay libertarian — or is he a gay conservative or a gay rightwinger? — Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at a duly authorized and paid-for event at the University of California, Berkeley. Summarizing this event, the magazine says:

Before Yiannopoulos could utter a single inflammatory syllable, the event was disrupted, by peaceful protestors at first, then by “black bloc” property-destroying saboteurs.

You’ve noticed how the author stacks the deck against the victim, whose remarks (which he never got to deliver) are assumed to have been inflammatory. It’s an interesting word, much in use right now. It suggests a quaint idea of innocence. It pictures normal listeners or readers as the kind of bottles that, as their labels warn, should not be shaken roughly or brought close to an open flame. Look out — these people may blow at any second! But it’s not their fault; their contents are just inflammable. Following this logic to its quick and sorry end, one finds the moral of the journalistic sermon: anyone who, like Milo, plays around with inflammable human material deserves whatever he gets.

It’s an interesting concept of individual responsibility, yet it does have a logic. There is something else in that sentence, however — something that has no logic at all. It’s the words “disrupted by peaceful protestors.” One doesn’t expect violent self-contradiction from self-righteous smugness, but here it is. And it has become so common that most of the people to whom I showed those words reacted at first without any sense that something odd was happening. It took them a while to recall that, hey, there is no way that someone who disrupts a peaceful event is a peaceful protestor.

This is a flat contradiction in terms, so flat that you never see it outside the context of leftwing agitprop — or mainstream reporting. In normal life, no one imagines that a gang of people who walk into a busy intersection and force traffic to stop, in order to accomplish some purpose of their own, are doing something peaceful. Yet when this happened in downtown Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day, as part of a protest aimed (ridiculously) against the building of a pipeline 1,500 miles away, the demonstrators were reported to be peaceful. The same adjective is used for everyone who stops subways, occupies public squares, blocks freeways, enters other people’s offices and has to be carried out — the list is long and constantly growing. This is not peace, any more than it is peace when somebody blocks your driveway, enters your house, sits on your furniture, tries to prevent you from entering, and refuses to leave. Few of the demonstrators appear to believe their actions are peaceful — but the mainstream media do, even when the demonstrations are plainly directed against the freedom of speech that the media pride themselves on exemplifying.

One doesn’t expect violent self-contradiction from self-righteous smugness, but here it is.

On February 16, President Trump gave a press conference in which he excoriated the media for their unfairness to him. The unfairness is real, and deserved to be noticed, but I was struck by two other features of the event. One was my difficulty in locating any of the president’s comments that amounted to a complete statement. There might be a subject — but where was the verb? There might be a transitive verb, but where was the direct object? There were allusions, but what were they alluding to? You can get tired of this kind of thing, and I rapidly did.

But the second thing that impressed me was the fact that I kept on listening to the diatribe. It may have been a cheap pleasure, but it was pleasure nonetheless, just to listen to the crude and obvious smugness of the press get its due reward in the crudeness of its rejection. I think that most listeners felt that way. I can’t imagine that many of them, even if they happened to be modern liberals, were overwhelmed with sympathy for the press. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer wrathful, unformed sentences to the imbecile completeness of disrupted by peaceful protestors?




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The Base vs. the Most

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The idea is abroad on conservative blogs and talk shows that President Trump’s opposition is staging much of its agitation against him simply as a means of “pandering to the base.” I refer to senatorial walkouts from confirmation votes, the constant barrage of inflammatory remarks from Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and other official leaders, the constant demands for investigation of this or that normal process of government (e.g., Trump’s firing of political appointees from the losing party), the accusation that Trump is anti-Semitic and homophobic, etc.

If the “pandering” idea is true, then the Democrats believe they are in serious trouble. You don’t keep pandering to your base unless you’re, first, unsure of its loyalty and second, unable to reach out to a broader array of potential voters. Perhaps Democrats have been traumatized by the fact that many people in their core communities failed or refused to vote in 2016.

You don’t keep pandering to your base unless you’re, first, unsure of its loyalty and second, unable to reach out to a broader array of potential voters.

But much the same thing can be said of Trump’s speeches, tweets, and continuing rallies in his own support. Anyone can tell that his remarks on these occasions, and many of the occasions themselves, are meant to keep his base energized, not to attract people outside the base. Like the Democrats, he wouldn’t mind attracting such people, but the first priority is to keep the base alive. Trump is, perhaps, just as worried as the Democrats, and if so, with good reason, because so far, it doesn’t seem that the majority of the American people is any more than superficially supportive of or even listening to either side in the great controversy.

Victory will go to whoever can win those voters, and while it seems certain that Trump is way ahead — he has a larger base of passionate supporters — he has every reason to feel insecure.

Having said these things, I need to notice the fact that politicians are often members of their own base, virtually indistinguishable from it, and unable to look beyond it. In national politics, however, these people are almost always failures — and politicians who want to be nationally influential often try not to be that way. Many Washington honchos are embarrassed by the rhetoric that now issues from the commanding heights of their parties, seeing it as mere rhetoric; they just go along with it, hoping that after the base is secure they can start counting votes outside the base. But such people as Elizabeth Warren are at one with their core supporters. She isn’t fooling anybody; she actually believes the strange things she says, and she is very unlikely to see the value of saying anything else. The more important question is the degree to which Trump is a member of his own base.




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Slam Dunk Me, Karma, Through the Basketball Hoop of Life

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Is it just me? Surely not. I can’t be the only person in America who has noticed that since the election of President Trump, huge numbers of both Democrats and Republicans have turned into raving twits. There must be something in the water that makes people forget everything that happened politically in this country longer ago than, say, six weeks.

George W. Bush was absolutely godawful for freedom. Then Barack Obama actually made the situation worse. Now along comes Donald Trump, going authoritarian like gangbusters, and many of the same conservatives who only a couple of months ago were complaining about the Stalinist direction of the federal government are euphoric about how masterfully he is steering the ship of state. And the “progressives” (sorry, I cannot bring myself to write that word without scare quotes), who so recently worshiped at the altar of the previous president’s might, have actually begun to lament the authoritarianism of the presidency.

Since the election of President Trump, huge numbers of both Democrats and Republicans have turned into raving twits.

If Rip Van Winkle were to awaken today, having fallen asleep just before November of 2016, he’d be so confused that he’d go right back to sleep again. Libertarians could explain it all to him, since we’re the only ones who understand what’s going on. I can only speak for one libertarian, but the whole mess makes me want to take a nap and not wake up ’til at least a few among my countrymen who’ve lost their minds come to their senses again. I’m being exceedingly optimistic, of course, in assuming that this will happen.

From the long perspective of history, that pendulum of power we always talk about is swinging to and fro like the bell-pull in the tower at Notre Dame. Poor Quasimodo is hanging on for dear life. And those of us who’ve managed to retain our sanity are hanging on with him.

What the Democrats are experiencing at the moment is karma. Not the good kind, which results from doing unto others as you would like to be done unto you. To paraphrase an old country song, they’re getting slam-dunked by karma through the basketball hoop of life. They care about nothing but winning the political game. But they’re getting trounced, and their Republican opponents are gleefully running up the score.

Democrats' hypocrisy has all but destroyed what little remained of their credibility.

It never occurs to the Democratic leaders that they’re losing precisely because they’ve turned politics into a game. Or that they’re being beaten so savagely because they’ve been playing so dirty. They’ve been doing dirt unto others, so now dirt is being done unto them.

They are currently beclowning themselves with artificially manufactured outrage over President Trump’s temporary ban on travel to the US from seven predominantly-Muslim countries. They uttered not a peep while President Obama dropped thousands of bombs on Muslim countries and instituted his own immigration ban on Iraqi refugees (see paragraph 5 here). Their hypocrisy has all but completely destroyed what little remained of their credibility.

And they keep coming at us with fresh outrages: Trump’s plan to deport known criminals who are here illegally was morphed into a pogrom against all brown people, his pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was accused of plotting the end of all education everywhere in America, and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was thrust into the media hot seat because a “Make America Great Again” cap was spotted in his locker. I could go on with the examples, but why? Our nation reels from them, like a punch-drunk boxer on the ropes. Because we can absorb only so much outrage, the cumulative effect is that many of us are merely numb. The Democrats hunger for relevance, but the cruelest blow that karma is inflicting is that they have made themselves irrelevant.

The Democratic Party may have entered a death spiral. Its moment of defeat may, this time, prove to be permanent. It very possibly may not be able to rescue itself, because it can’t stop being itself. What is perhaps most gruesome about the whole spectacle is that America’s oldest political party has locked itself into its follies. It can’t admit them, and to desist from them would be to tacitly admit that they are foolish. So it sees no choice except to double down on them,even though these tactics may reduce the Democrats’ vote beyond the point of national electability.

The Democrats hunger for relevance, but the cruelest blow that karma is inflicting is that they have made themselves irrelevant.

Libertarians have been wondering if our own party might possibly move into such prominence that a three-party system might be established. What just might happen, instead, is that the Dems will go the way of their ancient enemies, the Whigs. In that case, Libertarians might be the ones squaring up against the GOP in the two-party head-to-head conflict that has almost always characterized US politics.

I don’t know if this will happen, but I believe that such a development would be good for our country. It would certainly be better than the likely alternative, which is a continuous Republican ascendancy. Liberty loses when one party always wins.




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Hidden in Plain Sight

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One of Donald Trump’s first acts as president was to order federal agencies to repeal two regulations every time they propose one.

This is an action that requires some followthrough. It can easily be twisted or ignored by unwilling bureaucrats — and what Washington bureaucrat wants to obey President Trump? If the boss doesn’t watch out, somebody in Ring 3, Floor 9, Office G, Cube 2B will fulfill the departmental quota by rounding up ten nasty little regs, withdrawing them, and issuing one big, ten-part, much nastier reg.

We’ll see whether the followthrough happens. But the idea itself seems exactly what libertarians and conservatives have been waiting for. As someone who is more or less actively engaged in sorting through old books and files, so I can get some space to live in, I’ve made a personal commitment to throw out two boxes of junk for every new box of junk I acquire. This makes sense to me, and if I ever follow through on the scheme, it may work.

If the boss doesn’t watch out, somebody will fulfill the departmental quota by rounding up ten nasty little regs, withdrawing them, and issuing one big, ten-part, much nastier reg.

Trump’s idea should be crucially interesting to modern liberals, though in a different way. Their power and often their jobs depend on the proliferation of rules, of people who make rules, of people who interpret and enforce rules. That’s them, the modern liberals, so I would think their eyes would be firmly focused on Trump’s attempt at a de-rulement.

Yet neither liberals nor libertarians nor conservatives are paying much attention to Trump’s apparently fundamental change in the way the government works. Even when they notice it, they don’t seem to care very much. On February 2, the famous (for what, I’m not exactly sure) Fareed Zakaria wrote a column in the Washington Post in which he approved of Trump’s action — but only as a public foil for his dislike of Trump. Zakaria’s point was that although he liked the reduction of regs idea, he objected to the president otherwise, especially detesting his administration’s attempt to “delegitimize” “any institution or group that might stand in its way.”

To me, this approach seems a little one-sided. We have lately been exposed to seemingly endless videos of people — often Senators, attorneys, professors, and other elderly rioters — noisily insisting that Trump is not the president and that all his acts are unlawful, vicious, racist, misogynist, and fascist. It seems clear to me that there’s a whole lot of delegitimizing going on, besides Trump’s desacralizing of, for instance, the media in which Zakaria swims.

So much for Zakaria, and so much for Trump. What is not clear to me is why no one is making a big deal, one way or the other, out of this thing — reducing regulations — that Trump actually did. To me, the lack of reaction is a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in something I can’t figure out. Do you understand it?




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