Tag: Donald Trump (Page 1 of 14)

Mr. President, George Washington was no treasonous Confederate

I never thought I’d hear this argument from the President of the United States, much less from a Republican whose fans fancy themselves hardcore patriots, but Donald Trump compared George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson yesterday.

The moment came during his off-the-rails press conference in which he doubled down on his “many sides” take on the violence in Charlottesville.

TRUMP: Those people — all of those people –excuse me, I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

Q Should that statue be taken down?

TRUMP: Excuse me. If you take a look at some of the groups, and you see — and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not — but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

There are only two groups of people who compare Washington to Lee: those who want to take Washington’s statue down by attaching to it the baggage of Lee, and those who want to keep Lee’s statue up by painting on the varnish of Washington. Trump either thinks Washington is just as bad as Lee or Lee is just as great as Washington.

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North Korea calls Trump’s bluff (Update on Trump’s statement)

Yesterday I wrote that Trump’s threat to send “fire, fury, and power the likes of which the world has never seen before” raining down on Pyeongyang if Kim Jong-un threatened to attack the U.S. was reckless because it would put American credibility at stake.

I said:

There are only two things that can come of Trump’s threat to respond with “power the likes of which this world has never seen before”:
1.) Trump is bluffing, and he doesn’t start a nuclear war with North Korea. Many lives are initially saved, but America’s credibility is damaged, causing North Korea to push forward with its nuclear weapons program and raising the risk of war later.
or
2.) Trump does incite a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.

It was just a few hours later that North Korea made a threat to strike Guam. As I wrote at the time, North Korea makes implausibly bellicose threats all the time, and it is wise not to always take them at face value. Yet Trump specifically mentioned “threats” in his statement (“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States”), so for him to not follow through would mean North Korea once again found his words to be not credible.

The result:
Trump just set his own, uncrossable ‘red line’ — and North Korea crossed it instantly – CNBC
North Korea just called Trump’s bluff. So what happens now? – Washington Post

Trump appears (wisely, it should be said) to have opted for choice #1 of the two choices, at least for now.

If and when the President does a real red line, however, will North Korea believe him? And if they don’t, would that mean war?

Maybe world leaders will realize that Trump is a buffoon and take their cues on America’s position from smarter men like Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and National Security Advisor McMaster (who is currently facing an attack from the alt-right).

To that end, Mattis put out a statement, in much more refined language, that threatened strong actions should North Korea go too far but also affirmed America’s strength and ability to deter:

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Trump’s “fire and fury” threat on North Korea is reckless

Donald Trump’s saber-rattling towards North Korea has heated up as North Korea is getting closer and closer to having an operational intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the United States mainland.

This afternoon, he threatened “fire and fury” against Kim Jong-un’s thiefdom.

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. He has been very threatening — beyond a normal statement. As I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

Notice, too, that Trump’s strong words were made specifically in response to “threats” by Kim Jong-un and his government. North Korea makes farcical threats all the time. In 2013, years before he had the capabilities to hit even Los Angeles, Kim made a threat to attack Austin, Texas, of all places.

That Trump issued such fiery words in response to “threats” rather than anything of substance indicates his strange obsession with honor politics. He is a man whose argument for pulling out of deals is that “the world is laughing at us.” He took Cuban President Raul Castro’s absence at Obama’s arrival to Cuba as an insult to the United States.

North Korea, of course, poses some very real threats to the U.S. and its allies. It tested two ICBMs in July, prompting new UN sanctions, and a U.S. intelligence assessment holds that it has attained the capability of putting warheads on missiles.

But North Korea’s threat is just why Trump needs to be careful: hasty responses could cause miscalculation and could result in a war that would leave millions dead. Even without the use of nuclear weapons, 20 million civilians in the Seoul area and 28,500 American troops in Korea are at immediate threat of heavy artillery.

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Donald Trump wants Republicans subservient to him

Jonah Goldberg writes about a “cult of personality” around Trump again this week. It’s a well-trodden subject, especially at National Review, in my own writings, and even from Trump’s own mouth (“I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue…”).

So far he hasn’t been able to translate his rabid base of supporters into much besides a solid 39 percent base of approval and a protective wall of Republican Congressmen who mostly want to do as little as possible to hold him accountable.

For all the Republicans have been leaking information favorable to Trump, going on TV making farciscle excuses, and (some of them) using questioning of Jim Comey to defend Trump, Trump has been shockingly ungrateful to Republicans for their help.

Over the past few weeks, he has attacked Jeff Sessions, his first Senate supporter, for recusing, questioned the allegiances of Ron Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who put his credibility on the line to help Trump fire Comey, and publicly threatened to primary Sen. Dean Heller, who is facing one of the toughest reelection fights of a Republican Senator in 2018, while sitting next to him.

Trump is noted for his views on “loyalty”–which got him in trouble with Comey–but it’s all about loyalty for he, not for thee.

But if there’s one thing Trump is in no short supply of, it’s narcissism and brazenness. This afternoon, the long-time Democrat demanded Republicans rally around him.

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Poland, Trump, and Hungary: This is what illiberal democracy looks like

The election of Trump, the Law and Politics Party winning a majority in Poland in 2015, and Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary; what they all have in common is not merely a right-wing bend, but a contempt for liberal democracy. So goes the narrative, which has been particularly on display since Trump’s speech in Poland, that “illiberal democracy” is threatening the underpinnings of democracy in the Western world and beyond.

Some of the more conservative-minded would say this argument is the resentment of the losers. Trump, Szydlo, and Orbán won their elections fair and square. Why should they be dismissed just because you disagree with them? “If a democracy now needs to be a tool for spreading liberalism, conservatives are by definition, not democratic,” Sumantra Maitra wrote for Quillette.

Here is the thing: the problem isn’t simply with policy preferences but with the normative structures of democracy itself. These governments are taking actions to solidify their own power, not just to advance ideological interests of the people, but to advance the personal and party-based interests of the leaders or the ruling parties in ways that strike at the legal and moral underpinnings of democracy and rule of law.

A few examples will illustrate what exactly is meant by illiberal democracy. In Poland, the ruling party is trying to enact a measure that would give them control over the composition of the judiciary. As reported by Politico Europe:

Poland’s parliament, under the leadership of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, passed a law dissolving an independent body responsible for the nomination of judges. At the same time, PiS submitted a draft law that would force the entire Supreme Court into retirement and give the country’s justice minister the ability to decide which judges can stay in their current roles.

Currently, Poland’s federal judges are appointed by a professional panel of lawyer. The Law and Justice party attacked the judges as leftists—the party chairman called the judiciary a “stronghold of post-communists”—and it is easy to see how a panel made up of lawyers could be attacked as “elitist” and biased to be more favorable towards political liberalism than the public, due to expected leanings within the field. Perhaps there is a case to be made for having judges appointed by the president, prime minister, parliament, or some combination thereof, as is done in places like the United States and South Korea. Although there are problems with the system in the U.S., which has resulted in the politicization of judicial appointments, there is a case to be made for some level of political accountability in the process.

The problem is that the manner by which Law and Justice is planning to implement this program appears meant to give their party control over the composition of the court

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U.S. should fight against Russian incursions, not work with them

The Trump administration and the alt-right generally has been pushing for making good with Russia. The argument seems hinged as much on unfounded fears of Russia as on possible benefits that could come out of it (which are few).

Recently we saw two examples of this: one with Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20, another with revelations about Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with a Russian lawyer, which Trump Jr said was about Russian adoptions.

At the G20, Trump had a meeting with Putin that stretched for over two hours. The Trump administration said Trump raised the issue of Russia’s hacking and dissemination of emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the meeting, as one would expect the U.S. president to do, but they were vague as to whether Trump accepted Putin’s denial of such hacking, as Russia’s foreign officials said he did, and as he himself has done in public multiple times, including the day before the meeting.

Still, Trump doesn’t want to be perceived as having done little or nothing, so he tweeted that he “discussed forming” some kind of “impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..” (No word on whether Baron Trump will be appointed as the first chief of the unit, since he’s “so good with computers.”)

Besides the fact that a “Cyber Security unit” is an extremely vague term that sounds more like a useless facade with less power than the UN Human Rights Council and the fact that, according to his tweet (even taking it at face value), they merely “discussed” it, and the fact that Trump’s statements are notoriously unreliable anyway, the whole idea that the U.S. should set something up with Russia to protect itself against hacks by Russia is delusional.

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Trump Warsaw speech confuses more than clarifies

Donald Trump came home from his first G20 meeting as president with U.S. policy towards Russia, Syria, and Europe in the same state of confusion as when he left. On issues from election interference, Syria’s ongoing civil war, and defense of its allies, the administration made contradictory statements and lacked credibility.

Start with his big Warsaw speech the day before the G20 started: He spoke of values threatened by terrorism, violence, and tyranny, but he didn’t define those values or the threats. Since his first foreign trip, he has been vague as to what he thinks constitutes terrorism. In Saudi Arabia, a country that is funding militants and spreading Wahhabism, he called for nations of the world to “drive out the terrorists and extremists.” As one might have expected, he took the opportunity in Warsaw to emphasize the fact that he made a speech in Saudi Arabia.

But who was he referring to when he said “drive out the terrorists?” Are the groups fighting to overthrow Assad terrorists? Clearly some of them are affiliated with terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, and even those that are not are engaging in anti-government violence to achieve political goals, which falls under the definition of terrorism. Yet Trump has appeared to have good chemistry with the Saudis, bragging (and vasty exaggerating) about the prospect of selling them millions of dollars of weapons. He even appeared to side with Saudi Arabia in its geopolitical conflict with Qatar, before he even knew what was happening. (Read Blatt and Maitra’s piece on the Qatar situation in The National Interest.)

It wasn’t but three paragraphs later that Trump’s call for states to stop supporting terrorism ran up against the reality of Syria. He said, “We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran.” By implication, this policy would help the militants and terrorists fighting in Syria; without Russia’s support, the Syrian regime would be much weaker.

The call for Russia to stop supporting Iran and the labeling of Iran as a “hostile regime” also plays into Saudi Arabia’s goal for domination of the Middle East. Rather than opposing terrorism, Trump is simply buying the Saudi framing of “terrorism” as an excuse to push Saudi self-interest—even at the expense of U.S. interests.

This follows months of confused policy from the Trump administration on Syria. As Bombs + Dollars has documented, the Trump administration has vacillated between withdrawing American opposition to Assad and calling for Assad’s overthrow. In the span of one week in April, the White House went from saying U.S. policy was not focused on getting Assad out to calling for Assad’s ouster and then bombing an airfield.

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Was Trump’s Warsaw speech really that controversial?

Donald Trump made his first major foreign speech on Thursday, July 6, at the memorial to the Warsaw Uprising in Warsaw, Poland. He was surprisingly clear, coherent, and projected conviction and belief in the words he uttered.

I don’t agree with Trump on everything and believe that his personal conduct leaves much to be desired and does not give due respect and reverence to the office he holds. However, the reaction to this speech was disproportionate to what was actually said and reveals the ulterior motives of those making the point.

After the usual diplomatic flim-flam thanking the Polish dignitaries and saying how much he loved to be in Poland, a country placed at the centre of the European continent and witness to some of its defining historical moments, trials and tribulations, he got down to his speech. It was a long one, and the transcript is available here.

Trump, however, gave a realistic picture of the threats facing the Western world today. He talked about a variety of geopolitical security issues, from radical Islamist terrorism, to cybersecurity issues, to a commitment to Article 5 of NATO, to Russian meddling in the Ukraine.

Of course, because he didn’t spout the same platitudes about ‘hope and change’ and say everything would be fine if we just hold hands and sing ‘Imagine’, his speech led to the predictable circles in the media to weep and wail about how dark it was, how lacking in hope, how deprived of optimistic visions of the future.

They proclaimed that he had regressed to his ‘American Carnage’ rhetoric seen in his inauguration speech. Sorry, the world isn’t a pretty place and there are people who would be quite happy to see the West enfeebled, in retreat and in eventual ruin. Facing up to that, with a degree of honest realism, is now beyond the pale. Maybe that’s why we’re in such bad shape.

After this, Trump really plunged into the heart of his message. And of course, the commentary classes went crazy. The New Republic and Vox.com called it an ‘alt-right’ speech based in xenophobic nativism speckled with a dusting of white grievance. (Compare Trump’s speech with that of Kennedy in 1961)

Eric Foner of Columbia University on BBC’s Newsnight repeated the idea that Trump was espousing white nationalism and alt-right xenophobic nativism. According to him, saying that Europe and the West are based on Judeo-Christian values is basically evidence of white pride.

I’m sure those who also subscribe to Judeo-Christian values who aren’t white, like Coptic, Syriac and other Middle Eastern Christians and Israeli Jews are thrilled at this incredibly solipsistic and narcissistic display of privilege on the part of some well-to-do academic. 

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The triumph of bullshitting: Why Trumpcare probably won’t hurt Trump

What happens when a “populist” conidate becomes president and has to account for the contradictions between his rhetoric and his real platform? What happens when a bill is on his desk and he has to either sign it or veto it and can’t do both? With the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate trying to push through TrumpRyancare in a span of two weeks, we may soon see.

Slate‘s Jamelle Bouie says that for Trump to sign Trumpcare, Medicaid cuts, tax cuts for the rich, and the rest of his typical Republican agenda, he will lay bare the phoniness of his “populism,” alienating him from the “working class” voters who are credited with powering him to victory. I’m not so sure.

Bouie cites recently released studies of cultural-identity politics views and the 2016 election. Of particular interest is Lee Drutman’s study, which plotted voters on quadrants by economic views and social views in order to arrive at four groups: traditional conservatives (conservative on economic and cultural issues), traditional liberals, and, most important, “populists” (liberal on economic issues and conservative on cultural issues). You might associate these groups with particular candidates: Mitt Romney and House Speaker Paul Ryan in the traditional conservative camp, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama traditional liberals, Gary Johnson a populist, and Donald Trump a “populist.”

As you can see, “populists” are a big group, and Republicans seemed to do win more of them than did Democrats, despite the fact that those voters should agree with the Democratic economic agenda more than with the Republicans.

The data bares out that Trump won the vast majority of “populists”:

Why didn’t Republicans win “populists” in 2012 or 2008? One key point: Even as Romney and Ryan might well be more conservative/right-wing than the general public on cultural issues, they are not as conservative, and importantly, not as vocal in expressing those views, as Trump is.

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Post-election survey finds ethnocentric, identity politics factors in election

Trump supporters don’t terribly like immigrants or Muslims, and white Democrats like African-Americans more than white Americans.

Those are some of the findings of a large-scaled post-election study by John Sides, professor of political science at George Washington University. The survey data comes from multiple surveys by YouGov of 45,000 respondents, including 8,000 respondents who were interviewed both in 2011-2012 and 2016. One of the questions asked voters to rate certain ethnic and religious groups on a thermometer scale:

A few things that can be said:
– For all groups surveyed, immigrants and Muslims rated second to last and last, respectively, but the difference was much greater with Republicans and Trump primary voters.
– Trump voters ranked white people more favorably than any other group ranked them and ranked minorities (excluding Jews) lower than every other group.
– While Trump voters ranked Jews slightly lower than did Republicans as a whole, their rating of Jews is lined up pretty evenly with the rating of Jews by Democrats, white Democrats, and the population at large–around 75.
– Democrats ranked blacks, Hispanics, and Jews noticeably higher than they ranked whites. Even white Democrats ranked blacks and Jews slightly higher than they ranked whites. The gap in the ratings of whites by Democrats as a whole is thus due partially, but not entirely, to the fact that there were many more blacks and Hispanics represented in the survey sample of “Democrats” (as opposed to “white Democrats”).

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