Friday, November 29, 2019

I Just Don't Like Him

Medieval politics was personal and individual.  I understand "Game of Thrones" captured that well. We think of that as petty and selfish - a king is supposed to act for the good of his people, not only for his and his family's own advantage. That a duke slighted you is not now considered sufficient reason for war. It was then.  In fact, it has been the norm for most of human history, and the medieval era could fairly be considered one that moved us in the direction of rulers having more concern for the ruled. Henry IV was a pretty good king, but didn't get much credit for it in his day.  People didn't like him much.

We owe a great deal to George Washington's example of being a president of all the people, and being above party.  The presidents who succeeded him had been generally vicious partisans on their way up to the office, but the first few, who had seen the value of Washington's political neutrality, tried hard to match it.  They considered it "befitting to the office," and it set the tone for those after. Today we consider it automatic that presidents don't take us to war over personal issues.  It was one of the things some worried about with Donald Trump, that his vindictive responses to internal political conflicts would be echoed in international affairs, and he would take us to war with a country whose leader had crossed him.  That has not proved to be the case.  In fact, one could make a fairer case against Obama and Bush 43 letting personal opinions of other rulers or nations cloud their judgement. I haven't thought it through beyond that.  DJT might score above many others on that scale.  Even if he's dead wrong in his decisions, I don't think it can be said that they reflect personal scores to settle, or being blinded by guys he just likes.

I don't think we are very far above the medievals in this attitude.  We are mostly just pretending we have reasons why we like political candidates.  We look in irritation at the consultants who try to sell their candidates on the basis of image rather than ideas, but they likely know better than we do that the ones who disapprove most are equally susceptible to being manipulated. I have a friend of good, longstanding conservative credentials who keeps telling me how upset he is with Trump. He's not a good family man.  Can you imagine what it must be like to be in that family? He didn't vote for Obama either time, but he admires what a good family man he was. (I only partially grant that, BTW.  Yet I at least take his point.) I tell him I would much prefer Trump be a better husband and family man, but it ultimately doesn't affect my vote.  My friend reluctantly agrees, but then two weeks later he tells me how Trump's bragging bothers him. It bothers me, too, but it is well down the list of what I'm going to vote on. My friend just doesn't like him, and the issues take a back seat.  He's not the only one I know.

It is the same on the other side of the divide.  I briefly shared an office with someone who is radical enough left that he hasn't much liked most liberals until Bernie, and now this crop of farther-left Democrats.  He does agree with radical conservatives at least partly on some issues.  In our conversation I said "One of the things I was worried about with Trump was that he was going to impulsively and vindictively get us into war.  If anything, the opposite has been true." He paused, caught my point, and acknowledged that he could at least see why I thought that was a reason to support him. Yet he quickly went into other criticisms that were not entirely issue-based, and one of the women at the table shivered about what a horrible man he is and women have every right to be worried about what might happen to them. I pointed out that John Edwards and Bill Clinton were worse, and nothing bad seems to have happened to women under Trump, but the reply was a shaking of the head and another shiver. They just don't like him. The issues don't matter.

It is similar on the other, other side, of those who support him.  I comment on a half-dozen conservative sites, and at each there are regulars who will not only defend Trump no matter what he does, but call you names quickly if you disagree with him about anything. Tariffs are a bad idea. Maybe Trump can wrest a short-term tactical victory from the use of them, but they are still a long-term loser. Because much of what is lost is opportunity cost and creative destruction we don't see the price tag, but it's still there.  Even if the trade war with China hurts them more than us, it still hurts us, and some sectors more than others. It's a real cost that some neighbors are paying, even if it works out for our long-term benefit. But if anyone says that, they are dismissed as elites or neverTrumpers, who just don't see that he's playing 3D chess and outwitting them all.  They just like him. They repeatedly praise him because he fights, as if that were somehow the key.  He kicks the people they want to see kicked, and they just like him.  They insist that the constant insult and combativeness are an essential part of the strategy.

Well tell that to Bill Belichick. (Who I think would be a really fun president to have, BTW.) You don't actually have to say "Screw you, I'm doing it my way," you just have to be unaffected by what stupid or untrustworthy people say.  That's the part Trump gets right, being unaffected and doing it his way anyway. The combativeness is part of the package with him, and perhaps was necessary to get elected in the current climate, but it's not necessary to governance.  Plenty of great leaders have done without it. Washington dealt with armed rebellion and threats of secession. Lincoln had a full-fledged civil war. Yet kicking is the part some Trump fans like. They believe that combativeness, rather than confident independence, is what has been missing in the past.  They say that he and his abrasiveness are what is doing it all, with no help from the Republican establishment. You tell me how successful he would be if the Senate was 70-30 in favor of Democrats. No Federalist Society recommended judges appointed at multiple levels then.

DJT has been successful at the tipping point for the Republicans and that is valuable.  Not everyone can do it. Yet the scales have to be closely balanced for the tipping to even be a possibility.

Obama infuriatingly said "You didn't build that," when the people he was speaking about absolutely had built that.  Government can provide value-added or value destruction, and that can indeed be crucial.  There are plenty of places with ruined economies because their governments didn't do its job well.  But the government didn't build that, the people operating in a free market did.  So too with Trump - and to be fair to him, for all his braggadocio, he is not the one claiming he's doing it all, it's his die-hard fans - he didn't build that. The hated Republican establishment built that, but proved repeatedly they could close the deal. He has provided value-added, and it has been crucial WRT judges. He has been helpful in terms of the economy, but he'd be the first to tell you that it is millions of people working at their jobs that is building that. At the moment, his foreign-policy choices look okay among the usual list of terrible choices leaders have in this fallen world. In all these things, it's not a fair world.  Some presidents can get away with numerous bad decisions, so long as they don't get them all wrong, because the times are not critical.  Others need to get 80% of their decisions right or they fail, because the times are dire.

But sometimes people just like him, and they are going to support him even when he goes against their previous ideas.


Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: It was one of the things some worried about with Donald Trump, that his vindictive responses to internal political conflicts would be echoed in international affairs, and he would take us to war with a country whose leader had crossed him. That has not proved to be the case.

That is incorrect. Trump has sided with authoritarians because he admires authoritarians and thinks it reflects well on him, not because it is in the best interests of the United States — like having a military parade. As for war, he simply surrenders the field to authoritarians, and lets them do the dirty work. It does solve the problem of overextending American forces, but will leave the U.S. weaker and more isolated, not stronger.

Assistant Village Idiot: Yet kicking is the part some Trump fans like.

That's right. Pwn the libtards, even if it means abandoning all conservative principles.

Assistant Village Idiot: Obama infuriatingly said "You didn't build that," when the people he was speaking about absolutely had built that.

Obama was referring to roads and other infrastructure, so your position is based on an out of context quote.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Sided with authoritarians? Surrendered the field to authoritarians? And he has kicked some authoritarians and not done what they wanted as well. Lots of countries are run by authoritarians. You are concluding that every cooperation with any of those countries is because Trump likes authoritarians, mind-reading his motives. Lots of people pretend to read the motives of their political opponents, always in the service of their own narrative. You would say that Trump is overall siding with authoritarians? I suspect those authoritarians in China, Russia, North Korea might disagree with you that they are being "sided with" at present.

As you bring up the military parade, it tips your hand where you are coming from. It's quite a leap from "military parade" to "authoritarian," but news sources leapt anyway. It is not what you believe, but who you believe that is the problem. You have believed the corporate media interpretations of Trump - rather slavishly, actually. Try to show some independence from them if you expect to be taken seriously.

As for the Obama quote, you are only partly right. Roads, yes, but there was also reference to "someone who helped you" in general, as if the government deserves credit for that, and education, as if the federal government - which is what he is talking about - deserves credit for that. He sets up a straw man that people who built businesses are taking complete credit, as if living in a free country that operates with a free market with paid local police and firefighters is something they never give credit for. So therefore, he says, you should give a bunch more money to the federal government. That's pretty deceitful. The federal government didn't build most of that either. If he had talked about founding fathers and form of government and military explicitly, conservatives would have agreed and signed on in droves, thinking they'd found a new ally. But then he'd lose some Democratic support, wouldn't he?

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: Sided with authoritarians?

Erdoğan, Putin, Kim, among others.

Assistant Village Idiot: Lots of countries are run by authoritarians.

Sure, and sometimes the U.S. must deal with authoritarians in order to maintain global stability. But Trump does more than that. He has tilted the U.S. away from economically powerful democracies to economically weak authoritarians; from the western Europe to Russia, from Japan and South Korea to North Korea. And he has given Turkey free reign to purge allied Kurds from Syria. Furthermore, he has called on authoritarian, communist China to investigate a U.S. citizen, his political opponent, and did so just days before the start of bilateral negotiations concerning hundreds of billions of dollars in trade.

Assistant Village Idiot: Roads, yes, but ...

But that's not what you said.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I answered on Putin and Kim already. There is no reasonable reading in which he has sided with them.

He has not "tilted" - and what, other than an interpretation from corporate media, could that mean - away from Japan and South Korea toward North Korea. Meeting with someone? Are you remotely serious when you overread that? Western Europe... ah, here's where the idea comes from. Yes, the chattering classes in Western Europe don't like him. You feel bad about that, and therefore accuse him of being nice to Russia.

It's "free rein," BTW, and your description is slanted and one-sided. Black-and-white, as usual. Trump may be entirely wrong in that decision, but there is no reading that says "Well, the US had dirty work to do there, so he let Erdogan do it for us because he like authoritarians."

Yes, that is what I said. You strain at gnats and swallow camels.

Aggie said...

I see the funding for the 2020 campaign season has finally come through.

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: I answered on Putin and Kim already.

Putin: Trump said Russia should be readmitted to the G7, withheld aid to Ukraine to squeeze them for political favors weakening their nascent democracy and calling into question American commitments, pulled back in Syria allowing Russia to expand their presence there, repeatedly suggested Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election even though Trump welcomed their interference, called into question Article 5 of the NATO treaty, etc.

Kim: Gee whiz, Trump said they fell in love, canceled joint military exercises with South Korea, downplayed North Korean missile tests, wants to quintuple South Korea's share of defense spending forcing them to look to China, treats the U.S. alliances with South Korea and Japan as mercenary rather than based on fundamental values, etc.

Erdoğan: Pulled back troops allowing the ethnic cleansing of Kurdish allies, sent Erdoğan a groveling letter making idle threats, etc.

Taken one at a time, Trump's actions are worrying, but together they represent a significant weakening of America's global power structure. The reason the U.S. has been historically so strong is because America is the leader of the free world, with strong relationships built on trust over generations, and can call on their alliances when necessary to maintain global stability.

Boxty said...

My only disagreement is with your statement that "tariffs are a bad idea." Tariffs are great! We should use them to cover the negative externalities of pollution from cheaply made foreign goods.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Each of those is a partial truth that leaves out as much as it contains, or more. If you can only bother to acknowledge one side of the story, then you are not really discussing, you are merely advocating so that your team can win. One of us thinks there is more than one side to a question and seeks to find the truth. I don't understand why this eludes you. I have no evidence you ever give an opposing viewpoint serious consideration. You just double down, usually changing the subject ten degrees to more favorable grounds and ignoring what you don't like. I don't know how to explain to you that this is not how discussion proceeds.

Attorneys and political consultants get paid to argue only one side of an issue, but those are artificial, for specific purposes.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Boxty - that is true, and I had forgotten it. Tariffs are an economic loss in a constrained measure, but externalities do make the question more ambiguous.

i think more hardcore free marketers still come down against them, but I admit I don't know their full assessment on that.

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: I have no evidence you ever give an opposing viewpoint serious consideration.

That's why we're here, but instead of responding to the points raised, your last comment diverted. Your position is that Trump's actions don't "reflect personal scores to settle, or being blinded by guys he just likes".

Please note we provided a lot of specifics supporting our position to the contrary. Gee whiz, Trump said he and Kim fell in love; Kim, one of the most brutal dictators in the world. While it is important to engage with North Korea, there is absolutely no reason to give him a forum, much less claim a love affair.

Texan99 said...

I must be awfully issue-based. I don't expect to like a politician personally, though it's a pleasant surprise when it's possible.

I expected to hate the tariff behavior, but it's turned out better than expected. Great job on all court appointments, and in fact it was the pre-election list of S. Ct. candidates that first made me think that my suspicions about Trump's real policy preferences might be unwarranted.

You're right on target with the essential qualify of being able to blow off ridiculous criticism. It's far more important than its flipside, the willingness to mix it up on the same petty level. People respond to Trump's willingness to say "that conventional wisdom is just silly, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise. You're as sick of it as I am, no doubt." It works.

It's healthy that he calls out a conspicuously horrid press as deliberately dishonest.

aporitic said...

Methinks the z-bot is overlooking that Trump is immensely popular in South Korea.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Trump says blustery stuff like that all the time and still puts the screws to them. Please tell me that you aren't taking him literally when he is negotiating with people. Pay attention to what he does, not what he says.

I already noted the limitation of the "specifics" you noted. You still have provided no evidence you seriously considr opposing views.

You have had many chances. You simply don 't see what you don't see, and I have no better way to explain it to you. I am done.

Zachriel said...

aporitic: Trump is immensely popular in South Korea.

The latest poll we have seen has Trump at 32% approval, just before the summit, about the same as Kim Jong-Un.