Rootless Cosmopolitan President Loses The Run Of Himself In England

Between “I miss the name ‘England’ and insulting the Prime Minister in a tabloid interview and making Queen Elizabeth II wait ten minutes for his arrival while she stood out in the hot sun, the President of the United States lost the run of himself this week.  I agree with the notion that it’s not enough to say that he is a moron–it’s more complicated.  I’m sure that along with the buffoonish commentary about “the name ‘England'” that he intended to bully Prime Minister May by touting Boris Johnson and insinuating that he had a secret sauce for negotiating Brexit and that May has foolishly failed to heed his (so far and probably forever unspecified, like his taxes) brilliantly “brutal” advice.  The purpose of all that was to weaken the existing government, making the “Leavers” feel Trump will surely give them a deal that is the “highest level of special,” all for the sake of making Trump look like he alone can solve the UK’s problems.

He, Trump, may or may not be consciously following a playbook that Putin or his minions have laid out explicitly.  Trump has, though, had contacts with Russians going back over thirty years, long before Putin became czar.  Nevertheless, the Soviets of the 1980s had and Putin today has a consistent purpose: attack the main enemy, the US, via maskirovka aimed at sowing internal divisions.  With Trump they managed to hit the jackpot.  Bullying and autocratic rule and thuggishness have been in Trump’s head (and heart, to speak loosely) for his whole life.  When Trump warned the other day that Europeans had “better watch themselves” lest they lose their “culture,” he was parroting straight-up white nationalist rhetoric, rhetoric that many in Congress, Republican as well as Democrat, have denounced for decades.  But the Republican Party leadership, Senate and House, is now going almost completely silent as Trump becomes ever more open in his alliance with voices that until very recently were completely off-limits for their openly racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim abuse.  Sam Brownback, Trump’s “ambassador for international religious freedom,” has apparently threatened British officials with reprisals if they do not release Tommie Robinson–that is way out of the bounds of how the US and UK have dealt with one another.  It is apparently not enough for the president to issue pardons to wingnut “sovereign citizens” and arsonists, now they want to meddle in British justice on behalf of the so-called English Defence League.

Who is really the “rootless cosmopolitan” in 2018?  That phrase was used to target Jews in the 20th century. Trump has his own version of racial dog whistling and targeting.  His rhetoric is approaching klaxon horn volume–but he is dangerous precisely because, as so often, he is projecting onto others his own weaknesses.  If there was ever a truly and pitifully rootless wannabe cosmopolitan in our time, he’s it.

https://thinkprogress.org/trump-people-dont-talk-about-england-d3924f0b548b/

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jul/14/trump-may-and-fake-schmooze-todays-front-pages

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-britain-robinson/trumps-ambassador-lobbied-britain-on-behalf-of-jailed-right-wing-activist-tommy-robinson-idUSKBN1K331J

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What If Our Slacker Totalitarian Starts Eating Kale And Exercising?

Theorists of tyranny have compiled taxonomies: aristocracy (and its shadow side, oligarchy), democracy (and ochlocracy, or mob rule), and monarchy (and tyranny).  Plato’s interlocutors in Republic book 8 discuss the various types of regime but Book 9 dives deep into the most dangerous form of government, tyranny.  Aristotle was seemingly more sanguine in his Politics, giving more equal time to each type.  Madison and Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers, defended the possibility of energetic yet non-monarchical and non-tyrannical government via separated powers and checks and balances (see #47 and #51).  Twentieth-century totalitarianism (see Hannah Arendt’s Origins) appeared to be a new type of regime, in its erasure of any boundary between private and public life; also in that, unlike the pairs democracy/mob rule, aristocracy/oligarchy, and monarchy/tyranny, totalitarian rule has no “neutral” or non-abusive twin.

If American voters manage to check Trump’s power while there is still time to limit the damage, it may be because they sense that with his relentless tweeting and headline-grabbing, he is just not going to leave us alone and let us ignore him for awhile while we pursue our own happiness.  If the Republicans, in spite of all their gerrymandering and efforts to suppress voter turnout, do lose control of one or both houses of Congress, it may be because enough of us have gotten irritated and embarrassed enough to bother to vote in a midterm for a change, and limit the damage from the presidential bull-with-his-very-own-china-shop-all-the-time.

So far I believe we have been fairly lucky that our slacker totalitarian president apparently spends a great deal of his time sitting around eating unhealthy food and tweeting at his TV, though he and his minions have made plenty of messes by  sabotaging healthcare, environmental regulation, etc.  But what if he (trigger alert, plug ears, la la la la la) has a learning curve?  What if he actually reads article II of the Constitution and realizes just how much more he can do, and takes Admiral Ronny Jackson’s advice to adopt healthier lifestyle choices?  Where will we be able to hide then?

 

Excuse Me, I Am Not A Colluder. Pardon Me, Could You Say That Louder?

The president has declared that he has “complete power to pardon,” which may be almost true in a narrow legal sense (asserting power to judge his own case is dubious).  He may yet pardon his son, son-in-law, and who knows who else.  He may be able to remove Robert Mueller, and that would be a major crisis if Congress did not respond forcefully.  But the larger issue for a democratic republic in which consent of the governed is inalienable is this: what’s our next move as citizens?   We who are citizens and voters have the final power to grant reprieves and pardons in the larger sense.  Some of us, perhaps clinging to a confirmation bias, believe the president is trying to make things better, if only it weren’t for the swamp-dweller lobbyists/Democrats/leftists/snowflake slackers/deep state.  Some of us, that is, are not yet ready to let go of our pleasant fantasy of victimhood, even when our political party controls the presidency, the House and Senate, and the highest court.  Others of us, suffering from unpacified forgetting, are still fighting over the 2016 Democratic primaries.  My hope is that most of us, who are hoping above all that the government will be focused on serving, protecting, and increasing opportunities for as many Americans as possible, will bother to let our representatives know how we feel, and then vote at every opportunity to renew and refresh our government, showing no reprieve and no pardon for those who have unrepentantly abused the public trust.

No Such Thing As An Unfunded Mandate Here!

Happy 100th birthday to the Federal Reserve!  I take no position here on whether the Fed is an illegitimate usurper, or whether we ought to go back to the gold standard (abandoned by noted pinko Richard Nixon, if I remember correctly).  I just feel that any centenarian deserves a certain respect.

As interested parties around the world await news on the “tapering” of Fed bond purchasing, let me say simply that the Fed’s dual mandate–“to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices and moderate long-term interest rates” (since 1977, per Congress’ revision of the 1913 Federal Reserve Act)–is a work-in-progress, but a project with a rosier long-term horizon than, for instance, Bitcoin.  Why so?  It helps a lot to have a mandate, or two, with 300 million reasonably productive people and considerable political legitimacy behind it.  With all the bickering in Washington, if the Senate ever blockaded a nominee for Fed chair or revised the Federal Reserve Act to micromanage its quasi-public, quasi-private operations, then we would know that our political/economic system is in big trouble.  Even the wonderful structure of checks and balances and separation of powers could not protect us from that kind of indiscreet legislation.

As it stands, the great thing about the Fed–and a source of worry should it fade away or collapse–is that it suffers from no unfunded mandates, insofar as people and institutions around the world trust it.  The Fed snaps its fingers, and don’t think too hard about fighting it unless you have money to burn.

Their Usual Faffing About Won’t Do The Trick–Congress Needs A Long Nap

Dilly-dallying won’t do it. All 535 need plenty of sleep, and some of the worst–no need to name names, I expect–may need 24 full hours just to begin clearing the gunk out of their toxin-filled brains.

Rhetoricians Of Reaction Make An Exception To The Exception

The “rhetoric of reaction,” as described by Albert O. Hirschman in 1991, expresses suspicion of government via three theses: perversity, futility, and jeopardy. “According to the perversity thesis, any purposive action to improve some feature of the political, social, or economic order only serves to exacerbate the condition one wishes to remedy. The futility thesis holds that attempts at social transformation will be unavailing, that they will simply fail to ‘make a dent.’ Finally, the jeopardy thesis argues that the cost of the proposed change or reform is too high as it endangers some previous, precious accomplishments” (Rhetoric of Reaction, p. 7). Hirschman notes that these three theses may be used by progressives when conservatives are in power, but that perversity, futility, and jeopardy are arguments used primarily by counter-modern reactionaries.

Republicans in Congress have taken this rhetoric of reaction to new lows in their refusal, for example, to make any constructive tweaks to the Affordable Care Act. For decades, Republicans have, however, made an exception to their suspicion of government when it came to supporting the military, and the President as their Commander-in-Chief. Now, for President Obama, most seem to be making an exception to the exception. This is not to say President Obama has a foolproof plan, but Congress has not usually required that of Presidents before giving them latitude to strike or threaten credibly to do so. The divided Democratic caucus is a story for another day–as is the intentionality, or not, of John Kerry‘s utterances.

Care For Jam With Your Freedom Muffin?

The NY Post cover yesterday showed a funhouse image of President Obama in the Oval Office with the headlines “The Buck Does Not Stop Here!” and “Obama punts on Syria.” The other leading right-wing media organ, that is the WSJ, took a slightly higher road: “Obama recklessly gambles with American credibility.”

Many In Congress–Democrats as well as Republicans–might have preferred to not take a vote, so as to have the luxury of critique without fingerprints. President Obama deprived them of that easy path. Even though he did signal that he might go ahead with some kind of military action without Congressional authorization, I think that is quite unlikely. The political right is outraged whether Obama shows scrupulous respect for Congress’ Article One prerogatives or not. Their squeals are especially loud now that Obama has forced them out of their comfy Obamacare repeal fantasy zone and into the political open. Which is not to say Mr. Obama has a clear plan.

P.S. Are we likely to see the Murdoch-owned press show Cameron as a cheddar-cheese eating surrender monkey and Francois Hollande as a heroic Gallic Asterix? Will we (as has been tweeted already) have to call our breakfast food freedom muffins?