Saturday, December 19, 2015

Donald J. Trump, Political Pornographer

I want to vote for Mr. Trump.  He is going to round up all the illegals and send them home.  Then, he is going to bomb the crap out of ISIL.  Then, he's going to tell the Russians and the Chinese to pound geopolitical sand.  Then, we can all go to the seashore.

Mr. Trump lives on a political porn set, where every fantasy is fulfilled.  He is the seducer who never strikes out.  Of course, we want him to be our leader.  We all want to live where what we want is what we get.  No one else is pretending that they can take us there.  But Mr. Trump is (pretending, that is).

Trump sees himself doing for America what the Duke of Gloucester did for England:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

Here, the son of New York parts company with the future Richard III.  Where Gloucester bemoans his ill-suitedness for peacetime, Trump is completely unaware of his deformities.  But no matter, we are writing the prequel.  We are still in the winter of our discontent.  As Jesus said on the mount, take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

But why does this prince of political prurience have such support?

First, the Republican field is a disappointment.  The only adult in the room is JEB, and he doesn't have a rich enough fantasy life to get the job.  The right answer to Trump should be "Shh, Donald, the grown-ups are talking.  Go to your room and Google 'nuclear triad.'"  But there are no grown-ups talking.

More important, reality just doesn't play well with voters anymore.   We have become detached from reality thanks to the feckless Congress that we have created through gerrymandering, a first cause that I won't rehearse again for fear of seeming obsessed.  (Gerrymander!  Slowly, I turned...)   Trump's supporters just don't care that he can't deliver on his promises.  No one else is delivering on theirs, so why should he be held to a higher standard?  Even if Trump fails to deliver, he will have at least gone the route famously endorsed by Theodore Roosevelt: he will have failed while daring greatly.

In the meantime, Trump offers us a political lottery ticket, an excuse for our fantasies.  If you don't play, not only can't you win, but you can't even masturbate to thoughts of victory.  Trump supplies the pictures, the toys, and the lube.  What can the others offer?  Not even governance, much less a bit of harmless fun.

So, no, it doesn't matter that Trump sees in Putin a kindred spirit - a leader, a word that will not look so good in the German and Italian press but seems to resonate just fine for us.  We apparently don't remember where Hitler and Mussolini came from.  But we are about to see in real time how such tyrants succeed.  When Hope fails, fantasy remains.  Things are not going so well here in the US of A, so many of us are going to our happy place, where Donald J. Trump is in charge.  Where it's Summer time, and the women are easy.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

But we didn't (Kill the Gerrymander)

In July 2013, I wrote a post (a cri de coeur, really) about how gerrymandering was messing up Congress.  Did you people listen?  Did you kill the beast?  Nope.  And now the children of your apathy sit on a "select committee" of politically inbred morons, providing, with no small irony, "deliverance" to the former Secretary of State.

Although Trey Gowdy looks a bit like that kid with the banjo, the real freak on the committee is the humorless scold from Alabama, Martha Roby.  She sees nothing funny in her ridiculous questions.  And she is right.  There is nothing funny about how ridiculous her questions are.


Not the that reps from flyover country did any better.  But to this yankee, a stupid southerner just sets off certain images that the bullies from the north do not.  I have no doubt that Messrs. Pompeo and Roskam are dunces, Jimmy Jordan is an illiterate bully, and our Ms. Brooks was probably as good a prosecutor as she is bad a Congresswoman.  All of them are shameful products of safely drawn districts.  Here's Ms. Rep. Roby's:

Yep, all of the suburbs of Montgomery, with a hole where the Democrats live.  And Rep. Westmoreland?  Why he's from a district that would be pretty close to square, if the northeast corner of that square didn't happen to be in the City of Atlanta:

I'm not sure who lives in the missing bite in the south of the district.  But I doubt they were excised to create diversity.  

While I am not alone in my condemnation of gerrymandering, there are arguments to be made, not in its defense, but against its importance.  A piece by John Sides in the Washington Post takes that, er side. The principal argument appears to be that members vote their party's views and not their constituents' views.  I don't find the methodology convincing, as it seems to ignore the effect that gerrymandered electees have on their party's positions in Congress when they get there.  Party discipline after the caucus meets does not indicate how far to one pole or the other the party was pulled by its wackiest members.

Anyway, this dysfunctional party will give us a Democrat president by running a bozo and embarrassing itself in Congress.  I am of two minds about this, because, all else equal, I prefer what used to be the Republican world view.  But all else is rarely equal, and it isn't now.  Most notably, I'm a Keynesian, and the GOP is too dumb to understand why a government is not a household.  To the extent I believe that economics is the area where politics can have the most impact, I'm a liberal these days.  If the economy recovers, I'll probably become a conservative again.  But for now, I'm a small-d democrat and a small-d republican, and I'm in distressed on both scores that the gerrymander's children are running amok.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye

I never liked John Boehner.  He struck me as the quintessential partisan, always carping, always, to be blunt, full of shit.  But that was before the Tea Party.  Now, I at least respect the guy's public service and commitment to his benighted vision of governance.

Boehner may not have understood that gentleness succeeds where rudeness fails, but, still, I think he would like to have accomplished something with BHO, as Tip O'Neill did with Reagan.  Boehner has been driven from office by the yahoos of the Tea Party.  These so-called "conservatives" - Russell Kirk would turn in his grave - think the best government is no government.  In a government designed to operate by compromise, they regard compromise as defeat and cowardice.  They are a very bad thing.  George Will, with whom I used to agree a lot more than I do these days, likes to say that our government was designed to be slow-moving.  He has been extolling the "slow" part as a virtue; let's see if he values the "moving" part at all.

The Tea Party is what you get when you cross a Gerrymander with a Populist.  Tea party members suffer from political anencephaly, and yet they live.  We cannot euthenize them - their parents are too strong.  So we throw tantrums like Trump and Sanders, a jingoist fascist and a classist socialist, because we cannot elect good Representatives.  And all the while, we don't know what Churchy Lafemme tried so hard to tell us: that we have met the enemy, and he is us.

The Republican voters sent to Washington people who declared their intention to muck things up, and now, those voters are upset either because their guys have mucked things up, or because they have not mucked them up enough.  Boehner's departure suggests, sadly, that the latter sentiment has won out.  As our presidents say when they are done spouting platitudes, May God bless and protect the United States of America.  I.e., Heaven help us.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mr. Trump goes to Washington

Candidates like Mr. Trump serve a valuable purpose.  They provide an index of disaffection.  The political class in the US is held in very low esteem these days.  There have been other such times, but the decline in our national fortunes has created division rather than unity, and there has been not just a coarsening in our politics but a small-d democratization that does not bode well for the republic.

It is hard to say when the train went off the rails.  My guess is that it started with Watergate, but the recent descent seems to me to have started in the Clinton era.  The impeachment of Bill Clinton over sex cheapened the mechanism.  The lack of respect shown to W was disgraceful, and the GOP's refusal to work with Obama will someday be the stuff of legend.

Through it all, our politics has become increasingly dysfunctional.  The Iran deal is an excellent example.  The Republicans are going to vote the deal down as a matter of party politics.  They do not care whether it is the best deal that could have been had (it's so easy to pretend a better one was there for the negotiating) or whether abandoning it would be better policy than embracing it.  They care only about saying that they do not like it and saddling the Democrats with it as a political matter.  It is precisely this sort of cynicism that brings us a Donald Trump.

The threat to renege on the national debt by not raising the debt ceiling, the failure to negotiate something better than the "sequester" to constrain spending, the failure to produce a robust stimulus deal in 2009 - where's our Hoover Dam? - the constant threats to shut down the government over this or that, all of these things remind us that our politicians are either not interested in, or not capable of governing.  Why not, then, elect someone who, if he fails, will fail by doing rather than by not doing?

Jon Stewart says "If you smell something, say something."  Trump's supporters smell something, and they are saying something.  They are saying that the political class is worse than useless, that they would rather have a loose cannon than a circular firing squad.  They will tolerate Trump's political incorrectness because it pales against the pros' political fecklessness.  Carly Fiorina stood out at the recent parade because she is not tarnished with the "Assembled in D.C." label.  She is tapping into the same disaffection as Trump, but with more class and, so far, less name recognition.  We will see how far that takes her.

Sadly, there are no Republican Keynesians anymore.  I would like to be a Republican.  The result-oriented, identity politics of the Left has always left me cold.  But conservatism these days entails a distrust of government, and spending by government, the only way out of our economic mess, is too easy for right wing demagogues to equate with spending on government.  The right says we should let the private sector fix our roads and bridges, that we should not saddle our kids with debt when we can instead saddle them with a decaying physical plant.  These subtleties are the reason why we have a representative form of government, why we send wiser people than ourselves to do our business. But in recent years, we have sent people who make no pretense of expertise.  They are there to speak for  the people, to act as if only what the public can understand can be understood.

They are useless.  They are the blackness against which as dim a star as Trump's stands out.  Our repugnance to a candidacy like Trump's is the canary in our political coal mine.  When it dies, we know that the air must be foul indeed.