Monday, December 26, 2016

Is the Presidency About Personality?

After eight years with a man in the Presidency so many of us liked, have we come to conflate the idea a good President with a good man?

I think that's likely, at least for many of my friends. 
But if my time in Washington taught me anything, it is how little we actually know about the person behind the public image, "The West Wing" notwithstanding.
John F. Kennedy has got to be the most stark and recent example.

Let us consider things many find deplorable, even detestable about Donald J. Trump:
1. He is characterized as a misogynist: 
based on the stolen comments about his glee in fondling women, and his oogling contestants in beauty pageants.  I really don't know the guy. But, I suspect, you wouldn't hear anything from him you wouldn't hear three blocks away from my home, down at the local bars, when men are drinking beer together.

2. He is a coward, 
who used his money to avoid the draft and serving in Vietnam.
 I cannot hold avoiding Vietnam against any man, even one who wants to be President.

3. He does not give to charity, which means he's selfish. 
 He accumulates money, but unlike Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Warren Buffet, he does not "give back."  One might infer this impulse toward philanthropy among many of the rich derives from a sense of gratitude and a sense wanting to use wealth for good works, but it may just as well derive from a sense of guilt at having so much when others are wanting. Mr. Trump, one suspects, has a sense of entitlement to his wealth, like royalty of the past, who thought themselves deserving because God willed them to be wealthy, or, in Trump's case because he "earned" his wealth.

4. He has avoided paying his share by avoiding income taxes for twenty years
But all rich people avoid paying taxes, use loopholes.  Some, who live in New York City, keep careful logs to document they have spent fewer than 180 days in the city to avoid paying city income tax, on the claim they do not actually "live" in the city.
Mr. Trump's harrumph that he avoided paying income taxes because the government would have only "squandered" his hard earned money is, of course, subversive and would lead one to say if the head of the government tells you to evade income taxes,  then you are right to do so.  The contradiction in the head of state advising citizens to avoid paying the taxes his own government levies is something new. 
On the other hand, it's exactly the sentiment and the rationalization of every garage owner, every shop owner, and many doctors I know. They consider income tax a theft. Mr. Trump says he already pays plenty of taxes--corporate taxes, gasoline taxes, sales taxes on his yachts, real estate taxes--why should he worry about income taxes?  This makes sense, emotionally, to his voters, even if it's bad public policy.

5. He's a xenophobe:
He threatened to ban all Muslims from entering the country and he promised to round up and deport illegal immigrants and he promised to build a wall. Of course, all of this is dismissed by his supporters as not to be taken literally.  He was just saying what many people have said privately, that we are, in fact, horrified by radical Islam, its bestiality, its rabid aggressiveness, its intolerance, and being told our fear is not politically correct, is not rational is only infuriating.  
As for the Mexican "wet backs," this is puzzling, because outside a few border counties in Arizona and Texas, most people I know do not fear or loathe Mexican immigrants, legal or illegal. Quite the opposite.  Here, he really does sound like some later day Hitler, looking for a scapegoat to hate, hoping to find someone to blame for the loss of jobs.

Considering personal characteristics--what HRC called "temperament"-- there are some things to reject about the man:
1. He's a psychopathic liar: 
He has not accepted the idea of "evidence based" argument. So he doesn't have to cite evidence that Muslims were dancing on the roof tops in New Jersey on September 11, 2001. He does not have to cite evidence that Hillary Clinton ever committed a specific crime--she is simply "crooked." (Of course, the head of the FBI showed no more care about evidence than Mr. Trump, but that's another topic.)
Of course, when it comes to his accusation of criminality, he was just kidding, or, really, lying. But, it's not lying if you really don't mean it. 

2. He's thoughtless and impulsive
He, to all appearances, does not think much about what he says before he says it: So he's for the war in Iraq before he's not; he's okay with punishing women for having abortions, until he's not. 3. He's okay with transgender using whichever bathrooms they desire, until he's not. 

3. He's untrustworthy:
Rumor has it, although I do not know the details, he has few scruples about entering into contracts with people with no intention of actually keeping his end of the deal. This, he considers good business. Promise to pay the electrician or the plumber, but then pay half of what you promised.  You can choose not to believe this about the man, or you can choose to believe. 
You can cite his multiple bankruptcies, which he simply dismisses as good business.  Here we may have evidence, but as is true of most evidence based arguments, he will also cite evidence for his argument what he did was not stiffing workers but simply protecting his investors. 
But I choose to believe he hurt the little guys, the contractors, the construction workers, while enriching himself.  Is he worse in this than others in the top 1% of the top 1%? I don't know.  
Does this disqualify him from my vote? Yes, but I can understand how the boys at bar shrug this off.
 He is as good as his word:  But nobody ever said he was "good." He's a bad boy. And they love him for it. 

So, now we have examined Mr. Trump's personality, such as we can see it for ourselves on TV.
My point is none of this is "real." It is all open to interpretation, contrary assertion, spin.  You will say he's despicable; his friends say he's adorable.

The big things which  ought to be the focus of our resistance to President Trump and, as importantly, to the Reactionary Right, now in power, will be policy issues. 

Let's stop talking about Trump's personal failings. Hasn't yet and will never work. 

1. Medicare
If people are policy, then Mr. Price, at HHS, will try to turn this into Vouchercare, aka Coupon care.  And Paul Ryan and the Republican majorities in Congress will aid and abet him.
Oh, save Flipper! He's drowning!

2. Obamacare: 
Like democracy, the worst possible solution,  other than all the other solutions which have yet been tried--at least in this country.  There is another option, the "government option," or Medicare for all,  but even the Democrats did not have the guts or the votes for this last time. Had we elected Bernie Sanders, we still would not have got this, because "we" elected a Republican House and Senate and Supreme Court. 

3. Social Security
Mr. Trump promised to keep it intact, but Mr. Ryan wants to privatize it. Attempts  to privatize Social Security are attempts to destroy Social Security.  If the power to tax is the power to destroy, then the power to privatize is the power to destroy Social Security.

4. Creating jobs
or rather resuscitating jobs in the Rust Belt by renegotiating trade deals; protecting the homeland by rejecting globalization.  
Mr. Trump has been canny enough to understand his voters in the Rust Belt don't want just any job, they want their old jobs back. They want to coal mining jobs, the assembly line jobs in the big factories.
If Paul Krugman and others are correct, the jobs lost in the coal mines are gone because of fracking and the emergence of cheaper, better fuels. If Krugman is right, robots, not the Chinese have reduced factory jobs in Indiana and Wisconsin and Ohio and Pennsylvania.  
Mr. Trump has the option of giving them jobs, not on the assembly line but on bridges, on the roads, on the power lines. The question is whether there are enough infrastructure jobs out there waiting to be created, and how easily private enterprise can be induced to create them. Maybe privatizing our interstate highway system can work. Maybe not.
If Mr. Trump knows something Mr. Krugman does not, and if he is able to bring the sorts of jobs back to those who voted for him, that may be all that matters. 
We can call him a misogynist, a xenophobe, a liar, a cheat, a con man. The boys down at the bar don't care.  
They can get goodness when they go to church on Sunday.
What they want the rest of the week are their jobs and their sense of self respect. 

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