The case against Trump: a rebuttal

When I posted my “case against Trump” last week, I hoped it would provide encouragement to the choir as well as adding converts to the congregation. However, especially in these polarized times, I realized that not everyone would be convinced by what I wrote. That got me to thinking about plausible (and some not so plausible) rebuttal arguments that others might make — from both the right and (perhaps surprisingly) the left ends of the political spectrum. Admittedly, I’m speculating here — but here’s what I believe the most common objections would be — followed by my counter-replies.

The right

From a hypothetical spokesperson for the conservative wing: 

“Many of your objections to Trump are the very things that we applaud. The most obvious one is the Supreme Court. While you blanch at the prospect of Kavanaugh’s appointment, because it might lead to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, that’s precisely why we support him. Similarly, where you fret about what Pruitt did at the EPA, we cheer his deregulating pro-business approach. We simply disagree.”

My reply:

If your examples represented my only objections to Trump, I’d accept that these are legitimate political divisions — and move on. I obviously don’t agree with your positions. For example, it’s hard for me to grasp how destroying the environment is an appropriate goal for the head of the EPA. Still, I understand that Pruitt’s actions are in line with GOP dogma and not unique to Trump. That’s why these items were not among my primary objections to Trump; I placed them in the “(Dis)honorable mention” section at the end.

The problem is that Trump, in my view, remains a qualitatively different — and far worse — chief executive than a “normal” GOP politician  — for all the reasons cited in the rest of my prior column. You can’t (or you shouldn’t) ignore the destructive, racist, unethical and criminal actions of the President — and say it’s all okay because you approve of some of his policies. You can’t minimize his lies and insults as just Trump speaking “off the cuff.” They have a corrosive effect on the entire country. You can’t assert, as some on the evangelical right have done, that it’s okay to give Trump a “mulligan” for his deplorable and immoral behavior — simply because you support his position on abortion.

“You overlooked all the positive things Trump has achieved — a booming economy, low unemployment, passage of a tax cut bill, a strengthened military, stronger borders and more.”

This is almost the reverse of the previous point. Once again, we see things through different lenses. For example, where you tout the supposed economy-boosting benefits of a tax cut, I see a spiraling out-of-control deficit and cutbacks to needed services — all to benefit primarily the wealthy and further widen an already huge income disparity.

Worse, there is an inherent hypocrisy in the pro-Trump positions that should disturb you. In many ways, they run counter to traditional conservative values. Conservatives are deficit hawks; they oppose tariffs and promote free trade. They have been strong supporters of law enforcement agencies and very anti-Russia. Trump is the opposite of all of that — and  what remains of the Republican party has followed him (a point effectively satirized in a recent Doonesbury strip).

To be fair, there are significant numbers of Republicans who agree with me. It’s one reason why prominent conservatives — such as George Will — are abandoning the party. From the original “never Trumpers” to those who have only recently recoiled from the GOP’s descent into the mire, their numbers are growing. Despite this, there appears to be no elected Republicans willing to take any action against Trump, no doubt fearful for their political survival.

“You’ve got it all wrong. The mainstream media is fake. The FBI is engaged in a ‘deep state’ conspiracy to bring down Trump. Everything is exactly as Trump describes it. That’s we cheer him at his rallies; that’s why we proudly wear t-shirts that proclaim ‘Fuck the media.’  So get lost.”

A rebuttal here would be a waste of breath. These are his most ardent supporters. Nothing I can say will have any effect on them. We’ve left the realm of the reasonable. They are as racist and xenophobic as Trump is. In the short term, they have clearly had success — helped out by gerrymandering, voter suppression, an electoral college bias towards minimally populated rural states, the Russians and a largely ineffective Democratic party. But demographics suggest their days are numbered. A party that depends mainly on the support of older, undereducated, white men cannot maintain a majority in the coming years.

The left

Okay. That was all fairly straight-forward. But what about the other side of the fence? The left/progressive side? Here, things get a bit more complicated and nuanced.

For starters, I expect that the majority on the left agrees with what I wrote. That’s my home territory. But the farther to the left you move, the more likely you will hear objections, with an increased emphasis on attacking moderate Democrats. While the far left are clearly not Trump boosters, they do tend to minimize the claim that Trump is uniquely terrible. As such, they might reject the underlying premises of several of the items in my “top seven” list (from the previous column) — often employing “what-aboutism” rebuttals. I imagine it would go something like this:

“You’re distressed at Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department? Come on! This is the FBI. Remember Hoover, the Director who put Martin Luther King on his ‘enemies’ list? Remember the 60’s, when a uniform meant you were a “pig” — guilty of tear-gassing, beating up and even killing protestors? What about the domestic spying by the government uncovered by Snowden? What about racially-motivated shootings by white cops, still happening today? You want us to feel sympathetic to police institutions because Trump is — fairly or unfairly — attacking them? Sorry; not gonna happen.”

“As for the media being “fake,” we have three letters for you: WMD. The media abandoned their oversight responsibility and enabled W to use false pretenses as the rationale for a years-long costly war. How much worse can it get? One could even argue the media were complicit in getting Trump elected — with the way they gave live extended coverage to everything he did — while largely ignoring Bernie Sanders and even Hillary Clinton by comparison. And don’t get us started on their “false equivalences” — where the media feel compelled to equally present “both sides” of a debate — even when one side clearly doesn’t deserve it (‘The earth: flat or round? You decide’).”

“Trump likes autocrats? Big deal. The United States government has supported autocrats for the past 75 years. Remember the CIA’s long history of aid to right-wing Latin American dictators (because they were anti-Communist)? And the U.S. has certainly meddled in the elections of some of those countries. And what about our decades of support for Middle Eastern repressive regimes — such as in Saudi Arabia? Who knows? Maybe Trump’s attempt to get along with Russia and North Korea will turn out to be a ‘good thing.’ It’s certainly better than nuclear war.”

“You’re upset because Trump is a liar? Get real. How naive. All politicians lie, as you admitted. Republicans and Democrats. Hillary lied. Bill lied. Obama lied. This is not just a Trump or a GOP problem.”

“You imply that the way to deal with Trump is to get Democrats to take back control of Congress? Really? What have they done that is so great? That half-baked Obamacare? We don’t think so. In the end, the mainstream Democratic party is just as beholden to big donations from large corporations and super-rich individuals as are the Republicans. To a large extent, GOP vs. Democrats in Congress is frying pan vs. fire.”

“And while we certainly don’t support Trump (we agree that he is a terrible person), we are sympathetic to the populist message he at least pretended to espouse. He legitimately appealed to increasingly disenfranchised Americans — in a way similar to Bernie Sanders. Not all Trump voters were racists.”

My reply to all of the above:

As someone who leans distinctly to the left, I am sympathetic to your critiques. I share many of them. However, I don’t see them as a rationale for taking one’s foot off the gas pedal when it comes to opposing Trump. You don’t have to approve of moderate Democrats in order to be solidly against Trump. There are substantial qualitative differences between the critiques from the left and what Trump is doing.

As one example, it’s one thing for citizens to assert that the press makes mistakes and shows evidence of bias at times. It’s quite another for a President to assert that virtually the entire news establishment is suspect; that they regularly, deliberately, knowingly and recklessly publish false information and are joined together in some dark conspiracy against the White House — especially when such assertions are so clearly self-serving. The laudable goal of the left’s critique of the media is to promote the veracity of news coverage; Trump’s goal is intended to make the media weaker, more subservient to Trump and complicit in his lies. There is very little in common here.

I would make a similar response to the other critiques. Yes, we have meddled in international elections in the past; but that is no justification for giving Trump a pass to dismiss (even encourage?) the hacking and other interfering with our elections that the Russians are doing now. Yes, the Justice Department has stains on its record; but that does not provide a rationale for Trump’s smearing of the entire federal system of justice — primarily so he can avoid the consequences of his criminal activity. As for Trump’s supposed pursuit of “good relations” with Russia and North Korea, it’s primarily a sham — as the disastrous Helsinki news conference made clear. And there is certainly no defense for Trump’s constant drumbeat of racism and xenophobia — dividing the nation and encouraging it closer and closer to a boiling point for violence.

While I concede that not every Trump supporter is a racist, I contend that one has to at least excuse Trump’s racism — and a whole lot more — to find one’s way to voting for the man. Some of his supporters have legitimate gripes, but they wrongly see Trump as the solution.

Finally, there are some on the far left who still contend that Hillary Clinton would have been just as bad a President as Trump. I can’t even begin to comprehend this view. I don’t want to defend Hillary too much; I’m not one of her fans. But even ignoring Trump’s personal attributes, his “fake news” fakery, twitter rants and such — just consider: the Supreme Court, immigration policy, environmental policy, education policy, consumer protections, international relations, election integrity, and perhaps the preservation of democracy itself. Do you really think the results here would be equivalent with either candidate? Can you honestly assert that it didn’t matter which candidate won? [That’s a rhetorical question.]

In summary: When a house is on fire, your first and pretty much only focus has to be dousing the flames. If you’ve been concerned about whether firefighters are paid a fair wage or whether the Department discriminates in hiring or whether moderate Democrats are addressing these issues — or even who or what you think may have been responsible for starting the fire — those are all legitimate issues. But they need to be put on hold while the fire is raging.

In my view, Trump is the equivalent of an out-of-control fire. He does untold — likely long-lasting — damage to this country with each day he remains President. He is a serial liar who has contempt for the rules of law. He is dismantling decades of beneficial international relations and destroying worthwhile governmental agencies. He actively works to divide the country with racism. He seeks to tear down core institutions of our democracy for his personal gain. No one who has held this office in my lifetime is comparable — not Reagan, not Bush, not Clinton, not Obama — not even Nixon. That’s why I oppose Trump above all else.

When the ashes are cooled, and the building is hopefully saved from total destruction, that’s the time to worry about rebuilding a better safer house — and creating a more just fire department (mixing metaphors a bit). Until then, fight the fire!

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The case against Trump

The midterms are coming. In less than three months!

Even though Donald J. Trump’s name is not on the ballot, make no mistake. Trump is the primary focus of the election. For those who believe that it’s long past time to put the brakes on Trump’s abuses of power and assaults on the rule of law, this may be the last best chance to do so. If the Democrats can take control of at least one house of Congress, it will dramatically alter the country’s trajectory going forward. Democrats will have committee chairs and subpoena power. If they don’t succeed, all bets are off.

With that in mind, I posed a hypothetical question. Suppose I happened upon a genuine political unicorn. That is, a person neither progressive nor conservative and who is truly agnostic on the subject of President Trump. And suppose this person, in all their honesty and perhaps naiveté, asked me: “Why should I oppose Trump? What has he actually done that’s so terrible?” What would my answer be?

What follows is my answer. It covers the seven most outrageous transgressions Trump has committed since taking office. It is not an exaggeration to say that, taken together, these things threaten to destroy the very core of our democracy. Trump is the embodiment of a “worst case scenario.” [For those who already stand opposed to Trump, you will likely find much here that is familiar. Read on anyway. It’s worth being reminded just how much there is to oppose.]

7. Ignorance

At the least, Trump is intellectually lazy. At worst, he is ignorant to the point of incompetence — especially with respect to the workings of government. Don’t take my word for it. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s former Secretary of State, called him a “moron.” H.R. McMaster, Trump’s former National Security Adviser, called him an “idiot.” John Kelly, Trump’s current Chief of Staff, reportedly called Trump an “idiot.” There are reasons for this.

Trump doesn’t read his own security briefings, preferring to get his updates from Fox News. He will reverse his policy positions — such as supporting a “clean DACA” bill one day and rejecting it the next — apparently because he didn’t comprehend the implications of his initial position. Trump’s description of how the “visa lottery” program works is so stupidly wrong as to be both sad and funny (to see why, start at the 3:00 minute mark of this Daily Show video).

A corollary here is his mind-numbingly poor use of language. His repeated use of a small collection of adjectives — beautiful, fine, unfair — often masks the fact that he has no idea what he is talking about (e.g., “this is a beautiful bill with lots of good stuff in it”).

He may have had the political smarts to win the election — but that’s quite different from what’s required to be a smart President. The country needs — and deserves — better.

6. Criminal intent

Trump has been in office only about 18 months. Yet he (and his associates) already stand accused of a record-breaking assortment of crimes:

• Violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution — which prohibits accepting “presents” from foreign governments. The revenue paid by foreign dignitaries to stay at Trump properties (from which Trump still benefits) is most often cited as an example of this violation (it may also be an attempt at money laundering).

• Campaign finance violations associated with the “hush money” payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal and others — to prevent their stories from coming out during the closing weeks of the campaign.

• The lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation for “sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign.”

• More generally, we don’t know what financial wrong-doings might be revealed if we could see Trump’s tax returns — something Trump has refused to provide even for the period since he became President — breaking with all prior precedent and even though he repeatedly promised, during the campaign, that he would do so.

And finally, the two biggest ones, the potential crimes that are the focus of the Mueller investigation:

• Obstruction of justice — most notably the events surrounding the firing of James Comey for the “Russia thing” — as well as just about everything Trump says/posts about Mueller (a recent example is Trump’s tweet calling for Sessions to end the probe).

• Collusion and conspiracy with Russia to illegally affect the outcome of the 2016 election — especially the events surrounding the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower.

These alone should be sufficient to remove Trump from office. The problem is that Trump has not yet been convicted of (or, in some cases, formally charged with) any of these crimes. Of course, Mueller has not yet finished his work. We’re still awaiting the final fallout from the cases of Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and others. And we can no longer expect the GOP-controlled Congress to do anything. So, despite the preponderance of evidence and the overwhelming likelihood that Trump has repeatedly broken the law, this remains a “work in progress.”

5. Autocracy rules

Trump has a special fondness for autocrats. At the top of the list is Vladimir Putin — the President of Russia, our most notable adversary and the architect of the attack on our 2016 election. Yet Trump had only praise for Putin — and criticism of our own government — at the disastrous Helsinki press conference. This was preceded by a similarly negatively-viewed meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un where again Trump was effusive with praise for one of the most ruthless and repressive dictators in the world.

In a head-scratching contrast, Trump has repeatedly castigated the leaders of our strongest allies, including Canada, Germany and England.

Lauding dictators while dissing our allies results in the sowing of mistrust among our democratic friends and comfort to our enemies. This is not a useful approach to foreign policy. Yet that’s exactly what Trump is doing. Why?

In the special case of his relationship with Putin, it raises the frightening possibility that, due to Trump being blackmailed or some other nefarious motivation, Trump is acting in concert with Russia to undermine the interests of the United States!

More generally, it likely reflects Trump’s own desire for autocratic powers. From his attacks on judges who rule against his actions — to banning members of the press with whom he disagrees — to his general belief that personal loyalty to Trump is of greater importance than allegiance to the country — he repeatedly reveals his desire to be above the law.

In this regard, the final four items on this list share a common theme: They are what a political leader would do if he were intent on becoming a dictator. They are also what you would do if you were guilty of serious crimes and wanted to discredit the source of any forthcoming evidence against you. Take your pick as to which one is worse.

4. Lies and more lies

It’s awkward to list this as a separate item — because it pervades every category. Still, it deserves special mention because it is so prevalent.

All politicians shade the truth at times. No question. But Trump outright lies. And no President has ever done so with such alarming frequency (more than 3,200 lies since taking office) or with such audacious disregard for how easy it is to prove the statement false. The most outlandish recent example of this is Trump’s claim that Russia wants to help Democrats win elections — just a week “after Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was glad Trump won the 2016 presidential election.” Or when he severely criticized British Prime Minister Teresa May in an interview he gave to The Sun (for which they have a recording) and yet claimed on the next day that he never criticized May.

We saw this type of fabrication as far back as the day of his inauguration — when Trump insisted that the size of the crowd was “the largest ever,” certainly larger than for Obama’s inauguration — despite photographic evidence to the contrary. This led to Kellyanne Conway giving birth to the term “alternative facts.” Similarly, in a speech he gave to Congress in 2017, Trump entirely made up statistics regarding terrorism.

Trump promotes right-wing conspiracy theories that have no basis in fact. This probably began with his bogus “birther” claim that Obama was not born in the United States. And it has continued up to just a few weeks ago — when he voiced a troika of campaign-related false claims at the Helsinki Summit press conference.

Trump is the undisputed master of the “big lie” — repeatedly stating an obvious lie over and over? Why does he do it? Because, by the force of repetition, it can create doubt among the public. It’s an assault on truth itself — and it appears to work. The ultimate expression of this is when Trump said: “What you see and what you read is not what’s happening.” This is 1984 come to life.

And please, don’t be fooled by Trump apologists’ attempts to dismiss his lies as somehow trivial, “Trump being Trump” or whatever — as if it shouldn’t matter in the face of all the supposed “good things” Trump is doing. It matters a great deal. When you trivialize and normalize constant lying, you lose the ability to trust anything that a person says.

3. Justice attacked

I am confident that if you awoke from a 2 year coma today, you would never believe what I am about to write: The President of the United States, a member of the “law and order” Republican Party, has decreed that one of the greatest threats facing this country today lies within his own executive branch — namely, the Department of Justice and intelligence community. Yes, I am referring to the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and all the rest.

From the moment Trump failed in his effort to enlist Comey as an ally in obstruction of justice — Trump has remained relentless in his disparagement of the Department of Justice. He’s upset with Attorney General Sessions (for recusing himself instead of being “loyal” to Trump), he’s upset with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein (for the appointment of Mueller as a Special Counsel), and he wants Mueller fired. He gloats about the firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (just hours before his retirement), calling it a “a great day for Democracy.”

He smears the credibility of the FBI at almost every opportunity — typically stating falsehoods to do so. His allegation that the FBI had a spy in the Trump campaign (referred to as “spygate”) was thoroughly disproven. The same goes of Trump’s deliberate mischaracterization of the FBI’s FISA warrant application against Carter Page. For the coup de grâce, Trump ended the internationally watched Helsinki news conference with an unwarranted attack on the FBI: “If anybody watched Peter Strzok testify over the last couple of days, it was a disgrace to the FBI, it was a disgrace to our country.”

On an almost daily basis and without any evidence to support his claims, Trump slams the entire Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt,” a “hoax,” “conflicted and biased” — and filled with Trump-hating Democrats (despite the fact that all of the top people are Republicans, many of whom were appointed by Trump).

He attempts to discredit the entire Justice Department at the expense of undermining the nation’s faith in its critical institutions — all for his own personal legal protection. He is the ultimate narcissist — the only thing that matters is his own survival and success.

2. Fake news

At a news conference Trump held just weeks prior to his inauguration in 2017, he “refused to take a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta after trashing the network and calling it ‘fake news.’” He is still sticking by this mantra. As recently as this past July, at a press event in the UK, he replied to an Acosta question by saying: “CNN is fake news. I don’t take questions from CNN.”

In between, he has relentlessly and without any evidence continued his attack on all mainstream media — which includes just about every news source in the country except Fox News and right wing blogs such as Breitbart. In the past few weeks, he has actually stepped up his attack, probably as he feels increased heat from all the investigations swirling around him. At a rally in Pennsylvania this month, he derided the reporters present as “fake, fake disgusting news” — in a manner so provocative that some observers feared it was an incitement to violence. Ominously, he now refers to the press as a whole as “the enemy of the people.”

The goal here is the same as for his attacks on the Justice Department. Trump’s definition of “fake news” is any report that is critical of or uncomplimentary to or problematic for Trump himself. The stories can be entirely true (they usually are) and Trump will still label them as “fake.” It’s another aspect of the “big lie.” As Trump himself admitted: “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.” Sadly, at least among his supporters, it seems to be working. According to polls, the public’s confidence in the FBI, the Mueller probe and the press has significantly eroded since Trump began his verbal pummels against them.

A free press is critical to the functioning of our country. That’s why our Founding Fathers explicitly protected it in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Trump is attempting to tear down this protection. It’s “unprecedented” (not in a good way!) and it’s dangerous.

1. Scapegoating of immigrants and ethnic groups

It was hard to select the worst of the worst. I gave the nod to Trump’s ethnic scapegoating — if only because of the personal trauma it causes. This is not just a concern about potential serious consequences down the road. There are real personal tragedies happening right now.

Although Trump had shown evidence of racism long before his candidacy, the starting point for his “presidential years” was the day he came down the escalator at Trump Tower — to announce his candidacy and declare that Mexico is sending us “people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Trump next declared that we should have a “total and complete shutdown” of the entry of Muslims to the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” After his inauguration, he quickly attempted to enact this Muslim ban. It was repeatedly blocked in the courts as “unconstitutional” — until a watered down version passed muster in the Supreme Court.

In another controversial move, Trump announced that he was phasing out the DACA program (the act that protects certain immigrants, brought into the country by their parents at a very young age, from being deported). He similarly wants to dismantle the “chain migration” and “visa lottery” programs — with little justification (as noted in the Trevor Noah video linked above). He reveals the racism behind these policies when, for example, he asserts that he doesn’t want “people from ‘shit-hole countries‘ coming here” (referring to African countries and Haiti).

Trump has famously pushed for a “wall” along our Southern border (one that Mexico was supposed to pay for, but never will). Despite a prognosis that a wall would “waste billions of dollars,” and despite his own party being in control of Congress, Trump is threatening to “shut down the government” if he doesn’t get funding for the wall.

His woeful handling of the response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico has been described as “an enduring stain on Trump’s presidency.”

At the top of the heap, we have Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy resulting in the separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border — even families legally seeking asylum. The public backlash against this (including from members of his own party) was so severe that he had to reverse course within a matter of days (something Trump abhors doing!). Courts have also ruled it illegal. However, the matter remains unresolved, with hundreds of families not yet reunited. At the same time, Trump has threatened to deport people immediately after they cross the border without allowing for any “due process” — also considered illegal.

Finally, I couldn’t close this section without noting Trump’s infamous defense of white nationalists at Charlottesville. This is where he stated that there are “some very fine people on both sides” — with one side being alt-right neo-Nazis who marched in the street with torches, while chanting phrases such as “Jews will not replace us.” His comments deservedly received harsh criticism at the time — and the incident remains one of the most loathsome single moments in the Trump presidency.

The common thread that runs through all of the items cited here, besides the inherent racism, is Trump’s pandering to the most repugnant elements of his base in order to gain a political advantage. I know scapegoating of immigrants and racial minorities appeals to many of his supporters; it undoubtedly helped him to win the election. It may even allow him to win the next one (a nightmarish thought!). But like so much of what Trump does, it serves to divide rather than unite. I can only hope the majority of the country can see Trump’s immigration stance for the political ploy that it is.

(Dis)honorable mention

The above list is hardly comprehensive. If this article wasn’t already longer than I had originally intended, I would go into details on many other matters. Here’s just a sampling:

• Cabinet appointees with the apparent goal of destroying the agencies that they represent. The worst example here is Scott Pruitt — the climate-change-denying former head of the EPA. Before he resigned in disgrace, he had already managed to inflict lasting damage to the environment and leave the “EPA in ruins.” Betsy DeVos (Education) and Ben Carson (Housing and Urban Development) take the silver and the bronze.

• Unilateral withdrawal from international treaties (most notably the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran Nuclear Agreement) and enacting tariffs that threaten the eruption of trade wars.

• Trump’s abusive use of pardons (most especially of Joe Arpaio, a man convicted of contempt of court for defying an order to halt racial profiling).

• His coarse and typically factually incorrect insults — from the “failing New York Times” to calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” Consistent with his racism, he saves his most virulent insults for people of color — such as his frequent characterization of Maxine Waters as a “low IQ individual” and his recent labelling of Don Lemon and LeBron James as “dumb.”

• Especially if you’re a progressive, you assuredly lament a collection of right-wing actions: conservative Supreme Court nominees (which now, with Kavanaugh, threaten to overturn Roe v. Wade), the attempt to overturn Obamacare, the termination of Internet neutrality and the decimation of consumer protections against the abuses of large corporations.

Putting it together

Some people on the political right talk about a “Trump Derangement Syndrome” — loosely defined as liberals who have such unbridled hatred for Trump that they twist anything Trump says or does into something negative. I hope that you now can see that the reverse is much closer to the truth. That is, people like myself “hate” Trump precisely because so much of what he has said and done is so reprehensible.

As for my unicorn friend, I’ve done my best. You started out by inquiring: “Why should I oppose Trump? What has he actually done that’s so terrible?” Now you know. And now you know why this forthcoming midterm election is so critical.

Update: For a follow-up to this column, focusing on rebuttal arguments and my responses to them, click here.

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The Donald Trump Show

To Donald Trump, popularity defines his personal success. It is everything.

That’s why, after the 2016 election, Trump vehemently denied that he lost the popular vote or that his inauguration crowd was smaller than Obama’s. When the facts don’t jibe with his fantasy views on his popularity, Trump is compelled to alter the facts.

Trump similarly measured the success of his television show, The Apprentice, entirely by ratings (popularity). That’s why Trump deemed Arnold Schwarzenegger, Trump’s Apprentice replacement, a failure: Arnold’s ratings were lower than Trump’s.

As Trump sees it, the worst insult you can hurl at someone (or some thing) is that they are unpopular. He refers to the New York Times as “failing” because (according to Trump) its circulation is down. That’s all that matters. [By the way, Trump is lying here. Overall NYT circulation, including digital, is actually up.]

Trump views his presidency in the same way as The Apprentice…as a reality TV show…a form of entertainment. Even though every word he says and every action he takes can now have the most extreme consequences for the entire country — exactly the opposite of his role on The Apprentice — Trump remains laser focused on ratings and popularity — to the detriment of everything else.

Two recent quotes from Trump reveal this in its starkest terms:

On March 8, ABC News’ John Karl asked Trump whether an upcoming announcement would focus on ongoing nuclear proliferation talks with North Korea. Trump replied:

“It’s almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit.”

There it is. Whatever Trump does, whatever he accomplishes or fails to accomplish, what matters most to Trump is how much credit he receives. I imagine Trump would claim that achieving world peace would be “beautiful” — but only if Trump gets credit for doing so. His personal popularity and public admiration remain the primary goal. Everything else is tied for last place. This is narcissism at its purest and most venal.

Similarly, on March 10 at a rally in Pennsylvania, Trump responded to an article that had asked if he is “a good speaker?” Trump told the crowd:

“You know, how easy it is to be presidential? But you’d be so bored…”

There it is…again. What matters is not who Trump insults, what norms he tramples — or even what positive accomplishments he might achieve. What matters most is that he be entertaining — not boring. Because that’s what gets the best ratings. The idea that he might be a better President if he were a bit less entertaining — that the country might benefit from a more hard-working, more informed and more deferential President — this never occurs to him. [To be fair, it probably doesn’t occur to his core supporters either.]

This explains why, back in January, Trump assessed a meeting with Congressional leaders on the critical matter of immigration policy, thusly:

“Actually it was reported as incredibly good and my performance…got great reviews.”

You can’t tell whether this quote refers to Trump’s efforts to solve one of the most vexing dilemmas facing this country — or a guest appearance at a “professional” wrestling event. And that’s the point. To Trump, they are no different. His presidency is The Donald Trump Show. That’s also the key problem facing the rest of us. This country needs more than an ignorant, untruthful and self-absorbed reality TV show host as POTUS. Unfortunately, that’s what we have.

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Academy Awards vs. Popularity: And the winner is…

I just read a Wall Street Journal article about the Academy Awards. It pointed out the now well-established discrepancy between what films win awards vs. which ones make the most money (i.e., are the most popular). The not-so-hidden subtext was there is something wrong here — and what’s wrong is that the Academy voters are “out-of-touch.”
 
I disagree. This situation is here is typical across all forms of art and entertainment. It’s not just a movies thing — and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the Awards process.
 
Take a look at the New York Times’ Best Seller lists for books. How many of these books go on to win a Pulitzer Prize or a National Book Award or a Nobel Prize or any other well-regarded award? The answer is almost none.
 
Or take a look at the Emmy Awards. Last year’s top winning shows were Veep, The Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies and an episode of Black Mirror. The ratings of those shows were nowhere near the most popular shows (like NCIS or America’s Got Talent) which got no Emmy awards.
 
And so it goes. Sometimes there is overlap in popularity and awards — but that is the exception more than the rule. Movies are no different than other media. And rightly so.
 
To me, it reflects a basic truth: The “best” (as judged by critical standards of knowledgeable people) is often not what is most popular. Otherwise, a velvet Elvis would be hanging next to the Mona Lisa. If you want to see awards based just on popularity — watch the People’s Choice Awards.
 
That said, the Academy Awards do not have an unmarred history of picking quality over popularity. There are many occasions where the Best Picture award went to mediocre popular movies. And numerous articles decried those “injustices” at the time (and do so even today). I view the current situation as an improvement.
 
It is also true, as the WSJ article points out, that the gap between Oscar voters and the public has widened in recent years. There was a time when a truly great picture both won the Best Picture award and was among the most popular of the year (e.g., The Godfather). This almost never happens anymore. The WSJ attributes this to a shift in viewing habits (with more and more viewers watching the latest Netflix movie rather than going to the theater) and to the importance of international markets (which reward comic-book, sci-fi and action movies above all else) for box office success. Again, I don’t view this as indicating that Academy voters are “out of touch.”
 
In fact, I was astounded by one statistic in the WSJ article: The average American sees only 4 movies a year! And these are almost all super-hero blockbusters like Wonder Woman. Given that, how can you expect the public to make any sort of informed judgment on what is the best of the year?
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