Trump Putin

I will likely upset a lot of people with this article.

For the record, I did not vote for Trump. If I had a daughter, which I don’t, I wouldn’t let him near her. I wouldn’t ask for his advice on my personal life.

However, he’s not all bad. By many measures, the country is thriving. But I also doubt he is going to usher in the great millenium of American bliss…

Some random thoughts; in no particular order:

  • He’s neither a socialist (left) nor a neo-con (right). Trump is a pragmatist. No guiding ideology is shaping his decisions. Frustrates true believers in both blue and red camps. Like a lot of older guys, he has grown more conservative in his sensibilities with age. It will happen to many of today’s leftish college students too. Not inevitable, but it’s typical.
  • For the first time in a long time, we have a non-career-politician (most of them were also lawyers) as president. We’re not used to that.
    • Eisenhower was the last president before Trump who had not held elected public office previous to becoming president. But even he was a high-ranking government official (the general in charge of D-Day and the supreme allied commander in World War 2).
  • Teddy Roosevelt had striking similarities with Trump:
    • Rich kid from New York City
    • Populist–loves big crowds and the spotlight.
    • Talks (way too much). Chronic overstatement.
    • Boastful. Big ego. Alpha male.
    • Enemy of the press (read H.L. Mencken’s ongoing scathing reporting on him….)
    • Given to flashy bits of “wing it” diplomacy
    • Talks “big military” but doesn’t start wars
    • Shakes up the Washington establishment
    • Totally at home with “hurrah patriotism.”
    • Split his own party. Neither of them is a typical Republican.
  • In my lifetime, only Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have enjoyed the presidency as much as Donald Trump. The rest of the seven dwarves were humbled and fatigued by the weight of the office. Those still alive are working off vocational PTSD.
  • Starting with Clinton, and amping up more and more with each new president, there has been a crescendo of ad hominem anti-presidential hatred (from the left or right– depending on the president’s party) reaching new heights with Trump. Trump Derangement Syndrome should be in the DSM.
    • Barack Obama did not have an easy ride either. There are still (!) “birthers” going after him. Like the “Russians Stole the Election” conspiracy, it never dies. Conspiracies are, by definition, impossible to disprove.
  • Trump holding NATO’s feet to the fire is one of the best things he has done. European member states have been letting us pay for their defense since 1945. These are among the richest societies on earth and can easily pay 2% on defense. He scolds them every time they meet. Good for him.
    • Not sure that NATO is necessary anymore anyways (Gasp! Can he say that?). It was designed to deter Russian aggression during the Cold War. With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, we had a chance to end all the atomic weapon foolisheness, but have convinced ourselves we still need to hate the Russians.
      • Truth is, we have a lot in common with the Russians.
        • We are both huge continental powers.
        • We, together, have 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons.
        • We run the Inernational Space Station together, and all of our astronauts get a ride up to it in one of their rockets. No other country is even close to the two of us in space technology.
        • Islamic terrorism, for both of us, is a very real threat.
        • We are both major oil and gas producers.
        • We have highly developed aerospace sectors with generations of experience.
        • Both of us would benefit from China better (and more fairly) opening their markets to our manufacturing.
        • Both of us would love to see the Korean peninsula settle down. Russia actually shares a border with Korea.
        • Together, we virtually wiped ISIS from the map in the last few years. You don’t hear about that but it’s true.
      • There is a lot most Americans don’t understand about Russia.
        • Their friendship with Syria runs much deeper than any of our relationships with any factions in that country. They have a very strategic naval base there (unlike us, most of their other naval bases are ice bound for much of the year, or hemmed in by narrow entry passages). They know a lot more about Syria than we do. We have the foolish notion that we should fight against BOTH factions in Syria. They choose one side.
        • Ukraine has areas that are virtually entirely Russian, where the citizens don’t want to be Ukrainian. Russia has made no moves to control Ukrainian-speaking parts of Ukraine. Ukraine has had Western-leaning and Russian-leaning regions for literally 1,000 years. Virtually no American military or diplomatic people understand this, yet we have opinions on it. We hit them with sanctions for wanting to include the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine in Russia. Some things are just none of our business–especially if we carry heavy ignorance into the mix.
        • Crimea has always been ethnically Russian. Back when the whole region (including Ukraine) was part of one USSR, Khrushchev gave Crimea (without asking the people who lived there) to Ukraine as a gift to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s becoming part of the Tsardom of Russia. The equivalent of giving Upper Michigan to Wisconsin. It was all within the USSR at the time, so it didn’t really affect anyone. Now the Crimeans want to be back inside of Russia. So what? Why is that our business?
        • And when it comes to Russia (and other “enemies”), Hillary Clinton was as big a neocon as McCain, or even Goldwater. Somone joked recently that she was for “9 of our last 7 military interventions.”
  • The truth is, many people (and nations), psychologically, need a bogeyman on which to project their “stuff,” in order to shore up self-esteem. Both Putin and Trump fit the bill.

A similar article on Trump in the New York Times: LINK

 

  • Donald Trump is not an out-of-tune hiccup in world history. Many, many countries are turning to authoritarian leaders in the past half generation. Far from being a freak, he fits our era. There is a populist, nationalist wave, and he is riding it. Others of his “strongman” flavor include:
    • Putin (Russia)
    • Modi (India)
    • Xi Jinping (China)
  • He often gets criticized for not trusting his advisors or the CIA, FBI, State Department, or whatever.
    • This is genuine; he really does not seem to trust them. The bureaucracy has one incentive–to protect and grow the bureaucracy. To maintain the status quo. Trump has no interest in coddling that mentality. Good for him.
    • And there is good reason to mistrust bureaucratic advisors, in general. They often are incentivized to overstate minor threats, and this causes them to take their eyes off the ball and miss real threats like 9/11 (which they all missed).
      • Military advisors will always tell us that the “wolf is at the door.” I have educated friends who believed, a couple of years ago, that ISIS was actually a real invasion (!) threat to the US. Never mind that they didn’t have one airplane, one boat, or even matching army uniforms. Why? That’s what the ‘experts’ implied when they asked to raise their military budgets…
      • Education advisors will always tell us that we need to spend more money on education and hire more people like them.
      • Intelligence advisors will always tell us that everyone is spying on us.
      • Homeland Security will always tell us that there are terrorists mixed in with immigrants.
      • Police officials will always tell us that crime is “spiralling out of control.” Never mind that violent crime has reached lower levels than any time in the last 30 years, or that it (statistically) has never been safer to be a child in America.
      • The FDA will always tell us that salmonella is about to kill us all, and without them we’d be doomed.
      • The State Department will always tell us that we need months of negotiations before national leaders can meet, get to know each other, and work things out.
      • I could go on and on…..
  • As a free market guy, I disagree with Trump’s tariff threats. I also don’t like sanctioning other countries (which is an act of war, in my mind) without a congressional declaration. Sanctions don’t hurt the leaders of other countries–they hurt the regular citizens who are just trying to get by. He doesn’t seem to have the economic background to understand Friedman, Mises, Hayek and others who explain why tariffs and sanctions are economic poison.
    • But on the other hand, Trump is so unpredictable that perhaps he doesn’t believe in tariffs either and maybe his threats of tariffs are just posturing to bring more chips to the bargaining table. I don’t pretend to understand his motivations. I have enough trouble understanding mine…
  • Trump does not have a real plan for immigration reform. The only president in my lifetime to have a vision for sensible immigration reform was George W. Bush, but he was shot down by neocons in his own party (and by Senator Barack Obama, who was receiving a lot of union money at the time, and unions don’t like immigrants).
    • Also, it’s very clear from the constitution (look it up yourself), that CONGRESS is responsible for immigration and naturalization policies. Not the president. Not the Supreme Court. Not the States. Not Sanctuary Cities.
      • Our immigration laws are a mess and no one in congress (for a couple of generations now) has the courage to fix these laws.
        • Many politicians get elected by stirring up fear of immigrants, riding to victory on “no amnesty” platforms. They keep doing it because it keeps working. Fear sells.
      • Right wingers just saying “follow the laws” ignore the fact that our immigration laws, like alcohol prohibition and the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit simply don’t work, don’t benefit the country, aren’t fair on a human or legal level, and are not realistically enforceable.
        • The truth is, we need immigrant labor, much of it currently undocumented, especially for agriculture, gardening, house cleaning, and child care. There simply aren’t enough of us to cover these things. There is no way for this labor (if we followed the current laws) to be supplied. So the laws are ignored, with only token enforcement. Many if not most of the congressmen and -women, many of whom decry “amnesty,” benefit directly from such labor, much of it in their own households.
        • Same holds true for highly skilled labor. There are amazingly gifted and educated people who can’t get a work visa to come here. Some of them even got their advanced degrees at US universities! Foreigners getting an advanced STEM degree in the US should get a green card with their diploma.
        • Amnesty is wise sometimes. We pardoned the entire Confederacy after half the country took up arms and led (treasonous) armed rebellion against the government (!), leaving the country in a smoking crater. It was wise to pardon them all. Robert E Lee ended up a university president, and had tea at the White House. But amnesty is only a temporary measure, it does not solve the structural problem. We need to upgrade the immigration laws so that we don’t need amnesty in the first place.
      • So I am not optimistic about immigration reform, Trump or no Trump. That would take congressional leadership at a whole new level, which I don’t see out there anywhere.
  • The corporate tax cuts will make your life better for a half generation, at least. Our corporate tax rates were absurd; we had the dubious honor of leading the world in this category, along with having a regulatory state to rival anyone’s.
    • Everyone talks about the little rich countries in Europe (Scandinavia, Holland, Switzerland) as being “socialistic.” But in reality, their markets are more “laissez faire” than ours. Granted, they lead the world in providing a social safety net, but these countries have some of the lowest corporate tax rates and way less regulation that we do. Their (freer than ours) markets can afford to pay for their safety net. But most Americans don’t know that it’s way easier to start a new business in Sweden or the Netherlands than it is to do so here at home in the USA.
  • The debt (and yes it’s way different than the deficit). Keynes once said that “In the long run, we’re all dead.” Seems to be Trump’s mantra on the Mount-Everest-sized US debt mountain. Like W and Obama, he seems powerless or (in his case) perhaps disinterested in doing anything about it.
    • There hasn’t been any serious work on balancing our budget and building down the debt since Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich gave us several years of surpluses.
    • Until we attack the Holy Trinity of spending (the lion’s share of the budget), we will never dig ourselves out of debt. The “sacred cows” that are killing us are:
      • Military spending on things that don’t make us safer, and may actually endanger us (e.g. Interventionism).
      • Social Security for half of our retirees who simply don’t need it.
      • Medicare for half of our retirees who can afford health care on their own.
  • Trump, whether you like it or not, will have a gigantic effect on the Supreme Court. With liberals Breyer and Ginsburg teetering on life’s back nine, he could shape the court more than any president in my lifetime, for a generation to come. This is just a fact of actuarial tables. The shoe was on the other foot during the Kennedy/Johnson era, and that lasted for a long time too… So those wanting to impeach Trump may want to re-think that–unlike Trump, Pence is a real conservative. Imagine his Supreme Court nominees…

There you have it. Still not a Trump fan, but I applaud him when he does things that work and criticize him when he doesn’t.

I don’t get passionate about him one way or another.

One of the great benefits of believing in God and getting older.

I believe that there is a higher power in charge, and my faith that “life goes on” has never been disproven….

 

2 thoughts on “Trump. Not the Messiah. Not the Antichrist.”

  1. I find this reflection thoughtful and helpful. I have a much darker view of the implications of this presidency. And unlike my friend, Pastor Householder, I have changed my mind on what motivates Mr. Trump. I used to believe he was ultimately a pragmatist, and that gave me mild hope after the election. I am increasingly convinced that he is driven by narcissism rather than pragmatism, for the simple reason that many of his moves do not suggest to me concern about practicality, but always reflect concern about his ego. That narcissism, in my view, makes him way too vulnerable to manipulation by the flattery of some really sinister people. Nonetheless, I am always grateful, in today’s climate, for a reasonable stepping back from the emotional brink upon which we are balancing.

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