January 19, 2018

Fire and Fury: The power vacuum left by the cosplay presidency

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the inauguration of the Trump White House, it's worth reflecting on how the unlikely presidency has fared in office. Fire and Fury is Michael Wolff's inside chronicle of the Trump team(s) from the late stage of the campaign up through the assumption of power by General Kelly as Chief of Staff in August 2017.

Although it is being gleefully eaten up by #Resistards looking for validation of their hatred for Cheeto Hitler, the book is not at all a demonography of an Anti-President, and they are not the intended audience. They may be the most likely buyers -- desperate for anything negative about Trump -- but the tone is clinical rather than tabloid, and the overall portrait naturalistic rather than sensationalized.

The inside look also denies them the confirmation they're so eager to find that he truly is a far-right nutjob spoiling to blow up the whole world. From the chapter on the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, he voices his longstanding support for single-payer, just like progressives such as Bernie Sanders:

In fact, [Trump] probably favored government-funded health care more than any other Republican. “Why can’t Medicare simply cover everybody?” he had impatiently wondered aloud during one discussion with aides, all of whom were careful not to react to this heresy.

In the chapter on the decision to bomb Syria, both Trump and Bannon -- another far-right boogeyman to the liberals -- are shown to favor military restraint, pragmatism, and getting along with Russia (although they are ultimately worn down by the interventionist side led by the Pentagon generals):

But Trump was also drawn to Bannon’s strategic view [to "keep the United States out of intractable problems, and certainly don’t increase our involvement in them"]: Why do anything, if you don’t have to? Or, why would you do something that doesn’t actually get you anything? Since taking office, the president had been developing an intuitive national security view: keep as many despots who might otherwise screw you as happy as possible. A self-styled strongman, he was also a fundamental appeaser. In this instance, then, why cross the Russians?

If the book is not a concentrated hate-pill for those who are convinced Trump is the Devil, then neither, obviously, is it meant for consumption by members of the personality cult of Angry-White-Male Jesus -- and for exactly the same reasons. The cultists bathe in endorphin waves from the same conception of the presidency that sends "the losers and haters" into apoplexy. Where one group suffers from Trump Derangement Syndrome, the other suffers from Trump Mania Syndrome.

If their shared conception of the presidency is not true, as is made clear in Fire and Fury, they both will respond to the book not as a realistic account whose various internal pieces are to be evaluated, but as an opaque symbolic object only. There will be reflexive fist-pumping from the Democrats and reflexive hand-waving from the Republicans. Its long-term reception will be like that of The Bell Curve, with the sides switched around, and neither reading it open-mindedly.

Many of the Trump cultists accept that he is not a far-right ideologue, and is actually a pragmatist whose instincts reach toward the progressive Left as much as the nationalist Right. But they, along with the #ShePersisted crowd, all believe that he is an omnipotent God-Emperor single-handedly re-shaping the course of history from the White House, for better or worse.

This is the aspect of Trump's persona that is most exposed as fanciful in Wolff's book. Instead of a mighty central authority hurtling down lightning bolts upon mere political mortals, there is a great big power void left by an absentee would-be god.

According to the inside account, the president spends most of his time crafting his persona of being a ruler, publicizing this persona into the media, monitoring his persona's treatment by media figures (who he binge-watches on a three-screen set-up in his bedroom), repairing any damage they do to his persona, and launching retaliatory attacks of his own on their personas. All of it obsessively focused on mass media personas, rather than the real-world tasks of implementing the agenda he campaigned and won the election on.

We all knew Trump to be an inveterate showman who made his fortune by licensing his persona or brand to a developer's project, and by starring in hit entertainment shows. We assumed this would continue, but may not have expected it to be the primary focus of his finite time and energy in the White House -- as though his career had not changed from "being Donald Trump," only now in a presidential setting.

This impression comports with Axios' assessment of narrative threads from the book that are overwhelmingly true. Roger Stone, longtime Trump confidant and Washington insider, has been saying the same thing for months on Infowars broadcasts, albeit more sympathetically. He really is a cable news junkie, he does have good instincts but little patience for governance, and he's called "dope" by his cabinet members such as General McMaster.

As it happens, Stone is taking notes for a book on the Trump presidency that, so far, does not bode well, although he hopes it turns out better. He places most of the blame on those surrounding the president, who give him misleading or incomplete information, have ulterior motives, and so on. I was struck by how familiar the Wolff account read after having listened to Stone's independent account for the better part of a year now. It's not a partisan or ideological matter, it's there for any honest cold hard looker to observe.

As Ann Coulter pointed out after that clusterfuck of an on-camera negotiation about immigration, Trump only proved Wolff's portrayal accurate, being more concerned with the image-management and stagecraft of being president, while remaining wholly ignorant of most of the basic aspects of the debate -- that he gave such emphasis to during the campaign -- not knowing who stood where, and as a result of not caring about these things, outsourcing all negotiating and decision-making to the Congressmen for him to later rubber-stamp.

As the various factions in the administration discover that the media-oriented president has de facto abdicated his duties and powers as ruler, they scramble to fill the power vacuum. One faction is the Manhattan Democrats (Jared, Ivanka, Cohn, Powell), another is the Republican Establishment (Priebus, Spicer, Walsh), and the last is the populist-nationalist insurgency (Bannon and his crew).

Each faction has their own press secretary, as does Trump himself, which results in constant leaking against the other factions. Functionally, there is no organizational chart, and each faction is equally able to get Trump's ear and lobby him for or against some view or action.

The story is not one of garden variety palace intrigue, as the absence of a strong central power means there is more of a three-way civil war, as opposed to the usual petty backbiting among pacified courtiers.

This period ends when General Kelly assumes the Chief of Staff role, insisting that all requests for contact with the president go through him. That effectively demotes the Javanka family faction, and Kelly outright purges the Bannon faction. That leaves the Establishment GOP types, but they are too ineffectual to be trusted with running the government, so a power figure from the Pentagon -- which is aligned with, and indeed controls the GOP -- steps in to take their place.

That explains why the Trump administration took a far more conventional GOP turn afterward. There were no more populist-nationalists, the Manhattan Democrats took the hint that their party had lost the election, while the GOP-aligned Pentagon had enough institutional power to take over the White House operations.

Yet that would not have been possible if the president himself had not already checked out and burrowed away in the media world of persona construction and destruction.

I've been defending Trump's not-so-Trumpian outcomes as president, arguing that as an outsider novice he came into office with no political capital (rather, with debt, given his salted-earth campaign as a candidate), and that he faced monumental pressures from the institutions of both parties (Wall Street, Pentagon, etc.). At least he could push as hard as possible within those constraints, though, right?

Disturbingly, the account in Fire and Fury is that he checked out from actually governing already during the transition. He gave an eager go-ahead to making Paul Ryan the Speaker of the House again, despite being his antithesis, and immediately outsourced the legislative agenda to Ryan and McConnell, rather than track down other seasoned pros who would better channel Trump's campaign agenda. Ditto for executive-branch decision-making.

We know how that turned out, but the hopeful and charitable view I had was that they had simply out-maneuvered the new guy who had no political capital. Instead it seems like he has always been more focused on the media-persona aspect of being president, continuing rather than changing careers.

The point for Trump supporters is not to throw our hands up and say "Game Over!" It is simply to say we need to temper expectations about the remainder of Trump's term, to realize the institutional pressures we're up against, and to make better decisions about choosing leaders and candidates in the future. They must be eager to carry out the tasks needed to govern, and they should have more of a background in politics.

With another outsider, especially one from a field far removed from politics like media / entertainment, there would only be another power vacuum in their office that would open up a vicious civil war at first, before getting filled by the powerful unelected institutions like Wall Street or the Pentagon.

24 comments:

  1. Very interesting analysis. I like what you say about there being two Syndromes, not one, and our job is to see through both smokescreens. It's also a useful discussion of Trump's limitations in the light of his whole career. I'm not so sure where you Americans go from here, though. Trump's money and previous fame helped him to win; where's the finances and fame to propel a genuine candidate forward? You saw what was done to Roy Moore (leaving aside whatever reservations you might have about him). Isn't it more likely the the right produce more Roy Moores than Donald Trumps in its future?

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  2. It's not a problem of funding (Bernie did fine with lots of small donations), or finding genuine candidates (Trump was genuinely in favor of all the positions he took during the campaign).

    It's a problem of actually implementing those positions when you take office. Does the person have enough political capital? Are they eager to govern, perhaps even shunning the fame, or are they more interested in the theatrical side of politics? Are they willing to find the right people to help them out with each issue?

    On each of these measures, Trump has fallen short, and we need to find someone who has more government experience, political capital, not a fame seeker, and a team player and team builder.

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  3. It's also crucial that the post-Trump candidate fully understand institutions vs. individuals. A recurring theme in Fire and Fury is that Trump views all interactions at the level of individuals, no matter how hard Roger Ailes, Steve Bannon, and other allies try to impress upon him the existence, nature, and strength of institutions.

    Paul Ryan can suck up and convince Trump he's on the Trump team, when he represents institutions that oppose every one of Trump's major agenda items.

    James Comey must have some personal beef with Trump, and he can be taken out in order to end the threat -- when he is just the temporary occupant of a permanent role, Director of the FBI, overseeing an institution that will outlast Comey and Trump's mortal existence (the FBI). The investigation of the Trump campaign is being carried out not by Comey personally but by the FBI.

    Mika & Joe are covering him unfairly, and he concludes they have a personal grudge against him (e.g., not getting invited to Mar-a-Lago), and he wants to attack them on a personal level -- when they are just representatives of the entire media sector, whose mission is to destroy the Trump movement.

    And so on and so forth. Everyone is an individual who Trump tries to size up and deal with as though they were an isolated actor, rather than someone filling a role within a larger institution like the Pentagon, Silicon Valley, the CIA, the media, etc.

    I think this traces back to his focus on the theatrical / cosplay aspect of politics. In a stage performance, each actor is playing their own part, and has their own individual motivations. During their performance, they do not represent some larger institution, and there is no jockeying for status among rival institutions (say the media vs. the Pentagon).

    If one actor gives a harmful performance, it's not because they represent some larger institution that has an interest in delivering a performance that harms the other actors, director, producer, etc. That would only be blamed on the individual bad actor (just bad at acting, trying to sabotage someone they have a vendetta against, etc.).

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  4. By neglecting institutions, Trump opened up an even bigger power vacuum than he did by just ignoring the governance aspect in favor of the theatrical aspect.

    He must have seen his absentee presidency as only leaving a void in the single job of "president," when in fact that meant a void within the entire institution of the White House, or the executive branch, or the government as a whole.

    And he must not have thought that there was much of a threat of others usurping his role -- there are only individuals, in his mind, and none of them are so much more powerful than he is, right?

    But it will be an entire institution that fills a void. At first there were three institutional forces struggling to occupy the void -- Goldman Sachs Democrats from Manhattan, the grassroots-driven insurgency, and the GOP Establishment. The strongest of those, when a Republican wins the election, is the GOP Establishment, and especially the institution that controls it the most -- the Pentagon.

    So bye-bye Javanka and Bannon, welcome General Kelly.

    In fairness, even Bannon seems to have analyzed the institutional strengths in the wrong way. He allied with Priebus against Javanka, and helped to bring in General Kelly. He was more focused on eliminating the Goldman Sachs Democrats, when they were not much of a real threat to rule during a Republican presidency.

    He probably should have allied with them, and cut deals on which Democrat-style policies they would promote (Medicare for all, gut the free trade deals, preserve social safety net, etc.), rather than their airhead limousine liberal pet policies (maternity leave, climate change, etc.).

    The strongest faction was clearly the GOP Establishment / Pentagon, so the two weaker factions should have banded together against the strong one, and then split the spoils afterwards. Neither Javanka nor Bannon had any interest in seeing a standard GOP administration, albeit for different reasons.

    Each of the losing factions put ideological purity over coalitional strength, and they got creamed by an already strong coalition (Pentagon, GOP Congress, RNC, etc.).

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  5. Roger Stone on the AJ Show today said that Trump signed off on a change of the line of succession at the DoJ, which elevated a whole bunch of Bushie anti-Trumpers into the top spots, so that Trump would have to fire 6 or 7 layers down in order to get a sympathetic Attorney General.

    Why didn't he read that document? Because it's part of the real government, not the showbiz government, so why worry about it?

    Why didn't he ask someone else with political experience to read it and analyze it for him? As Fire and Fury goes to pains to point out, and from what we can already publicly observe, Trump cannot stand asking for help from others because it would make him look weak, uninformed, etc. And it would give the other person credit for the victory, which cannot stand no matter how small the victory.

    So now he's painted himself into a corner regarding who is controlling the DoJ, all because he's obsessed with his media persona more than his real-life threats in the real-life government. And a key piece of that persona is "I don't need anyone else's help -- I'm the absolute best that there ever has been". So he prevents help from sympathizers who actually are capable of spotting these legalistic tricks and plots from the traitors.

    Speaking of which, he seems not only willing but "eager" to walk right into the Robert Mueller's firing squad. Again, individuals vs. institutions. He probably thinks that Mueller is a reasonable guy who he can shower with flattery, and make his honest case for having done nothing wrong, and then this individual Mueller will say, "Gee, how wrong we were -- you're free to go, Mr. President!"

    He's just playing a role in an institution, and it's the institution that is targeting him. If Mueller were not there, someone else would be, playing the exact same role.

    When Trump inevitably gets "treated unfairly" by Mueller and his team, he will develop a personal vendetta against Mueller just like he did with Comey. Rather than get angry at the institution and try to weaken or out-maneuver the institution.

    If he tries to fire Mueller, he'll find out again that it is not the individual who poses a threat to him, and he'll bring even more institutional power down upon himself than when he fired Comey.

    Stone keeps saying that Trump's lawyers are "sleep-walking him to the gallows," either because they're in on the set-up, or they're typical conservatives who also are blind to institutions and believe that the rule of law will prevail among individual actors.

    Does not look good there, and that's the reason why Stone is preparing for the case where he writes a book about the downfall of Trump.

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  6. AgentOrange1/20/18, 1:42 AM

    Where did the masthead for the blog come from?

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  7. I thought something like this would happen if he became President (though I didn't think that would happen, and before I had thought he wasn't serious about running for office). If we lived in a multiparty parliamentary system then if there was enough support for a new political tendency people could vote for its party, and a new cabinet could be formed from its members (along with appointing people to various other positions). But as it is Trump merely managed to win a primary within the existing Republican party without bringing in a wave of people downstream intent on enacting any new agenda. Not that Trump pays enough attention to policy details to have a fully worked out agenda coming in.

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  8. Masthead is from Weird Science.

    Speaking of parliamentary systems, the failure to pass a spending bill when R's control the WH, House, and Senate should count as a vote of no confidence, and a whole new group of Pres + Cabinet + Congressional leadership put in place.

    McConnell should lower the threshold to 51 votes for everything (or as another baby step after the court nominations, for spending bills). Wrangle enough R's or attract enough D's, and have Pence step in if needed. That should have passed last night.

    Maybe people will get angry at Dems for trying to shut down the govt in order to give amnesty to illegals, but they should never be allowed to have that leverage -- even if they wind up not getting their way with it. Ridiculous.

    And the R's aren't going to come away much better in the minds of anti-amnesty voters, because the Republicans are also committed to full citizenship for all illegals -- they just differ on putting that into an irrelevant spending bill. They're intent to sell out the anti-amnesty voters, they just won't shut down the govt in order to do so.

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  9. Persona-driven presidents seems like a modern trend, perhaps related to rising inequality. Reagan was the first one who let his advisors tell him what to do, while focusing on his persona(he actually wrote his own speeches). Clinton was poll-obsessed; George W. Bush was notorious for being ignorant of the issues and letting Cheney take charge, while "cosplaying" as a regular down-home boy and fighter pilot. Not sure what Obama was like as president.

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  10. Conversely, presidents in the 60s and 50s(and even early 70s) were more active and willing to take on institutions. Nixon wanted control of government so bad that he audiotaped all his underlings. Kennedy spoke of "shattering the CIA into 1000 pieces", and Eisenhower took on the military-industrial complex.

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  11. Curtis:

    You beat me to it. A day or two ago I considered posting about presidential style cycles. I tend to think, as has been noted on this blog, that Nixon was the last president to represent many positive signs of a lower striving society. One of those positive signs was a president sincerely concerned about studying the issues and creating policies that were as beneficial as possible to his country.

    When we entered a striver era in the later 70's, it's as though it suddenly became ok to entrust important policy strategy/decisions to a constellation of "experts", "think" tanks, etc. And of course, there were plenty of elites willing and able to concoct "PR" campaigns and sophisticated marketing packages for all manner of asinine ideologies and laws.

    Carter, for example, campaigned on having a wholesome persona (unlike that dastardly Nixon) and marketable image. Then when he was in office, he seemed to let all kinds of ominous crap happen, foreshadowing the ineptitude and corruption that would become endemic in the ensuing decades (not that he always wanted this stuff to happen) and he threw his hands up in the air, famously saying "there are no simple solutions to complex problems". Well gee, I guess we weren't the America that put a man on the moon anymore.

    WRT Reagan, he didn't effectively stop the Bush CIA/globalist faction from butting in at a time when Americas were disgusted by US foreign policy. He was resigned to accepting them when it became clear that they wouldn't tolerate being out of the White House. And then there's the trickle down economics racket, and the embarrassing pandering to the Me Generation that big gubmint was responsible for our major problems.

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  12. Obama spent a lot of time golfing and watching sports center, and there's no indication of any great intellectual/ideological depth, just mindless devotion to cultural Marxism and PC. Since his "brand" was carefully crafted by a team of handlers from basically the time he entered Harvard (his academic records are still sealed), he's not had to spend that much time concerned about his image. Previous presidents in the current striving era were no where near as stage managed (and the current president is actively hated by the chattering classes so of course Trump is pre-occupied with his image).

    I bet something also changed over the last 40 years: is the focus on image/brand ID, or on policy? Americans of all classes were earnestly devoted to policy in the 40's-early 70's. Then elites (always a harbinger) began picking on Ford and especially Carter over the perception that they were goofy/awkward/insecure or whatever. By the 1980 election, even many lower class Americans were starting to focus more on the idea that a good image mattered.....Even as many people were starting to perhaps subconsciously give up on the notion that it was even possible to have elites and institutions who knew what they were doing. These trends intensified in the later 80's, when people became intensely judgemental and chose sides in the "culture war". Starting with Bush in the early 90's, it's been taken for granted that at least half the population will hate each president that we get. Why? Because nobody believes anymore that it's even possible to get a quality president who can enact policies that will help most people.

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  13. "
    You beat me to it. A day or two ago I considered posting about presidential style cycles. I tend to think, as has been noted on this blog, that Nixon was the last president to represent many positive signs of a lower striving society"

    Another example is FDR packing the Supreme Court - once again, a president trying to gain control of an institution, or control of the government, rather than be controlled by institutions.

    Truman fired Macarthur rather than let the military brass bully him into a war with China. Eisenhower used the frickin' military to end desegregation. Kennedy wanted to destroy the CIA, etc.

    I feel as if I was a little hard on poor GW. Bush, who seems like an otherwise decent person, and by his own claim was the one making decisions. And his aircraft carrier moment may be fondly remembered by some of the troops. But that said, he's still an example of someone being controlled by institutions/government, rather than controlling them - and more a focus on managing persona in the media(a lot of that was done by his PR people).

    That really started with Reagan, the huge focus on the president's media image. It started somewhat with Kennedy, though as I pointed out, Kennedy tried to wrest control of the government(though in his personal life, he seems like a creep who had his mistress give his chief of staff a BJ).

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  14. While other presidents, especially during the status-striving period, have focused on the theatrical side of politics to the detriment of the instrumental side, Trump is unique.

    It's wrong to criticize him as lazy, incompetent, etc. -- that's assuming his goal is the instrumental side of government. But in the side that he is actually pursuing -- the theatrical -- he's unmistakably a workaholic and genius.

    That's what separates him from other persona-minded presidents -- he refuses to even pretend that he's there for the instrumental side, bristles at the suggestions that he participate in that side, and fills up all of his many waking hours with the theatrical side.

    Reagan and Clinton may have spent time cultivating a persona, but they didn't spend 12 hours a day doing it, to the exclusion of anything instrumental.

    Also, Trump's whole premise was that nothing worked in Washington -- gridlock, partisan hatred, clueless ineffectual do-nothing leaders. "We're not going to be led by the stupid people anymore, folks." There were so many easy deals to be done, but the leaders were stupid or lazy or bought-off. Once he strode into the White House, there would be so much low-hanging fruit to pick, there would only be winning winning winning.

    As a result, his lack of results look even worse than if he had campaigned on trying to do the best within a gridlocked system, but don't get your hopes up too much. When a lack of major achievements takes place within a framing that there was so much low-hanging fruit, it makes the president look even more ineffectual.

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  15. The absence of strong central leaders in status-striving times is not so much the fault of the leaders themselves (except for figures like Trump who go out of their way to not do anything on the instrumental side).

    It's more of an indictment of the elites and their institutions, who are supposed to get along with each other and suppress their own ambition for the greater good of the entire society.

    When their mindset shifts from negotiation and getting along, to brinkmanship and hostility, it sets off a de facto civil war.

    No single leader can control that kind of situation.

    So it's more like the strong central leaders we had during the Great Compression enjoyed their powerful authority because it was granted to them by the elites, who at the time were more harmonious.

    They were reacting to the catastrophe of the WWI period, when it looked like every society was going to blow itself up over elite in-fighting.

    When memory of that catastrophic situation fades, the elites feel there's no harm in getting more ambitious. They withdraw their support for a strong central leader and try to hijack the authority directly -- or maybe in a coalition with other elite institutions, but still doing an end-run around the duly elected leader.

    That leads to another major breakdown of society, which in turn compels the elites to start reining in their ambition and in-fighting, lest the people rise up and wipe them out for having blown up the society that they were supposedly the stewards of.

    And the cycle repeats.

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  16. The cat's out of the bag on this theatrical vs. instrumental difference, and Trump obsessing over the former while refusing the latter.

    On the night of the shutdown, a lot of the talking heads made this point, and so have the internet people (like Matt Yglesias). You're starting to read it in the mainstream press articles, too.

    I don't remember hearing this view at all not too long ago -- it must have been the Michael Wolff book that either revealed to people for the first time, or broke the silence about the emperor not wearing any clothes, and now everyone else in the media world feels free to comment on it openly.

    Again, you could have written it off somewhat if it had not been for that on-camera "negotiation" on immigration where Trump was a big fat mess. Not just understanding of the issue, but not trying to identify his leverage or use it -- he said, OK first we'll give amnesty to the DACA people, and then one hour later we'll do "comprehensive" and give amnesty to the other tens of millions of illegals. Without even being prompted by the Dems about comprehensive!

    "You guys do your own thing, and I won't hold things up by questioning it, I'll sign it because I trust you all." Such a brutal vicious killer at the negotiating table.

    This is different from the "President Bannon" stuff because it was clear that Trump had formulated his platform well before Bannon came on board. The basic outlines of which positions on which issues, were already there.

    Now when they say "President Kelly" or "President Ryan / McConnell," etc., they're not far off. It's not as though Trump had already proven his governmental executive chops, and someone new is trying to claim credit for those efforts.

    He abdicated before even being coronated.

    We'll see if the open season that's been declared on his reputation, casting him as a do-nothing, will spur him to start taking the job seriously.

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  17. It's long, but I think this paper would be extremely interesting to everyone here from start to finish: https://www.ineteconomics.org/uploads/papers/Ferg-Jorg-Chen-INET-Working-Paper-Industrial-Structure-and-Party-Competition-in-an-Age-of-Hunger-Games-8-Jan-2018.pdf

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  18. http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/22/news/economy/us-tariff-washing-machines-solar-cells/index.html

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  19. Habakkuk Mucklewrath1/23/18, 7:27 AM

    Characterizing Trump as a show-biz buffoon, all hat and no cattle, reality TV star LARPing as president is far from new; it's been the MO of shitlibs and never-trumpers for nigh on three years now. "He'll never govern well, no gravitas, no experience, not a serious person, etc." have been the lamentations of his enemies Right and Left all along the way. Why are you paying attention to the attention whoring Wolff?

    On another note, we've all been clamoring for tariffs, and here they come!
    http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/22/news/economy/us-tariff-washing-machines-solar-cells/index.html

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  20. Before there was no discrepancy to explain -- Trump had not taken office, and as far as we could tell from his campaign, he seemed sincere about making certain changes.

    A year into office, very little of those changes have materialized, and certainly nothing beyond what a Jeb or Cruz presidency would have produced. In other words, nothing distinctly Trumpian.

    That requires an explanation. At first, it looked like he was just getting marginalized by those in Washington with more political capital than he had -- i.e., everybody, since he's a newcomer who burned bridges with the Establishment.

    If that were the full extent of the cause, then we would still observe him tirelessly chipping away at corporate elitism and globalism, within the institutional constraints that he slammed up against upon taking office.

    Instead he's been outsourcing the legislative agenda to the Congressional GOP. As for executive influence, he could not have proven Wolff's points any more accurately than during that immigration negotiation -- like Ann Coulter said, anyone who couldn't see that was the lowest day of his presidency is fooling themselves.

    He showed no awareness of basic facts, positions of either side, his side's leverage, or ability to drive a hard bargain for his voters. Let alone messaging / Overton window shifting.

    All it takes is one incident like that to destroy the credibility -- it's something that cannot happen at all if he had been working hard behind the curtain to deliver on immigration.

    And now there are more and more reports from well-sourced reporters, mainly at Axios, about how little time Trump spends doing executive things. His copious hours spent on the theatrical side are called, in self-promoting terms, "executive time".

    "Trump's secret shrinking schedule":

    https://www.axios.com/scoop-trumps-secret-shrinking-schedule-1515364904-ab76374a-6252-4570-a804-942b3f851840.html

    We don't care if he isn't any lazier than Obama on the instrumental side of government (we'd need a close comparison to see who worked less). The point is that he is pissing away the precious little time he has in that office, obsessing over the theatrical side (ratings, coverage, media, persona).

    That's not what we voted for -- but then, maybe it was. Whatever happens, must be the best of all possible worlds.

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  21. The rationalizing cheerleaders are stuck with "who/whom" arguments.

    Since it was the LIEBRULS who predicted that there would be no populist economic policy under a Trump administration, they must be wrong -- the GOP didn't just pass a yuge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy with no conditions attached to benefit the working or middle classes, they haven't allowed more M&A than under Obama, they aren't cheering on the elite-benefitting stock market bubble, and they have totally gutted NAFTA and brought back good-paying jobs to American citizens.

    And since it was NeverTrumpers who said he had no real intent to govern, they must be wrong -- contrary to all sources that anyone has, he is ackshually working 10-hour days on the instrumental side of government, has a solid command of the basic facts on his top priority issues, has recruited and promoted more populist/nationalist talent than those who were already on board during the campaign, and nobody has driven hard bargain after hard bargain to extract massive wins for his voters.

    Maybe you don't realize how small the personality cult of Shitposter Jesus is, but nobody is buying any of these risible rationalizations anymore.

    At the very least, you have to shift strategies from kneejerk dismissal, or else you're in for a rude awakening when anything comes to a real test -- mid-term elections, 2020 primaries and general, stock market crashing, etc. You'll see how few people have blind faith in Trump. The Alabama special election should have been a wake-up call.

    He won the Electoral College by 1% margins across a handful of key states, and lost the popular vote. Most of those who delivered the win were former Obama voters willing to take a gamble. Those were the initial conditions -- do you really think there was a widespread personality cult of his to begin with? Let alone, has it grown in size since he's taken office?

    Time for a reality check on the state of the electorate.

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  22. The Monster Vote thing again.....?

    Trump has the GOP partisans (most of whom are Boomers) on board, he's got the graying single issue conservative culture warriors (who alienate most Millennials), AND he's got some of the Alt-right left, assuming they haven't moved on to a different troll platform/identity. But that's not really a whole lot. Elections are primarily won on the strength of appealing to people who are Independents/moderates.

    In the Alabama election, working-middle class white X-ers/Millennials mostly opted to sit things out, with Boomers being only somewhat more enthusiastic, given that Roy Moore is about as welcome as a turd in a punch bowl to most people under the age of 45. And whereas Trump at least had novelty appeal (A GOP candidate who doesn't pretend to be above the fray and who prodded some sacred cows), Moore represented everything stale and embarrassing about the Culture War era GOP.

    If Trump can't deliver more common sense on tangible quality of life issues, by clamping down on immigration, Pentagon pork, outsourcing, corporate excess and greed, then he failed and people who didn't drink the Kool Aid will see the product for what it is.

    The GOP could solve their demographic crisis in the making with economic populism, but the Stupid Party would rather cater to the "don't tell me what to do" narcissistic whims of anti-big gubmint Boomers than bother with policies that would restore fair play customs and practices that pre-date the adulthood of X-ers and Millennials.

    What's become a canard on the modern right is that Leftists are trying to win elections by importing populations who don't know who Ayn Rand is. The reality is that at least the back half of X-ers and the vast majority of Millennials mostly don't give a fuck about trying to relive the mid-1980's over and over again. The deals that Silents and Boomers inked since the late 70's have had virtually no beneficial effect on those born in the 70's and 80's.

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  23. The GOP's own analysis of their coming demise is of course clueless. Instead of economic appeals to the working class, many of whom are younger whites, they focus on how to sell the usual trickle down horseshit to non-whites.

    Gee, let's give up on a sizable number of people who aren't that hard to appeal to (moderate and blue collar whites), and focus on demographics we'll never win (those with no Caucasian ancestry).

    The Boomer dreamers who fund this crap insist on fabricating all kinds of strategies for marketing the schemes that allowed them to "live life to the fullest" and line their pockets. I'm not sure that some even have any self-awareness, or earnestly want to get to know why younger generations feel the way they do.

    After all, they could just ask younger lower class whites if they feel that rich people and corporations have been allowed to run amok for 40 years, and if so, what do you suppose we as a party could do about it? But nah, that'd step on the toes of the well heeled and well entrenched interests that've been fueling us for decades.

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  24. "it's been the MO of shitlibs and never-trumpers for nigh on three years now. "

    Some of those never Trumpers have their hooks in Trump, right now. Also, the longer Trump waits to get crackin' on what we want, the more the establishment gets comfortable with him. The media will never lay off him, since the 1990's, 90% of the media has been status conscious charlatans more concerned with SWPL fashion and/or ideological purity than bothering to report what really matters to the average person's life. But the Right establishment has less and less reason to oppose Trump, everyday that goes by that has no substantial progress at starting the populist mission he was sent on by voters. His putative achievements mostly would've happened on the watch of any other GOP'er, since for the most part they don't conflict with the goals of the Chamber of Commerce, the Pentagon, and multi-nationals.

    The Left will continue to piss and moan, since they genuinely believe they won but got robbed in 2016. In status conscious times, people are extremely sore losers, recall that before the 2000 election brouhaha, back in the more equitable period of the 40's-90's, no important figure on the Left or the Right ever seriously suggested that the general election results were so tainted that we needed a recount and possible election reversal.. But by 2000, so many people in all strata of society were obsessed with winning that they simply could not accept losing with grace. Historically, recounts mostly re-affirm the original election result, suggesting that almost always, the more popular candidate does indeed get more legitimate votes.

    For all the bitching about Trump and Putin "stealing" the election, the Left doesn't seem to realize that they can make enough hay in the present that it makes reliving and replaying a bitter past unnecessary. Not to mention that bringing up the 2016 election over and over again only serves to remind people that Hillary sucked ass and got beaten for good reason.

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