Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Two Contradictory Thoughts on the Record-Breaking Corruption of the Future Trump Administration

I'm of two minds about the virtual certainty that Trump will run the most corrupt administration in American history (follow-up) by an order of magnitude or more. On the one hand, given the number and scale of problems we face, it's way, way down the list. Next to the unleashing of attacks on minorities of all stripes, the ending of health care for millions, the destruction of the planet's biosphere, the reinstatement of torture as official US policy, etc, etc, it's trivial.

Frankly, if they were really just in it for the money, I for one would personally be thrilled to highball the amount Trump & all of his cronies expect to make from their years in office, multiply it by ten, and give it to them in straight, no-strings, untaxed cash, if they would resign & let the winner of the popular vote take office in January. The Republic would be vastly better off.

On the other hand... Corruption gets to a lot of people who don't care about (or are even on the other side of) other issues. Clinton lost so narrowly that any of dozens of factors can be blamed, but among the leading causes is clearly the (largely false) idea that she was corrupt (laughable compared to her opponent, of course). And Trump's farcical claim that he would "drain the swamp" was, apparently, a big deal for those who voted for him. Certainly the notion that corrupt elites run things helped him, so that showing that he is the most corrupt of them will probably do some good with at least some Trump voters.

So... yeah. Trump: corrupt. Let's make that point, early and often, along with all the others.

Update: This quite seriously understates the danger of Trump's corruption. See this Matt Yglesias post for what I missed.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


…Val was an optimist herself. Or at least people often accused her of it. And indeed she did try to make the best of things. It seemed to her that that was the way one should behave… Making the best of things was what courage meant, in her opinion; that was right action in the face of life. And how hard it was, given how dark her thoughts had become, and how dismal everything sometimes appeared to her; how against the grain of her temperament it had become. But she kept at it anyway, as an act of the will. And all it did was to get her laughed at, and most of what she said continually discounted or put down, as if being optimistic was a matter of a somewhat obtuse intelligence, or at best the luck of biochemistry, rather than a policy that had to be maintained, sometimes in the midst of the blackest moods imaginable.…

…And the world being what it was, Val supposed that there was some truth in it. Why be optimistic, how be optimistic, when there was so much wrong with so much? In a world coming apart it had to be a kind of stupidity. But still Val held to it, stubbornly, just barely.… It took an effort to be optimistic, it was a moral position. But no one understood that.

— Kim Stanley Robinson, ANTARCTICA

...Need I add that this is, for me, aspirational not descriptive? That to say that I fall short of this is beyond overstatement, and that I am by intellect and temperament pessimistic in the extreme? That this is me talking to myself as much or far more than others? Ok then.

(By the way, this quote is in my sidebar quotes, in a much more truncated version; this is a longer chunk. For the still longer version, read the book!)

"Neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain"

Dover Beach 

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

 —Matthew Arnold

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

"The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing"

Election Day, November 1884

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest
scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-
loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon's white cones—nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes—
nor Mississippi's stream:
—This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name—the
still small voice vibrating—America's choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous'd—sea-board and inland
—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and con-
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's:)
the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the
heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Even If Sanity Wins, Tomorrow Is Just the End of the Beginning

A friend of mine (whom I'll name if he likes, but otherwise won't) said yesterday on FB that he isn't against conservatism, just Trumpism. This is dangerous thinking, which we must combat as we move through and beyond tomorrow's vote.

Some writers (such as a recent, otherwise strong piece by Ezra Klein) have focused on Trump as a potential authoritarian, focusing on his personal flaws. But most of Trump's personal flaws are simply slight amplifications of longstanding conservative tendencies. Trump's racism, his proud ignorance (and attendant mendacity), his misogyny, his demagoguery, his authoritarian impulses, his breaking of constitutional norms, his wild and unfocused threats — all arise out of what the GOP has been since it began to merge with the conservative movement in 1964.

There is, abstractly, a set of conservative ideas that don't truck in white nationalist politics, in hatred of knowledge as "elitist", in authoritarian power-worship. (Although they're still terrible ideas!) But they don't have a base in this country. Since Goldwater lost in a landslide but won deep south states on the back of his opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, conservatives have, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, sold conservatism as a vehicle for racist, anti-knowledge, authoritarian (etc) ideas which are the real appeal. (The best exemplification of this is the times when Trump ditched (inconsistently) conservative dogma, and still won the GOP nomination: most of their voters don't really care about low taxes; they're there for the white nationalist authoritarianism.)

Trump is an outlier — he says the soft parts loud. (As Ezra Klein says in the piece I referred to above, "…the compliment I can pay Donald Trump, and I pay it with real gratitude [is that] he never hid who he was.") He turns things up to 11. But they were already at 10. Because they're baked into recepie. And what Trump has accomplished this year, even if he looses, is to make them even more central, even more virulent, even more dangerous for the foreseeable future.

To say the problem isn't conservatism but Trump is to miss the point: Trump is conservatism.
People who don't like politics — most of us — have been telling ourselves that this is different, that institutions which have departed in extraordinary ways from their normal practices to call out Trump can now go back to their normal blind bipartisan blandness. But it's a mistake, a deep mistake, and if persisted in it will in time be a fatal one. If you think that we've had to go all-out to defeat Trump, then you should also think we have to stay all-out to defeat Trumpism. Otherwise the next Trump — just slightly more self-controlled — will win.

Most Americans — including, very much, me — are looking forward to tomorrow as the end of a nightmare. But we're wrong. It's just the end of the first inning.

We will be fighting Trumpist demons from now on, until some time we can't imagine, or until we loose. This is our future. This is our country. This is us, from now on.
(Cross-posted from Facebook.)


Post script: Jonathan Chait says all this better and less histrionically (although with still the requisite amount of hysteria to be accurate; a lack of hysteria is pretty much a sign that one isn't being accurate in one's depiction of the world) is here: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/10/the-gops-age-of-authoritarianism-has-only-just-begun.html.