‘Gradually and then suddenly’

David Frum, to explain inevitable failure, instructively quotes Ernest Hemingway on going broke:

A famous line of Ernest Hemingway’s describes how a rich man goes broke: “Two ways … Gradually and then suddenly.” That’s how defeat comes upon a president as well. The live question for Trumpists in 2018 will be whether they can hold onto both chambers of Congress and thereby continue to stifle investigations into presidential wrongdoing. The geographic map is in the GOP’s favor in 2018, but the demographic map increasingly is not. The voters who hear of and are swayed by comments like Flake’s and Corkers’s—more educated, more affluent—are precisely those most likely to show up in an off-year election. Trump and the GOP will not lose all of them. They cannot afford to lose very many of them.

You don’t lose power by losing your base. Herbert Hoover held 39.7 percent of the vote in 1932, a year when Americans were literally going hungry. You lose power by losing the less intensely committed, just enough of them to tip the balance against you….

Via One More Straw Upon the Camel’s Back (“Jeff Flake’s speech won’t be the last straw—but it adds its weight to the growing pile”).

Those of us proudly in opposition and resistance – those of us resolutely committed to centuries of evolving democratic institutions on this continent – will not prevail today or tomorrow. We will see losses, some grievous, in the many days of political conflict ahead.

We will, however, see the demise of our adversaries, and happily our own success, in the shifting cadence that Hemingway describes: gradually and then suddenly.

Truths About Trump

For supporters and those in thrall:

For those of us who are opponents and of the resistance:

Opponents can first hold fast against Trump, and then at suitable moments push against him forcefully, compelling his retreat. Those who band together as powerful counter-parties can overwhelm Trump and his ilk.

The Premature Question

Over at the Daily Beast, Joy Reid asks What’s Going to Happen When the Trumpists Realize the America They Yearn for Is Gone?

It’s an interesting question, perhaps, but more importantly it’s a premature one. We’ve a long road ahead before Trumpism is finished, and you’ll excuse me if the time for pondering life after our present conflict is nowhere near. (Between now and then, the circumstances that planning will take into account will, no doubt, be changed, anyway.)

Concern over how that time will look matters far less than working for its arrival, however near or far that arrival may be.

For now, there’s no reason to relent or pause, no time to ponder the time after this time. We’ll have that occasion when success draws nearer.

Until then, we’ve an obligation to diligence, each day beginning again with the distance and detachment so useful for a long & demanding conflict.

“The Leader is the Party and the Party is the Leader”

Embed from Getty Images

Trumpist Kayleigh McEnany has left CNN (where she appeared as a Trump surrogate), for both Trump TV and the Republican National Committee as the RNC spokesperson.

Evan McMullin, a conservative opponent of Trumpism, rightly (but too optimistically, I think) observes that “[i]nstead of doubling down on Trumpism, GOP leadership would be well served by rededicating the party to our nation’s founding principles.”

Of course the GOP should abandon Trumpism, but then they are now crossing that autocratic threshold where for Trump “der führer ist die partei und die partei ist der führer.”

Amy Siskind’s Weekly Authoritarianism List

Amy Siskind, president and co-founder of The New Agenda, keeps The Weekly Authoritarianism List. She does so because, as she rightly observes, “experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.” (The list has been nominated for permanent keeping with the Library of Congress.)

There are just desserts even now: Trump has a dim view of women, but when this dark time passes, I think we’ll look back, notably, with gratitude toward those women who held fast in the face of Trumpism. I believe that, among dedicated Americans, Jennifer Rubin, Sarah Kendzior, and Amy Siskind will easily merit our obligation. (Like many others, each day their work proves Trump’s biases false.)

I don’t offer this observation as pedestal praise; it simply seems right to acknowledge those at the forefront of opposition and resistance.

‘Very Brazen About It’

In the video above, Dr. Sarah Kendzior describes the brazen nature of autocracy: not merely does an autocrat flaunt norms, but he does so to remind others of his power, and to attempt to instill in normal, freedom-loving people a feeling of hopelessness in the face of power aberrantly exercised.

In response to these tactics, one should (1) remind repeatedly how contrary to a well-order society authoritarianism is, (2) prepare for a long campaign in opposition, and (3) apply maximum, collective pressure, at times of one’s own choosing, against an authoritarian’s greatest vulnerabilities.

A longer view is both steadying and rational: one manages reverses more easily, and applies one’s reasoning most effectively. (There is this requirement of a long view: a long memory.)

Video via Sarah Kendzior On The Impending Trump Autocracy: ‘They’re Very Brazen About It.’

Rubin & Kendzior on Trump-Russia

Jennifer Rubin and Sarah Kendzior offer complimentary observations on Trump-Russia, that compound word for the evident association between Trump and Putin’s authoritarian state.

Rubin’s remarks are from yesterday, Kendzior’s from May 20th.

Rubin asks, of Trump, Would a spy for Russia be acting any differently?:

By whatever means, Russia has reaped unexpected and unparalleled benefits from Trump’s presidency. One can attribute all these individual actions to luck or coincidence, I suppose. But Trump has yet to take a single action nor have a single public interchange that harmed Russia’s interests. You’d think by the law of averages he’d once in a while stumble into a position that put him fundamentally at odds with Russia. That, however, has not occurred. Nor has it been possible for respected advisers to keep him from giving Russians intelligence data, sowing discord with allies and employing his son-in-law, whose contacts with the Russians seem curiouser and curiouser each day.

Sarah Kendzior, in a television interview, sees a close connection between Trump & Putin as a consequence of their shared disregard for the rule of law, corruption, and authoritarian personalities:


In either case, Trump will never get past Trump-Russia, because that close connection defines his politically degenerate outrlook.

Sarah Kendzior Ponders Foreign Affairs ‘In the Shadow of Putin’

Sarah Kendzior, an anthropologist with a background studying the dictatorships in the former Soviet republics of central Asia, speaks to Lindsay Beyerstein on Beyerstein’s The Breach podcast:

This week on The Breach, journalist Sarah Kendzior joins us to talk about the weaponization of information in Putin’s Russia. The full extent of Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential election is still under investigation, but Russia has a well-documented history of influencing politics abroad with propaganda, disinformation, cold hard cash, and even cyber warfare. Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee was not an isolated incident.

SeeThe Breach: In the Shadow of Putin With Sarah Kendzior @ Rewire. A transcript of the podcast is available online.

Kendzior’s remarks about Russian political goals in 2016 are only part of a notable interview:

Lindsay: Some intelligence analysts have said that Putin’s initial goal was just to be a chaotic influence on the election but that he eventually gravitated towards a preference for Trump. Does that make sense?

Sarah: I think both things are possible. In a sense, it’s a win/win. To start off, I think that our institutions were already fragile before Russia intervened in any way. I think because they were fragile, Russia was able to pull off what they seem to have done in the manner that they did it. So I think in one sense they’re exacerbating problems that already existed and making them worse through propaganda and political maneuvering and other means. I think he also preferred Trump to win in part because Clinton was a fiercer opponent in terms of Russia’s geopolitical aims, but also because of this long history that Russia seems to have with Trump ranging from Manafort to Trump’s connection to oligarchs to various people who Trump employed in the cabinet, including Flynn who’s now gone, but also, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson who received the order of friendship. Trump designed the cabinet that’s extremely pro Putin that has many individuals that have personal ties and corporate ties, and obviously that works to their advantage.

What Grant’s Overland Campaign Teaches for Grave Political Conflict

For matters far removed from warfare, including ones concerning severe political conflict, Grant’s Overland Campaign offers useful lessons. It’s typically a poor idea to describe political affairs in military terms, but grave threats to the political order sadly call for a different approach.

One fights in more than one way: sometimes using maneuver, at other times attrition.

One may maneuver many times, again and again, each at a time of one’s choosing, until at last an adversary is in a gravely disadvantageous position, after which attrition will prove effective.

A campaign should fit an overall strategy, often where one coordinates with those farther away to inflict losses from many directions.

One engagement will lead to other engagements, and even a campaign will lead to other campaigns. One must be patient.

One will experience losses, often severe, along the way. There are no easy victories over great matters. Push on.

An adversary is finished only when he will, or can, go on no longer. Particular successes along the way are insufficient; one drives until an adversary’s final, irrecuperable ruin.

An Eminent Psychiatrist on Trump

Dr. Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College, who served as chairman of the task force that wrote the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (D.S.M.-IV), on 2.14.17 sent a letter to the New York Times in which he addresses questions about Donald Trump’s mental state. (SeeAn Eminent Psychiatrist Demurs on Trump’s Mental State.)

Frances is addressing a debate about whether Trump is mentally ill (Andrew Sullivan, The Madness of King Donald) or is simply a lifelong conniver who has profited from his misconduct (Eric Posner, Is Trump Mentally Unstable?)

Dr. Frances concludes that Trump’s behavior is worse than a person with mental illness, that Trump shows no signs of distress from his “grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy” (as a clinically-ill person would), and so suggesting Trump is mentally ill only stigmatizes those who suffer from properly-diagnosed conditions.

The full text of letter appears below (emphasis mine).

To the Editor:

Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to The New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.

ALLEN FRANCES

Coronado, Calif.

Needless to say, I’ve neither the ability nor inclination to diagnose Trump; the better course is to defer to the judgment of those properly trained for this work (as Allen Frances surely is).

Frances’s point, however – that Trump’s “psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab” – seems profoundly right. The Ancients, with a sense of psyche but without the insights of modern psychiatry, yet would have been able to understand Trump well. We are right to see him as they would have, and as Dr. Frances does, and to conclude that the “antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.”

A Grand Coalition Forms

Conservative Jennifer Rubin describes, in E Pluribus Unum vs. Trump, both the building coalition against Trump and the powerful nature of that coalition.

She’s right that what seemed unlikely a few weeks ago is real now:

Just a couple of weeks ago, critics of post-inaugural protesters argued the anti-President Trump movement lacked coherence. Too many small, identity-politics issues, the marcher-watching pundits sniffed. Well, as we imagined, Trump has provided the unifying theme and emotional inspiration, one that can galvanize Americans from many walks of life and political persuasions.

That coalition has more than numbers behind it. Rubin sees that those in opposition to Trump, wherever they may stand ideologically, are capable, talented, and accomplished:

Just as Trump forged his coalition with a nationalist, xenophobic message, opponents have now found their common cause — protecting America as a tolerant, dynamic place that derives real benefits from — and in some instances cannot operate without — international talent, markets and travel. Productive, innovative and modern Americans now have a common cause. Regardless of ideological differences on a host of issues, they now see defense of the international liberal (small “l”) ideal as critical to the country’s economic, political and psychological health. They do not want to be dragged back to the 1950s (as if such a thing were possible) or lose talent and capital that will go elsewhere if the United States turns inward.

Where does this leave us? Rubin concludes:

A wide and deep coalition of students, teachers, scientists, high-tech and industrial workers and CEOs, state and local leaders, religious leaders and Americans of all political stripes now has its message and calling: America is great because it is free, welcoming, dynamic, generous, exerts leadership in the world and has institutions (e.g., an independent judiciary, a free press) that promote inclusion and success (however we define it). If anti-Trump Americans aim to reinforce those qualities and the institutions that promote them, then the know-nothing populists and xenophobic characters who occupy the White House will not destroy what makes America great.

See, also, from Javier Corrales, Five Reasons the Opposition Is in Good Shape to Fight Trump (“The Opposition is Not Confused…The Opposition is Not Demoralized…The Opposition is Not Fragmented…The Opposition is Not Alone…The Opposition Won’t Be Blamed.”)

There is a long road ahead, and there will be significant setbacks, but this campaign is politically existential, and there will be no relent.

Principled Conservatives Organize Against Trump

One needn’t be a conservative to admire the efforts of thoughtful conservatives to organize against Trump.  Evan McMullin and Mindy Flynn have now launched Stand Up Republic to resist the Trump agenda from a conservative vantage. Jennifer Rubin reports on this in Evan McMullin makes a splash by going after Trump and Putin. Above, I’ve a video accompanying the launch of their 501(c)(4) organization. (It’s designed to appeal directly to conservatives who rightly find Trump’s authoritarianism objectionable.)

Rubin quotes McMullin on Trump’s use of lies:

“Undermining truth is a typical authoritarian tactic. It is incredibly dangerous,” McMullin explains. If truth is up for debate, then leaders “cannot be held accountable.” He continues, “Accountability depends on Americans’ ability to know the truth. Undermining truth is a way to undermine other sources of information. If they’ve done that, they can provide their own narrative.” Welcome to the era of Trump, and the response it is evoking. “We never thought we’d be talking about this in America,” he says with the same incredulity many are expressing about Trump’s attachment to easily disproved lies.

Gaps on many issues between conservatives, liberals, and libertarians (as I am) probably are as Rubin notes ‘unbridgeable,’ but McMullin’s more general critique of Trump is, and will be, welcome. She writes of McMullin’s insight on this point:

While he is conservative, McMullin has confidence that his message will have resonance on both sides of the aisle. “We saw this very interesting thing. Most of our support in the campaign was from constitutional conservatives,” he tells me. “Since the election we have gotten a ton of people joining from the left. They came because we are standing up for the Constitution.” Despite real, unbridgeable differences on policy issues, he says, “We see an existing common ground to defend these [democratic] institutions. It’s organic. We don’t have to compromise anything.”

We’ve likely a long and hard path before us, with more than a few setbacks along the way. A grand coalition will serve well for all of us who share a common commitment in opposition & resistance.

Wes Benedict Tries & Fails Again

I’ve been critical of Wes Benedict, executive director of the national Libertarian Party (1 and 2), but I’ll say this for him: he’s an unfailing failure. In an email he sent today, Benedict wrote to party members, in part, that

We are all waiting to see what our new president does. No doubt he’ll do a few things Libertarians like. No doubt he’ll do other things we strongly dislike.

Benedict writes to members of his party as a proper noun (Libertarians rather than libertarians) and as though there hadn’t been a campaign, inauguration, protests, etc.: ‘we are all waiting to see what our new president does.’

Oh, brother. Those of us who love liberty have already seen, for month after month, what Trump does: he lies, foments racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry, and advocates violence against domestic opponents. He’s a combination of mediocrity, bigot, and liar.

Gessen’s right about opposing Trump’s authoritarianism: it is to be met each day with an increasingly formidable response. We’ll learn as we go, matching him more effectively with each month.

Benedict is free to wait so long as he wishes, and so are the members of his party. Genuine, committed libertarians (including from families within that movement long before Benedict was born) have no reason to delay: we’ve more than enough evidence, from Trump and his inner circle, to justify committed opposition.

Why Trump Press Secretary Spicer Lies

Anna Rascouët-Paz relates an explanation (from someone who worked in a past administration) for Trump press secretary Spicer’s repeated lies about inaugural crowd size.  It’s spot on:

For more on a disinformation strategy based on insisting that nothing is knowable, see The Russian Conspiracy on Behalf of Conspiracy Theorist Donald Trump (“there is a coherent pattern to the discourse he has promoted. It is a comprehensive attack on empiricism. He spreads distrust against every institution, so that the only possible grounds for belief is trust in a person. The suspicion he spreads against every institution protects Trump from accountability.”) and For Mr. Trump, It’s STEM, Schwem, Whatever… (“he insists that the truth is indeterminable whenever he wishes to evade responsibility for his own lies.”).

For Spicer’s calculated statement to undermine truth, see The White House Press Secretary Makes A Statement.

 

Neither Shocked Nor Awed

In these next months ahead, one should expect that the Trump Administration will do what it can to make statement after statement, in part to impress hardcore supporters and in part to shock and awe opponents.

As a guess, one can reasonably say that immigration deportations will be one of Trump’s prominent efforts. See, As soon as he is inaugurated, Trump will move to clamp down on immigration. Expect ready-for-the-camera deportations on the news.

This is likely to be a focus throughout 2017, with small towns affected as much as big cities. Small, rural towns will offer the Trump Administration the advantage of many collaborators who will aid federal authorities, and many residents who will identify neighbors as targets for deportation. Almost no one in these places will say a word in public opposition; outspoken residents will hail deportation as a necessary part of Making America Great Again.

We’ve a long campaign in opposition ahead, just beginning, and in these early months we can expect loss after loss. Those who expect as much – who see this with clarity – will succumb to neither shock nor awe.

Tragic although these moments will be, it is not how this conflict begins, but how it ends, that should occupy one’s efforts.

Dumb Show from Trump Now (and Mussolini Then)

Trump wanted to show the world how hard he was working on his inauguration speech, so he published a photograph. The picture is what one might expect from him: the overly-serious stare, the odd writing instrument, the apparently-unused tablet, turned so one could see if he’d written even a word, and the gaudy-but-suspicious-looking setting).

Almost immediately, people dissected the photo as a fraud, one more example of Trump’s love for dumb show, using confidence tricks persuasive only to easy marks. SeeIs Donald Trump Writing His Inaugural Address From a Mar-a-Lago Receptionist’s Desk? An Investigation (note: it’s probably the concierge’s desk).

Chris Hayes describes the photo – and Trump’s staged theatrics – generally:

Trump’s staged setting reminds one of Hemingway’s remarks about a similar stunt from Mussolini:

“The fascist dictator had announced he would receive the press. Everybody came. We all crowded into the room. Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering dictator. Being an ex-newspaper man himself he knew how many readers would be reached by the accounts the men in the room would write of the interview he was about to give. And he remained absorbed in his book. Mentally he was already reading the lines of the two thousand papers served by the two hundred correspondents.

As we entered the room the Black Shirt Dictator did not look up from the book he was reading, so intense was his concentration, etc.

I tip-toed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary — held upside down.”