On Trump: Election Post (We Can Do Better)
I have occasionally posted on social media about the Trump presidency, but haven’t felt moved to write something longer. I am doing so now because I feel it is important to “stand up and be counted” before the elections.
Keep calm and don’t panic
It is an unfortunate aspect of the US political ethos that if Biden gets elected, it’ll be groundhog day again in 4 or 8 years as it was with Obama — we will collectively forget how horrible Trump was, what a ditch he drove us into, what a bad hand Biden got dealt, and how well he/Harris navigated us out of the ditch.
And if Trump gets elected, especially if he loses the popular vote by a wide margin, there is going to be much extended turbulence.
But I am inordinately optimistic about the US. This is how things work around here. Fits and starts, a step backwards and two steps forward. In what I write below, hopefully some of that comes across if you read right to the end.
The Trump drama feels familiar — with one key difference
Trump represents a type that I am very familiar with. It can be found in virtually all cultures, especially in the business world, and I have seen it all over the globe.
For individuals in this subspecies, everything is a transaction, a zero-sum game, an existential battle. They never admit being in the wrong (or even feel they are in the wrong). They trust their family and the occasional consigliere and that is the limit of their affections. And a long life brings them no wisdom and doesn’t in any way sand down the sharp edges.
What is different with the Trumps is the level of bumbling incompetence. It is a bit like watching The Godfather as presented by Buster Keaton.
Unfortunately this world view coupled with this incompetence are now in a position of tremendous power and influence.
But there are some things to remember, also.
Trump is nowhere near the worst president in US history
One reason I haven’t written at length about Trump — while writing about almost everything else under the sun — is that he is nowhere near the worst president in US history.
The Trumpian drama obscures the fact that the worst presidency in the history of the United States — by far, and the likes of Trump aren’t even close — was that of George W. Bush, who is directly responsible for the death of a million innocent people, the squandering of trillions of dollars, the great financial crisis of our time, and the dumbing of America with his pitiful understanding of cultures other than his own.
And if you want to complain about high-minded enablers (looking at you, Mitch) — consider the uber-enabler of them all, General Colin Powell, who lent his name and stature to a pack of incredible lies, and enabled catastrophe after catastrophe. Somehow Powell received absolution and now occupies lofty positions.
Trump really isn’t even in the same galaxy. Only his persona and antics, covered 24/7 by news channels who know that bad news sells, lead us to think otherwise.
But we can do a lot better than Donald Trump
But that is a pretty damn low bar: “not as bad as George W. Bush”!
The thing that sticks in my craw the most is the self-enrichment. Something that doesn’t get called out enough is the astounding presence of Trump’s children and son-in-law in positions of power and influence in the White House.
This is nepotism. This is corruption.
The founding fathers established the American republic precisely to get away from inherited privilege. This is an attack on the fabric of the republic. It must be curtailed.
But we can do a lot better than Donald Trump
The America of Trump’s childhood in the 1950s was a very different place — far more homogenous. His hatred of immigrants, legal or otherwise, comes from deep within. It is a visceral negative reaction to a changed society, and he taps into the fears of the native-born.
Trump has reacted the only way he knows how — by racing to the bottom of the barrel and lowering the level of the dialogue.
But dignity and courtesy are some of the more important things that separate us from barbarians. We can engage in a debate on immigration, and get to a better immigration policy, without the vituperation.
The vile name calling and abuse that Trump engages in, if allowed to continue, will have a permanent corrosive effect on our democracy. The constant appealing to the worst in us has greatly exacerbated our polarization.
The president of the United States isn’t simply someone who exercises executive power. He or she is someone who is a beacon for qualities that we want our children to admire and emulate.
Bonus “we can do a lot better” item
One common thread unites pretty much everyone who has been in Trump’s orbit — sooner or later you leave as an abject failure. And this is the biggest reason to get rid of the man.
I was going to add the qualifier after the word “orbit” above — “and isn’t related to him” — except that this man has had no compunctions about going after close family members.
But our concern here is with governance. Good government requires competence, and occasionally excellence. There is absolutely none of that in Trump’s team. They are, down to the last person, “losers”.
Vote them out.
And a few other comments:
Immigration is a real issue and only a fool would deny it
I have great empathy for the issues around immigration — and I say this as a card-carrying immigrant. The foreign-born population of the US has gone from 4% in 1965 to 15% today (at a time of population growth, so the absolute numbers are even more significant).
Which country in the world has seen that kind of transformation in recent years (or ever), and how do you think such a country might react? This is a question especially directed to my friends outside the United States, who throw stones from the comfort of their homogeneous glasshouses.
Heterogenous societies are unusual in human history. The US is evolving slowly to a very different kind of country — in a good way — than anything since the high point of the Roman Empire (which was also heterogenous). Of course it isn’t going to be easy, and that is what we are seeing playing out.
This presidency has been a blessing in one counterintuitive way
There is a blessing that has occurred during the Trump presidency. The social justice movements that have arisen and catalyzed change throughout corporate America — where were these in prior more liberal administrations?
We know the answer if we think hard about it: these have arisen now because sometimes the biggest changes have to occur from an underdog, in-the-opposition, stance.
I contend that these shifts could not have occurred under Obama or, before him, Bill Clinton. These shifts required a Trumpian presence in the White House to jolt us out of our complacency.
You’d be surprised at how much of the ongoing enablement is about tax rates
I have friends and acquaintances across the political spectrum. I also have friends and acquaintances who have done well in our capitalist system. The pursuit of wealth is in itself a corrosive influence. When wealth is the goal, the only scorecard by which you judge yourself, then anything that gets in the way isn’t just an obstacle — it is an existential concern.
For these people, the Reagan, Bush II and now Trump presidencies will always have a warm glow about them, because of the reductions in tax rates. It is as though they cannot see anything else.
Don’t get me wrong. I agonize about taxes too. I look to optimize taxes too. But when I hear about a potential tax rate increase under a Biden presidency, I don’t lose my mind and bemoan the fate of the republic. And I know in my bones that we need higher taxes to create a more equitable and just society.
The obsession with taxes is often clothed in other sentiments — values, entrepreneurship, innovation, incentives. The list goes on. But the reality is that it is about taxes.
It is completely useless arguing with folks in this group, and I avoid doing so. It is, in the end, about values — that much I agree with.