Friday, April 14, 2017

Cruising the Web

The theme of the week seems to be for journalists to look at all the flip-flops that Trump has been making on policy positions that he had previously campaigned on. Time Magazine has a list from just what he's said in the past week. He had nice words for Janet Yellen, whom he'd criticized and said she should be "ashamed" of what she's been doing to the country. He decided that China is not a currency manipulator even though he repeatedly alleged that during the campaign. He decided that NATO is no longer obsolete and he suddenly has good things to say about the Export-Import Bank, both positions which are total reverses of what he said during the campaign.

Allahpundit points to a quote from Trump that he "found found out China doesn’t have as much power over North Korea as I thought after talking to Xi Jinping for 10 minutes." Allahpundit had about the same response that I did when I learned that the nation's president is getting schooled on China's influence by China's General Secretary of the Communist Party - is this what happens when the president doesn't have a full foreign policy team in place or when the president isn't fully briefed? Allahpundit writes,
What if, and hear me out on this, but what if Trump isn’t being manipulated by a nefarious cabal of “globalists” led by Jared Kushner? What if … he’s a blank slate on domestic and foreign policy apart from “the wall” and one or two other subjects and his views on everything else are evolving organically as he gets better information from the experts he talks to? Like, say, the president of China.

Reading this, I felt a mixture of terror and admiration that his approach to the most important job in the world is basically the same as a kid who doesn’t study for the big test and then tries to BS his way through it. (Remember when he was allegedly surprised to learn from Obama that he’d have to staff the entire West Wing, not just a few positions?) Except that the kid doesn’t usually admit that he didn’t study. And he certainly doesn’t admit it to a group of reporters....

There are probably some specialists on China and North Korea in the bowels of the State Department who could have caught him up on that before the summit with Xi. Or, if he doesn’t want to talk to them for whatever reason, he could have dialed up literally any expert in the world and they would have taken his call and filled him in. Now I’m worried that other foreign leaders are going to see that quote and come prepared to give him their own skewed lessons on what they are and aren’t capable of, replete with historical backfill. Wait until Putin explains to him that the Russian people began in Ukraine and Ukraine was a part of Russia for a long time, and therefore…

This isn’t the first time he’s seemed surprised lately about the complexities of policy, notes David Graham:
In other cases, however, Trump’s changed views appear to be more of a reflection of the president’s ignorance. The president was widely mocked for his claim that “nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.” It is true that many people recognized that, but equally apparent that Trump did not…enlightenment
It’s a striking admission that just 10 minutes of lecturing from a foreign leader could reverse Trump’s view of a major challenge facing his administration. And yet that is in line with his other reversals.He seems only now to be learning about the scope of Syrian atrocities and the extent of Russia’s backing for President Bashar al-Assad. By his own admission, he has decided that the Ex-Im Bank is more useful than he realized. He’s come around on low interest rates, and is getting up to speed on what China is actually doing with its currency.
While it's a bit scary to think that the president is only now just learning about fundamentals of foreign policy despite having made authoritative statements of pretend expertise throughout the campaign. However, I suspect that this happens quite often with politicians who suddenly become president. One example that comes to mind is Barack Obama admitting that he's learned that shovel-ready projects aren't as shovel-ready as he'd originally thought. And that was after getting over $800 billion allocated for supposedly shovel-ready projects. The difference here is that Trump openly admits his prior ignorance and his recent enlightenment.

Actually, Trump's thoughts on trying to get China to use its leverage over North Korea wasn't that extraordinary. That was the policy of the George W. Bush administration.

Allahpundit links to this article by Matt Bai arguing that the first 100 days don't matter for Trump since he hadn't prepared for the transition given that he hadn't expected to win and he didn't have the sorts of "old-hand operatives like a James Baker or a John Podesta, who can steer you through the serpentine waterways of Washington with a blindfold on." So he chose people he knew and who had helped him win but who weren't necessarily up to the job of running the government. So Bai recommends that we wait and see whom he chooses to replace his first team of advisers. Allahpundit concludes,
It may not be that Trump is a “blank slate” on policy as much as that he’s open to persuasion, and as populists and nationalists are replaced by more establishment voices, that persuasion is going to mostly be from the same direction. Nikki Haley famously said at her confirmation hearing, when asked how she plans to reconcile her hawkishness towards Russia with Trump’s dovishness, that she hoped his new national security team would “educate” him on what they know. Maybe that’s exactly what’s happening as the team continues to be built out.
I guess it's a matter of 'better late than never.'

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On the same theme of changes that Trump has made since the campaign, the Washington Post also points to how he's abandoing many positions he's taken on policy he took during the campaign. In addition to changing his mind on China as a currency manipulator and his opinion of Janet Yellen and his lessening his approach toward repealing Obamacare, there are also the changes he's made on foreign policy.
On the global stage, Trump’s reversals have been even sharper. Last week, he ordered airstrikes against the Syrian military, even though he promised during the campaign to keep the United States out of conflicts in the Middle East.

He is also adopting the Obama administration’s call to oust Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, a position he refused to take during the campaign. The shift on Syria enraged some of Trump’s campaign supporters who had embraced his isolationist foreign policy.

Trump has also sharpened his criticism of Russia, a major break from the praise he lavished on Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign.

Some suspect that part of the changes that Trump is demonstrating is due to the declining influence of Steve Bannon and the rising influence of Jared Kushner. Given that both Ivanka and Jared were at one time Democrats (even Donald Trump at one time), it's no shock that we would be seeing such changes. Rich Lowry comments on the reported conflicts between the Kushner-wing and the Bannon-wing,
No one can know for sure how this ends. Perhaps it's all papered over, or maybe Bannon keeps his head down to fight another day. But it's hard to see how Kushner doesn't prevail in one form or other, together with the faction including his wife, Ivanka Trump, the influential economic adviser and former Goldman Sachs president, Gary Cohn, and deputy national security adviser, Dina Powell.

Who says bipartisanship is dead? With the exception of Powell—a non-ideological Republican—this group is all Democrats, and not lunch-bucket Democrats, but ladies-who-lunch Democrats who have marinated for decades in the financial and social elite of Manhattan.

Their ascendancy would potentially represent Trumpism's Thermidor. If Jared and Ivanka end up running the joint, it'd be hard to overstate the turnabout from last year's campaign.

A candidacy whose supporters reviled so-called RINOs may produce a White House run by people who aren't even RINOs. A populist revolt that disdained people who allegedly spend too much time at Georgetown cocktail parties may result in a White House run by people who have spent too much time at New York cocktail parties (and Fashion Week events, art shows, Metropolitan Museum of Art galas and celebrity birthday parties). The biggest middle finger the mainstream media has ever received in American politics may empower people who care deeply about what's written about them in The New Yorker and Vogue.

As for Cohn, he would have been the totem of everything Trump was running against in 2016, when he made Goldman Sachs into a kind of swear word. To put it in Jacksonian terms, it would be like Andrew Jackson inveighing against the Second Bank of the United States and then handing his domestic policy portfolio over to its president, Nicholas Biddle.
I always enjoy a good Biddle reference. During the nomination fight, conservatives complained that Trump wasn't a real conservative and voters didn't seem to mind. I don't know that they'll care that Trump is flipping positions. Maybe, as Lowry writes, Trump is moderating positions which would make possible some interesting compromises with Democrats.
Trump's views on immigration, climate change, abortion and policing are socially embarrassing, sometimes even in Republican elite circles, let alone in liberal ones. All of them would potentially be subject to softening or reversal in a White House that cares too much about polite opinion. With illegal border crossings down, perhaps a grand bargain on immigration becomes alluring next year? Maybe pulling out of the Paris climate accords isn't worth the bad optics? Who wants to expend political capital defunding Planned Parenthood? And so on.

The weakness of Trumpism in Washington is that it doesn't have a congressional wing and it represents only a faction within the White House, and apparently not even the dominant one. Perhaps a shake-up will only mean a more "normal" White House that is better run, although Trump himself is responsible for much of the chaos. Perhaps Trump's genuine, if inchoate, populism and Vice President Mike Pence's conservatism would be enough for the administration's basic orientation to survive any constellation of White House aides.

Certainly, there are all sorts of way to try moderate Trump's image while still staying true to a tempered version of his populism.

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Ramesh Ponnuru writes on the morphing of so-called Trumpism.
In 2016 we found out that conservative elites didn’t speak for Republican voters.

Think tankers may have hungered for entitlement reform and valued free trade, but a large group of Republican voters disagreed, and another large group had no strong views on these issues. When Donald Trump won the primaries and then the November election, many people who considered themselves conservative leaders found out that Republican voters weren’t who they thought they were.

Now it turns out that Trump’s prominent early supporters don’t speak for the Republican masses either. Many of these luminaries are unhappy about Trump’s airstrike against the Syrian government. “Those of us who wanted meddling in the Middle East voted for other candidates,” tweeted Ann Coulter.
Disappointing Ann Coulter is not the worst thing. But, as Ponnuru argues, there never really was such a thing as Trumpism. And voters are just fine with that.
Intellectuals, whether they are for or against Trump, want to construct an “ism” into which they can fit his politics: an “ism” that includes opposition to free trade, mass immigration, foreign interventions that aren’t necessitated by attacks on us, and entitlement reform. But Trumpism doesn’t exist. The president has tendencies and impulses, some of which conflict with one another, rather than a political philosophy.

That’s also true of most voters, especially when it comes to foreign policy. An adviser to President George W. Bush once remarked to me that a lot of people thought Republicans backed Bush because of the Iraq war, when in reality Republicans backed the Iraq war because of Bush. In the absence of detailed and deep convictions on a foreign-policy issue, voters will side with the politicians whose side they usually take.
People voted for Trump for a wide variety of reasons and some of those reasons were contradictory.
The fact that a lot of Republican voters seem to be indifferent or opposed to the ideas of prominent Trump supporters, just as they were to the ideas of the conservatives those supporters seek to supplant, isn’t an indictment of those ideas. They should just keep in mind that most voters don’t have ideological commitments -- which helps explain why politicians will almost always disappoint those who do.

RCP has an excerpt from the new compilation of essays about the 2016 election, Trumped: The 2016 Election That Broke All the Rules, edited by Larry Sabato and others. The excerpt is by David Byler on "How Trump Picked the Democratic Lock and Won the Presidency" which looks at how Trump flummoxed all those experts who thought that the Democrats' emerging majority of college grads, African-Americans, women, millenials, and Hispanics as well as other minority gropus would lead to a permanent advantage in presidential contests. His conclusion:
Essentially, I found that Trump used a two-step process—consolidating the Republican base and then earning massive levels of support from whites without a college degree—and that the parts of the Obama coalition that were supposed to doom Trump (African-Americans, Hispanics, and college-educated whites) didn’t show up in great enough number to beat him in the Electoral College.
I've actually been reading this book over my Spring break this week to decide if we want to adopt it as a summer reading for our AP Government and Politics students. We've had luck with the Sabato books previously had good luck with the students reading their book about the 2014 election, The Surge:
2014's Big GOP Win and What It Means for the Next Presidential Election
. Both books have several essays that connect to the topics that we cover in class such as the role of the media, interest groups, polls in an election. The other book we're considering is Defying the Odds: The 2016 Elections and American Politics by James W. Ceaser, Andrew E. Busch, John J. Pitney Jr. I'm leaning toward the second book because it is more of a narrative that I think our students will enjoy. Almost all of the students are rising 10th graders and the Sabato book is a bit data-heavy and assumes that readers know the story of the election and are ready to delve into statistical analyses. But I have to discuss it with the other teacher at our school. However, if you're interested in reading analyses of the election by political scientists, both books are very interesting.

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How asinine is this? A bunch of protesters who despise America carried their protest to the monument in D.C. honoring the more than 100 million people who died under communist regimes.

Ponder the depths of ignorance that lead people to detest America so much that they decide to take it out at that particular location. Ryan Gidursky comments,
How ironic that millennials, who have never really known institutionalized oppression, are triggered by a statue commemorating those who died at the hands of a government.
It’s no wonder that they feel such admiration to communist dictators given that far-left activists have been trying to white wash the brutality of communist regimes like Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Fidel’s Cuba, or in present day North Korea.
This is especially true on college campuses, where professors regularly assign Karl Marx books to students or go off on insane tirades defending socialism, as a Montclair English teacher did in 2012 insisting that no one was killed under Stalin.
Words and philosophies have consequences, but these millennials wouldn’t know in their safe space.
By coincidence, about 10 minutes before I saw that story, I received the notification that I'd been accepted into a seminar for high school teachers sponsored by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation I'm so looking forward to this opportunity and hope that it will enrich my teachings on communism for my AP European history class. In my application, I had to write a 500-word essay on a question about why the public is rightly horrified by the crimes of the Nazis, but the crimes of communists regimes often go unremarked. This is the essay I wrote.
While thinking about this question, I asked my students what they thought the explanation was. At this point, we hadn’t even studied the 20th century yet so their answers represented the opinions of typical students. Their answers helped me to understand the scope of the problem and the need for better education. As Solzhenitsyn wrote in Gulag Archipelago, "Forget the past and you'll lose both eyes."

For many of them, their answer was that at least the communists had good intentions of trying to reverse inequalities in wealth. They didn’t think that mass murder was their intention, just an unfortunate unintended consequence whereas the Nazis intended to commit genocide.

Their attitude struck me as the result of an intellectual bias that has trickled down to high school students. Many leftist intellectuals have excused or ignored the horrors as if any condemnation of atrocities would be a condemnation of their own ideology. Equality is, for many, the prime goal. And since communists give lip service to bringing about a society where everyone will share equally in its benefits, such intellectuals are willing to close their eyes to atrocities. My students reflect that slant on history. There is also a tinge of anti-Americanism and anti-anti-communism present. Some admire people such as Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Chavez simply because the American government opposed them. And since many with such attitudes command the heights of intellectual thought and popular culture, it is not that surprising that my students have absorbed that message.

There are also logistical reasons for this disparity. We didn’t have the copious records, victims’ testimonies, photographs, and films for the gulags that we had soon after the end of WWII. It wasn’t really until we could hear the testimony of former prisoners and read books such as The Gulag Archipelago, that we had a fuller picture of what happened. That is why testimony of former prisoners is so crucial. For my students, reading the memories of one prisoner can be more powerful than all the statistics about death that I can give them.

My students’ perception that communism is socialism and that socialism has such an appealing goal must be refuted. It’s important to demonstrate to the students that the goals of communism weren’t the idealistic ones that they assume when they read the bare bones of what socialism is supposed to be. They like the idea of achieving equality and are willing to forgive a few broken eggs to cook that omelette. They have to understand that communism is always about denying liberty. They’re too enthralled thinking about the promised outcomes to really understand the methods of achieving those outcomes. Equality of results can’t be achieved without taking away rights and opportunities. Equality cannot be the primary goal because, without liberty, equality is nothing.

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