Trump’s nihilism of ideas

So, I just posted on what Trump “believes” about the economy (and, really, I’m pretty sure he believes these horribly misguided things), but this David Roberts piece on Trump’s lack of beliefs is simply amazing.  Honestly, one of the best explanations I’ve read for trying to understand the craziness that is the mind of Trump.  So deserves to be read in full.  But, since what I always do is excerpt my favorite parts after I say that…

What gets somewhat lost in the media coverage of this back and forth is that there is no answer to the question of whether Trump opposed the war in 2003. In fact, the question itself is a category error — one the media and political class cannot help making toward Trump.

The question presumes that Trump has beliefs, “views” that reflect his assessment of the facts, “positions” that remain stable over time, woven into some sort of coherent worldview. There is no evidence that Trump has such things. That is not how he uses language.

When he utters words, his primary intent is not to say something, to describe a set of facts in the world; his primary intent is to do something, i.e., to position himself in a social hierarchy. This essential distinction explains why Trump has so flummoxed the media and its fact-checkers; it’s as though they are critiquing the color choices of someone who is colorblind… [italics in original; bold is mine]

It’s not that Trump is saying things he believes to be false. It’s that he doesn’t seem to have beliefs at all, not in the way people typically talk about beliefs — as mental constructs stable across time and context. Rather, his opinions dissolve and coalesce fluidly, as he’s talking, like oil on shallow water. That’s why he gives every indication of conviction, even when, say, denying that he has said something that is still posted on his Twitter feed…

What he’s doing is trying to establish dominance — to win, in his words. That’s what he uses words for. That’s how he sees every interaction in which he is involved. He is attuned only to what the words are doing, whether they are winning or losing, not to what they mean…

This point helps explain why Trump cannot ever admit a mistake or an error. He can only process accusations — of dishonesty, of cruelty — as social gambits, not as factual claims. To him, the demand that he apologize or admit error is nothing more than a dominance play. Apologizing is losing.

It helps explain why Trump has focused so much on trade, and why he sounds so much stronger and more confident talking about it than on almost any other subject. It’s not that he knows anything about it. He doesn’t. It’s just that he sees all international relations — trade deals, climate deals, NATO, whatever — as zero-sum contests, negotiations in which the only relevant question is who will dominate, who will win. And he gets that. It’s his whole life!

You get the gist.  And let me know if you’ve actually seen a better explanation for Trump’s personality and beliefs.

Understanding Trump’s misunderstanding of the economy

Among the more damning indictments of public opinion and democracy (beyond the fact that Trump is polling over 30%) is the fact that Americans actually believe Trump would be better for the economy than Clinton.

Image result for trump economy

In truth, of course, Trump is an economic disaster.  Nothing could be more telling than the fact that not a single former member of the Council of Economic Advisers endorses him for president.

So, why is he so bad?  Lots of reasons, but I love this Bill Ayers post that absolutely cuts to the heart of it.  In Trump’s deal-making world, it’s always zero-sum.  In the real world, economies almost always perform better from mutually beneficial cooperation.  Ayers:

In her opening answer to the first [debate] question, Clinton talked about cooperation and sharing – investing in workers, sharing profits, working together. The how wasn’t there, but the basic idea was clear: economic progress comes from cooperation. Wealth is created by working together.

Trump’s answer to the same question was all about competition. He talked about losing, about winning, about fighting. He framed the economy as us (the United States) against them (Mexico, China). He talked about jobs being stolen. In his view, the economy is a zero-sum game: either we win or they win. Whatever they gain, we lose. Jobs are a fixed commodity. [emphases mine]

The thing about this contrast is that it isn’t just a matter of differing philosophies or differing ideologies. Economics may be derided as “the dismal science”, but a social science it is. Questions like, “what generates more wealth – cooperation or zero-sum competition?” are not philosophical quandaries, they are empirical puzzles with real-world answers.

In this case, in the broadest terms, the answer is clear. Zero-sum competition makes everybody poorer, both through lost opportunities (“opportunity costs”, to economists) and through wasted and inefficient efforts. Cooperation, by contrast, generates wealth…

Economists disagree on many things, but this isn’t one of them. There isn’t a single economist anywhere who thinks that an economy based on the competition of all against all is a good idea. Indeed, the very notion of economic growth belies the possibility of zero-sum economics. How can we create new jobs and new wealth if all we’re doing is passing the same jobs and the same wealth around?

On this issue, Trump is not merely misguided on policy, he’s fundamentally wrong. He’s like an astronomer trying to model the solar system with the earth at its center. The world just doesn’t work that way.

This is one dimension of the presidential campaign that has both policy and moral dimensions. Policy driven by zero-sum economics will make everybody poorer. Insisting that the world is a dog-eat-dog place will make us morally poorer as well. Small wonder the world’s markets regard a Trump presidency as a disaster of the first order.

Photo of the day

From recent Telegraph photos of the day:

A mother swan and two cygnets swim across the lake in Friday morning's bright sunshine at Golden Acre park in Leeds

A mother swan and two cygnets swim across the lake in Friday morning's bright sunshine at Golden Acre park in Leeds.

Andrew McCaren/LNP

It’s hard out there for conservative evangelicals

Interesting piece in the NYT profiling religious conservatives in Iowa.  I do have some sympathy, as the ground really has shifted amazingly fast under their feet:

The change in America seemed to happen so quickly that it felt like whiplash, the Odgaards said. One day they felt comfortably situated in the American majority, as Christians with shared beliefs in God, family and the Bible. They had never even imagined that two people of the same sex could marry.

Overnight, it seemed, they discovered that even in small-town Iowa they were outnumbered, isolated and unpopular. Everyone they knew seemed to have a gay relative or friend. Mr. Odgaard’s daughter from his first marriage disavowed her father’s actions on Facebook, and his gay second cousin will not speak to him. Even their own Mennonite congregation put out a statement saying that while their denomination opposes gay marriage, “not every congregation” or Mennonite does. Mrs. Odgaard, 64, the daughter of a Mennonite minister, was devastated.

“It all flipped, so fast,” said Mr. Odgaard, a patrician 70-year-old who favors khakis and boat shoes. “Suddenly, we were in the minority. That was kind of a scary feeling. It makes you wonder where the Christians went.”

Of course, there’s still plenty of Christians (though the number is declining).  Most of them are just more tolerant.  But, I can certainly see how it would be disorienting.  That said, stuff like this (although a paraphrase rather than a quote, just kills me):

While other Americans are anxious about the economy, jobs and terrorism, conservative Christians say they fear for the nation’s very soul. Some worry that the nation has strayed so far that God’s punishment is imminent.

Give me a break?  How about how a nation treats it’s poor, disadvantaged, and prisoners instead of how it treats it’s gay people??!!  I seem to recall the Jesus saying just a wee bit more about the former.  Have these people actually read the Gospels?  You know who treats the poor, disadvantaged, and prisoners really well?  Scandinavians.  And hardly any of them are actually practicing Christians. And God has not exactly wreaked vengeance upon Denmark.  Please, spare me your concern for “the nation’s soul.”

The most amazing book review ever

Michiko Kakutani has pulled off an amazing feat with her review of a new Hitler biography.  Not once does she even make the slightest reference or allusion to Trump.  And yet, he pervades the entire review.  Read it, you’ll be glad you did.  A sample:

Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who “only loved himself” — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a “characteristic fondness for superlatives.” His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity. But Mr. Ullrich underscores Hitler’s shrewdness as a politician — with a “keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people” and an ability to “instantaneously analyze and exploit situations.”

Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a “bottomless mendacity” that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology (radio, gramophone records, film) to spread his message. A former finance minister wrote that Hitler “was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth” and editors of one edition of “Mein Kampf” described it as a “swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts.”

Is Trump the next Hitler?  Nope.  Among other things, 2010’s America is very different from 1930’s Germany and Trump, while a race-baiter, is certainly no Hitler.  But, are there disturbing personality similarities that suggest a democracy might not want to elect a leader with these personal characteristics?  Hell yes.

Polls, “polls,” and amazing ignorance

Does Donald Trump actually believe his own BS?  Is he dumb enough to believe than an on-line poll anybody can opt into multiple times tells us more than a random sample?  I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that question.  Here’s Trump’s tweet:

And here’s the reality from polls that are conducted scientifically:

Honestly, we need another word for the type of “polls” that Trump is using.  But, he just knows they are right.  TPM:

“I’ll tell you what, we had the debate the other night, and every single online poll had me winning, by sometimes a landslide. And then you go on television, and these are Time Magazine, Drudge,” Trump said, referring to two websites which hosted online polls inviting readers to react to the debate. “And I’m winning by massive margins in many cases. One was 80 percent to 20 percent!”

Such polls don’t draw data from randomized phone numbers and internet users, as more trustworthy pollsters do, and are susceptible to “brigading,” or the concerted efforts by small groups of self-selected respondents to tilt them disproportionally in favor of one option.

“And I’m winning all these polls — how many were there, seven or eight or nine? Hundreds of thousands of votes,” Trump said, “and then I have to sit back, and you have to sit back, and hear about how those polls don’t mean anything, but when they poll 300 people, that means a lot, right?” [emphasis mine]

Do I think Trump really is dumb enough to not understand the difference between self-selection and random samples?  Yes.

We’re all liars; we’re not all racists

So, I had an amazing time speaking to the whole 5th grade at my son Evan’s elementary school yesterday.  And, yes, I did teach them all about the electoral college, the power of partisanship, and even motivated reasoning.  Evan’s class is roughly 75% minority, many of them immigrant families, so suffice it to say they were not exactly Trump fans.

They had so many good questions.  The most interesting, “is Donald Trump a racist.”  I said that we couldn’t say for sure, but that racists loved Donald Trump, he strongly appeals to “white ethnocentrism” (I told them they were getting a little bit of college for the day), and that even Republicans had criticized him for making “racist comments.”

Anyway, that said, a depressing comment came from a student who mentioned a family friend who was voting for “neither the liar nor the racist.”  Ugh.  How about not voting for the racist liar?  This is so frustrating, of course, because Donald Trump is surely the most dishonest presidential candidate in modern times, if not ever.  Dara Lind:

It takes a certain kind of stubbornness to lie about things that are easy to verify.

Donald Trump does it all the time.

On Monday night, during the first presidential debate, he interrupted Hillary Clinton to deny that he had once called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

He had. It was on Twitter. It was stupidly easy to track down the proof. But instead of letting Clinton make the claim, he felt the need to butt in and deny something that everyone with a computer and 15 seconds could find out was true.

This is the point. Donald Trump lies. All the time.

He doesn’t just stretch the truth in the way most politicians do: selectively citing facts that make them look good, deliberately omitting ones that make them look bad, overstating or understating the probable impact of the campaign promises they make.

No, he just says things that aren’t true. And he knows it. Sometimes it’s something big — a conspiracy theory to excuse his global-warming denialism. Sometimes it’s so minor that its unnecessariness makes it all the more infuriating…

It almost seems like it would be easier for Trump to tell the truth. But lying certainly hasn’t hurt him yet.

Even though factcheckers deploy their forces on Trump regularly, he never apologizes or retracts. Calling out his lies doesn’t make his supporters any less loyal to him. People consistently find him more “honest and trustworthy” than his opponent. He still has a reasonable chance of becoming the 45th president of the United States…

Donald Trump lies. It’s what he does. And it’s not hurting him at all.

His nonchalant dishonesty is horrifying. The fact that much of the American public simply doesn’t appear to care about his dishonesty — or that they don’t consider it a deal breaker for a potential president of the United States to tell several lies even on his most honest days — is more so…

We are looking at an existential threat to a key principle of democratic discourse: People can only debate and persuade each other if they agree on the basic facts of the world around them. They are entitled to their own opinions but not entitled to their own facts.

Every single time Donald Trump lies, that principle gets a little shakier and harder to maintain.

Politics isn’t poetry. A statement that is facially false but that hits at an emotional truth is still facially false. And it makes it all the harder for people who respond to the emotional truth to talk to those who don’t — they have no shared basis on which to discuss.

Shared facts should be the bedrock of democracy; Trump is turning it into a Jenga tower.

And, yet Hillary is the liar?!  Sorry, but cannot say anything but, “thanks liberal media” for that.  Of course Hillary has lied.  More than most long-time politicians?  Maybe, but not by more than a standard deviation.  Maybe less.  Meanwhile she is regularly portrayed as “the liar” against the most dishonest candidate ever?!

But, here’s what I said to the students… “raise your hand if you’ve ever lied.”  Of course, they all did.  We all lie.  Some more than others (ummm, Trump), but it’s part of the human condition.  Actually having automatically-activated racial stereotypes is part of the human condition, too.  But  being a racist definitely is not.  Even if this dichotomy were accurate, I would have to take the liar over the racist.  We’re all liars; we’re not all racists.

If the campaign started yesterday

After reading dozens of takes on the debate today, I still think my favorite is from Matt Yglesias wrote last night.  First, he points out that on Trump’s co-signature issue of trade, he literally has no idea what he’s talking about:

What’s particularly odd about this is that while Trump doesn’t know anything about trade policy and isn’t in possession of any relevant facts about American manufacturing, he seems to see trade policy as the only economic issue worth discussing. You would never know from Trump’s discourse that the vast majority of Americans work in jobs related to domestic service provision — they work in hospitals and restaurants and schools and stores working with nearby customers, not internationally traded manufacturing.

A particularly vexing aspect of this is that the GOP nominee’s core business expertise is in real estate development. Under the circumstances, you might think he would have something useful and insightful to say about house building or some other adjacent sector of the economy. But he no more talked about construction than he talked about health care.

But, my favorite part is the conclusion, because it puts this all in a broader context and reminds us just how crazy this candidacy is.  We’re all so used to Trump now, but it is not remotely normal to have a candidate so utterly clueless and incurious on issues of national policy:

On one level, “Donald Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about” is the ultimate dog-bites-man story of the 2016 election.

But that’s why I think it’s useful to try to purge yourself of your existing knowledge of the campaign. If you just tuned in Monday night expecting to see two well-qualified and broadly competent candidates discussing the issues in some kind of recognizable shape, you would find yourself sorely disappointed.

The conceit of the Trump campaign is that he’s a smart, business-savvy outsider who can fix things. But he clearly has no idea how to fix things. He doesn’t even seem to have a grasp of what the problems are.

If you were just tuning in to this campaign, you would find yourself hung up on a pretty obvious question — why did the Republican Party nominate a guy who clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about? It’s a good question.

Actually, I think it’s a question we had some good whacks at back during the primaries as the Republican party has, sadly, become post-policy in many ways.  But, again, seriously, ask yourself if you had been on a deserted island for a year and dropped in on this campaign, you would be literally shocked about what a poor candidate Trump is.  But here we are.

The insta-polls

No, really, I should just go to bed.  From Jon Bernstein:

Too easy to dismiss this as “how’d that work out for Romney?”  Do the debates usually change election outcomes?  Nope.  But can the debates matter and move the polls a few points?  Sure.  And tell me right now you don’t think a few points matter.

So, does some insta-poll of an overly-Democratic sample actually mean anything?  Nope.  But, it will help drive the media narrative and that’s what really matters (again, ask Al Gore post first debate).   John Kerry lost to GWB, of course, but he really seemed to make up ground after a solid first debate performance (largely forgotten as he ultimately lost).  I remember watching all the post-debate coverage and you could literally see it evolve in real time in response to the first insta-poll.  It had Kerry “winning” the debate by 7 points or so.  Because that influenced coverage, a couple days later, it was near consensus that Kerry had won.

So, sure it’s the savvy, sophisticated thing to say debates don’t matter.  But just because they usually don’t matter and when they do, they probably don’t matter that much, is no reason to discount that what happened tonight was, at worst, a little bit good for Clinton (and who won’t take that in a tight race), and, at best in an unusually uncertain election environment, very good for Clinton.

More post debate thoughts

I should take a Xanax, let this all go for now, and go to bed.  Should.  A few quick thoughts.

1) How I know Clinton won.  Democrats are always so ready to freak out and panic.  Not the slightest hint of that.  Sure, each side likes to think it won, but in my experience, Dems are too ready to think they’ve lost.  Literally none of that here.

2) That said, we’ll have a much better idea tomorrow who won.  And that’s going to be based on what the media decides is worth focusing on for the rest of the week coming out of the debate.  That said, again, I have a hard time seeing how that’s not Trump’s temperament, Trump’s lies, or Trump’s taxes.  Hmmm, I guess I really think Clinton won.

3) And to be clear, “winning” a debate is far less about what happens on that stage than the consensus narrative that the media comes to about the debate in the following day(s).

4) This was Trump’s big chance to be “presidential.”  Only pulled it off for 30 minutes or so.  That’s not good enough.

5) I should probably have more to say.  Sorry.  Hopefully some good stuff tomorrow.

Quick post-debate

We’ll have a better idea of where the media narrative reaches consensus in the morning, but for now, I’ll take this as a good sign:


Also, that’s not even saying anything about the taxes.  I think that’s going to have legs.

What to expect from the debate?

I have no idea.


Okay, kind of.  Here’s the thing, it is so obvious what Trump needs to do.  John Dickerson laid it out during a recent Gabfest and Seth Masket quotes:

Yet over at Slate’s Political Gabfest, John Dickerson reminds us that quite a few voters will not be watching the debate as it airs, but will depend upon news coverage of it, which will largely boil down to a few key moments. He offered some suggestions as to how Trump could exploit that feature to change voters’ perceptions:

You should do all the things that people said you have not done. Be self-deprecating, be generous. Show some set of qualities that nobody’s ever associated with you throughout this entire campaign. And if you show them, you will get 100 million people watching, and all the coverage will be about that…. Do that, and you’ll get several days of: “Oh my gosh, look, he can restrain his impulses. Hecan fulfill the role that’s being asked of him. And if he can do that in a debate, he can do that in the presidency.”

That could change the campaign somewhat. But it’s dependent upon Trump’s own discipline as a campaigner, something that’s not really been detected in abundance. Just as that scenario could benefit him, so a lapse into misogynistic slurs could hurt him, and we know he’s prone to that.

Yes.  That’s what scares the hell out of me.  Trump being given a stupidly low bar, and easily exceeding it.  Also, Ezra:

This is the Donald Trump curve. Hillary Clinton needs to answer every question perfectly and make people laugh while she does it. Trump needs to stop lying and bragging so much. It defies parody. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. [emphases mine]

MSNBC is simply echoing the conventional wisdom. Clinton “faces higher expectations than Donald Trump when the two square off for the first debate on Long Island,” reports Politico. This is the conclusion of Politico’s “insiders poll,” which surveys a select group of political elites. The responses — Politico provides anonymity to participants in the survey — are darkly comic.

“To win the debate, all Trump really needs to do is meet expectations, keep his cool, and look presidential,” says one Republican.

A Democrat adds: “The question we are all waiting to have answered is: Can he be serious? Can he answer questions directly? How will he react (or overreact) when he is directly challenged? Can he control his temper?”

So here is where I think we are on the morning of the first presidential debate. For Hillary Clinton to win the debate, she needs to be perfect. For Donald Trump to win the debate, he needs to avoid embarrassing himself.

Do you see the problem?

So, there you go.  But, I think is is very much an open question whether Donald Trump can even pull this off.   I strongly suspect Hillary Clinton will perform well (though, not perfect).  She’s good at these and she’s had plenty of one-on-one debates.  Trump has pretty much never done this and not seen particularly adept at curbing his worse instincts in the moment.

So, I cannot wait to see what happens.  But, I’m horrified that if Trump meets this minimally low bar he will be rewarded with media coverage on a severe curve.

And, because I don’t have any more time to blog today, Drum with a reminder on what happened to Gore in 2000.

Wow. Gore kicked ass! Bush kept sniffing! He also seemed a little lost—a fairly common real-time assessment. As it turns out, Cooper’s prediction was pretty close: Gallup’s overnight poll had Gore winning by 48-41 percent and others gave him an even bigger margin. So why is Gore widely remembered as the big loser in that debate? Here is Alfredo Lanier of the Chicago Tribune a couple of weeks after the debate:

Polls scored both candidates just about even, but that shifted after media analysts picked over the inconsistencies in some of Gore’s statements—and nitpicked about his annoying huffing, puffing and eye-rolling while Bush spoke. [emphasis in original]

Among people who actually watched the debate, Gore seemed fine. He knew his stuff, he attacked without seeming mean, and no one seemed to notice any sighing. But then the analysts put together a mix tape of every one of Gore’s sighs, and it was game over. Gore was a laughingstock.

Overnight polls are hardly infallible. But there’s not much question that the media reaction in the two or three days after a debate can make a big difference. Gore won the first debate in 2000, but only for a few hours. He lost it in the following week.

%d bloggers like this: