Trump the independent

So, I meant to write a post earlier this week about how Trump is decidedly not an independent, despite a raft of pretty silly columns suggesting he is just because he is willing to work some with Democrats.  Reagan accomplished many of his key agenda items (including real tax reform) by working with Democrats– nobody every suggested he was independent.  Now, obviously, Trump cares little for the Republican party beyond the fact that it is a useful vehicle to feed his desire for power, personal enrichment, and approbation, but that doesn’t make him an independent.  Now Trump maybe has a DACA deal with Democrats.  That still doesn’t make him an independent.  Paul Waldman’s take was my favorite:

Sure, you can consider Trump an independent, so long as you discount the fact that almost everyone he has appointed to any position in the entire government is a Republican, and the executive orders rolling back Obama-era regulations to protect workers, and the dismantling of environmental protection going on at his EPA, and the sabotage of the Affordable Care Act going on at his Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education’s promotion of for-profit education, and the failed effort to repeal the ACA and gut Medicaid, and the upcoming tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and the Wall Street executives put in charge of financial oversight, and the anti-gay efforts the administration has undertaken, and his ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, and the long list of conservative judges he has appointed, and the huge increase in military spending he wants, and the administration’s attacks on abortion rights, and his travel ban, and his decision to end DACA, and his bogus voter fraud commission, and his winks and nods to neo-confederates and the alt-right, and his pardon of authoritarian racist Joe Arpaio, and his pullout from the Paris climate accord, and his potential pullout from the Iran nuclear deal.

Other than those things, though, he’s been totally independent, not at all doing what Republicans want.

Waldman got his start as a media and politics guy, so I think this part of his take is particularly useful:

So you may be wondering why a bunch of smart and plugged-in journalists would be drawn to the idea that Trump isn’t governing like a Republican. There are a few reasons, the most important of which is the media’s insatiable need for novelty. It’s called the “news,” not the “olds” or the “sames” (a number of other languages use the same construction, with the word for “news” being the plural of “new”). An agreement on the debt ceiling is an opportunity to say that things have changed, which is what we in the media always want to say. All the other things that are unique and novel about Trump—we’ve certainly never had a president so petulant and ignorant before!—can lead one to conclude that everything he does is different from what another Republican would have done, so there’s an impulse to say that he’s different on policy as well.

And while it almost certainly isn’t something they’re consciously attempting to argue, I suspect that another reason reporters might want to assert that Trump is an independent is that it serves as a defense of the two-party system and the larger stability of our democracy. One way to look at Trump is that he’s the logical product of a party that has set about in recent years to promote fear of immigrants, distrust of scientific authority, the specific interests of white people, the belief that all problems have easy solutions, and a contempt not just for the media but for the idea of objective truth itself. Trump is proof positive that if you say Both Sides Do It, you’re completely wrong.

On the other hand, if Trump is an anomaly who stands outside the two parties and got elected essentially by accident, then the system is basically fine. Once he’s gone and all this madness has come to its merciful end, we can return to the way things were without asking whether there’s a profound rot within the GOP and within America itself that allowed this toxic buffoon to become his party’s nominee and then the president.

That would be a nice thought. If only it were true.

And Hans Noel with a nice political science perspective:

To be very clear, everything Trump has accomplished has come from his acting as a Republican:

  • He won the Republican nomination by appealing to Republican voters who were frustrated with existing Republicans.
  • He won the general election by appealing to Republican voters who would vote for any Republican before they voted for a typical Democrat.
  • His agenda is mostly the Republican agenda. He nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court because Republican-aligned interests told him to. He campaigned on the idea that the Affordable Care Act didn’t do enough, and then backed a repeal bill that moves in the opposite direction.

What’s more, the parts of the Trump agenda that aren’t very Republican — trade protectionism, the wall, health reform that would increase coverage — have been dead ends…

Why? Because Trump isn’t a team player. He wants to make his own deals, and he’s not well-versed in all the deals that are being made around him — all the deals that are embodied in a well-functioning political party.

But each party represents a history of deals that can’t just be ignoredA political party is a coalition of political actors, from politicians to voters, who coordinate to get things done in a democracy. This means they have to set aside some differences. Someone says, “Okay, I want to restrict abortions, and you want to pay fewer taxes.” (Or “I want police to be more accountable in how they treat the black community, and you want a higher minimum wage.”) “How about we join forces and get both things?” And since there are so many people and so many issues, these trade-offs become complicated and are constantly renegotiated. This gets messy. Parties are institutions that manage those trade-offs, from nominations to campaigns to legislation to administration.

Almost every real accomplishment of the Trump administration has been something that Republicans have been working on for some time. But credit Republicans (and the allied conservative movement) as much as you credit Trump.

And, of course, Trump’s self-conception is quite reliant on himself as a dealmaker.  If he makes a deal, he’ll consider it a “win” period.

And this.

Enough with leadership already

This Alvin Chang piece in Vox on all the ways the college subtly discriminate against poor students is terrific.  You should read it.  Short version: the values that poorer kids learn are a mismatch for the values of wealthier kids and the values of what are expected by college faculty and administrators.

Lots, can be said about this article, but I’m going to be lame and stick to an almost tangential point.  What is with college’s obsession with “leadership”?!  Here’s a chart of what college administrators think are the most important skills for students:

Really.  It is more important that our students learn to be a leader than to solve problems?  Or do independent research?  Or work together with others?  Give me a break!  Sure there are some leadership skills that are helpful to people, but clearly, not everybody is a leader, and clearly, you can be a very successful college graduate without having significant leadership skills.  Far less so, if you haven’t learned problem-solving and working with others.

I would argue that my own “leadership skills” are pretty modest at best (in fact, I was just joking around with my soccer team about this last night), but clearly I’ve done alright for myself in life.  You know what really helped?  Problem solving skills, working with others, research skills, etc.  Of course, leadership plays an important role in our society, but I think there’s some interesting research to be done on college’s disproportionate emphasis on the value of leadership.

Oh, and just a reminder, think about reading the piece for all the excellent stuff in there that has nothing to do with what I just wrote about.

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