Saturday, January 14, 2017

Thoughts on the Trump Presidency

Here are two complementary articles on the prospects for the Trump presidency:

I've copied below emails that I've written on these two perspectives.

How Trump's Personality may Shape the Presidency

Here is a quote as to the gist of the article in the Atlantic on Trump's mind:
While a range of factors, such as world events and political realities, determine what political leaders can and will do in office, foundational tendencies in human personality, which differ dramatically from one leader to the next, are among them.

Here are some further excerpts, which form a somewhat coherent summary of the long article:
because he is viewed as markedly less ideological than most presidential candidates, Trump may be able to switch positions easily, leaving room to maneuver in negotiations with Congress and foreign leaders 

 The Art of the Deal, Trump counsels executives, CEOs, and other deal makers to “think big,” “use your leverage,” and always “fight back.” When you go into a negotiation, you must begin from a position of unassailable strength. You must project bigness. “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after,” he writes.
Trump’s focus on personal relationships and one-on-one negotiating pays respect to a venerable political tradition. For example, a contributor to Lyndon B. Johnson’s success in pushing through civil-rights legislation and other social programs in the 1960s was his unparalleled expertise in cajoling lawmakers. Obama, by contrast, has been accused of failing to put in the personal effort needed to forge close and productive relationships with individual members of Congress.

more often than not, narcissists wear out their welcome. Over time, people become annoyed, if not infuriated, by their self-centeredness. When narcissists begin to disappoint those whom they once dazzled, their descent can be especially precipitous. 

the fundamental backdrop for his life narrative is this: “Man is the most vicious of all animals, and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat.” The protagonist of this story is akin to what the great 20th-century scholar and psychoanalyst Carl Jung identified in myth and folklore as the archetypal warrior. According to Jung, the warrior’s greatest gifts are courage, discipline, and skill; his central life task is to fight for what matters; his typical response to a problem is to slay it or otherwise defeat it; his greatest fear is weakness or impotence. The greatest risk for the warrior is that he incites gratuitous violence in others, and brings it upon himself. 

you will rarely, if ever, witness his stepping back from the fray, coming home from the battlefront, to reflect upon the purpose of fighting to win—whether it is winning in his own life, or winning for America... Trump’s persona as a warrior may inspire some Americans to believe that he will indeed be able to make America great again, whatever that may mean. But his narrative seems thematically underdeveloped...  It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation. 

Structural Factors that Shape the Presidency

I ran across another article about what we might expect from the Trump presidency.  While the last article discussed Trump's personality and how that might affect his performance as president, this one looks at the political landscape and how the Trump phenomenon may be the dying spasm of the Reagan era.  

The author, Corey Robin, makes a strong case, in my opinion.  This article and the Atlantic article about Trump's personality complement one another nicely.  

The whole article is good, and shorter than the one about Trump's personality.  So I encourage you to click on the link above and read it.  It's hard for me to pull out a few excerpts to make the case as effectively as the author, but here are some excerpts:

Yet when Carter won the presidency in 1976 in the aftermath of Watergate, with congressional majorities far greater than Trump’s, many also believed that he might save his party by renovating it from within. Carter expertly set the scene during the campaign, repeatedly declaring himself an “outsider” who would take on the established interests of not only the GOP but his own party as well. “They want to preserve the status quo,” he said of Democratic leaders. They want “to preserve politics as usual, to maintain at all costs their own entrenched, unresponsive, bankrupt, irresponsible political power.”
This wasn’t just posture; it was also policy. Carter railed against the “horrible, bloated, confused . . . bureaucratic mess” that was the New Deal state, “the layers of administration, the plethora of agencies, the proliferation of paperwork.” With almost Trumpian crudity, he decried the liberal tax system as “a disgrace to the human race” and wrote off Congress as “disgusting.” In a frontal assault on the legacy of FDR and LBJ, he declared welfare a “failure” in “urgent need of a complete overhaul.”
We remember Carter as an extraordinarily hapless President, but for a time he was remarkably effective at scrambling the political map. (Both Tip O’Neill and Robert Byrd marveled at his success.) Delivering on his promise to abandon old ways of doing things, Carter deregulated the banking and transportation industries...

His reconstructive achievements—particularly toward the end of his Presidency, when he elevated Paul Volcker to the Fed, slashed social spending, and increased the military budget—became the signs of his disjunction. Like Herbert Hoover a half-century before him, he was the last man standing, the poor schmuck who came into office to nudge his party away from its commitment to a weak regime, only to be deserted by his party and tarred by his opponents as that regime’s most orthodox defender...

Carter shyly confessed to having “committed adultery in my heart”; Trump brags about grabbing pussy. Carter was a moralist and a technocrat; Trump, an immoralist and a demagogue. Carter was a state senator and a governor; Trump has no political experience. Carter wouldn’t hurt a fly (or a rabbit). Trump takes pleasure in humiliating others, particularly women and people of color...

However tempting it may be to ascribe these phenomena to Trump alone, some part of the specter of illegitimacy and disapproval that has enveloped him is due to the increasingly fragile nature of the Republican regime itself. In the same way that Carter was saddled with a debilitated New Deal regime, so has Trump, despite his moves toward heterodoxy throughout the campaign, hitched himself to Reagan’s free-market regime, with its worship of the man of the market and the man of money, and concomitant commitments to tax cuts and deregulation. That regime has been in a slow free-fall for several years.

The declining trajectory of support for Republican Presidents—from Nixon’s 60.7 percent of the vote in 1972 to Reagan’s 58.8 percent in 1984 to Bush’s 50.7 percent in 2004 to Trump’s 46 percent—is one measure. The steady diminution of voters identifying as Republicans—Gallup polls consistently put Republicans behind Democrats and independents—is another... As multiple media outlets have reported over this past year, younger voters consistently voice a preference for socialist or anti-capitalist politics. The breakout support for Bernie Sanders offers an additional measure of dissatisfaction with the reigning neoliberal regime, as do Trump’s erratic jabs at crony capitalism and fitful defenses of Medicare and Social Security... Trump—elected with far less support than Bush and without, at least not yet, the ballast of a popular war—is the inheritor of this uneasy, increasingly fractious coalition...   
While Trump's personality will undoubtedly play a significant role in the upcoming years, I believe that extraordinary persons are the products of their societies, and that their extraordinary actions would be impossible without the social conditions in which they are born and live (i.e I don't believe in the Great Man theory).  Trump's popular success follows naturally from the Reagan-era globalization and ownership society, which has helped the rich (the owners) and hurt workers (who face more competition from 3rd world laborers).  Trump has made good political use of Twitter and identified the main weakness of the Reagan era, but has no coherent plans to address the problems he highlights.  He is a Reaganite Republican in a society that wants something different.


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