Making the click-through worthwhile: Senator-elect Mitt Romney rips into President Trump’s character but fails to grapple with why Americans, and Republicans, accepted and largely continue to accept Trump’s character; 20 things you need to know about Bernie Sanders (okay, maybe 15 are need-to-know, and the rest are good-to-know); and another multinational corporation bends to the demands of a censorious foreign government.
Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, and the Challenge of Character in Politics
A day before he takes the oath as a new senator from Utah, former governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney lets us know exactly what kind of relationship he’s going to have with the Trump administration in an op-ed in the Washington Post.
. . . on balance, [President Trump’s] conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions this month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.
It is not that all of the president’s policies have been misguided. He was right to align U.S. corporate taxes with those of global competitors, to strip out excessive regulations, to crack down on China’s unfair trade practices, to reform criminal justice and to appoint conservative judges. These are policies mainstream Republicans have promoted for years. But policies and appointments are only a part of a presidency.
To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.
Longtime readers of this newsletter will not be surprised to know that I agree with just about everything Romney says. But there’s an ongoing challenge to those of us with this perspective, and Romney never quite acknowledges that challenge.
Somewhere along the line — most likely shortly after Romney’s defeat, in fact — a significant chunk of the American people, in particular, many Republicans, started to believe that character is for suckers. At the very least, a significant number of conservatives concluded that good character was no advantage in politics and possibly a liability. Mitt Romney had good character and lost; John McCain had good character and lost; George W. Bush had good character and barely won and found himself compared to Hitler and a monkey by furious critics for much of his presidency.
We can argue about when exactly the balance started to shift. I suspect a key moment came when Democrats stuck by Bill Clinton throughout the revelations of Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick. Only 20 years later, when his wife was no longer a likely president, did Democrats begin grappling with the consequences of that choice. President Obama’s presidency was marked by numerous scandals — Fast and Furious, stimulus waste, IRS abuses, the VA leaving veterans dying waiting for care, Benghazi — and the country continued to largely admire him and his presidency. America’s corporate, entertainment, and sports classes offered their own high-profile examples of escaping accountability.
And in Trump’s presidency, we can find at least a few cases where his temperamental and combative style may get results where other presidents did not. American military voices have been grumbling about our NATO allies shortchanging their militaries for a long time; in 2006, every member nation agreed to spend 2 percent of their GDP. For a long time, those benchmarks weren’t met. Military spending by non-U.S. NATO allies has increased by a couple billion every year since 2014 — going up by $17 billion in 2017 and $11 billion in 2018, according to estimates.
Did Trump’s outspoken criticism and public skepticism of the value of NATO spur this change? Or did it reflect European countries waking up to the dangers of a world with a more aggressive Russia, ISIS, Iran, and other threats on the horizon? One thing is for certain: George W. Bush and Barack Obama were much more respectful to our allies than Donald Trump was — and yet those allies refused to make the investments in their own defense that successive administrations believed were necessary.
Romney specifically calls out Trump’s “thoughtless claim that America has long been a ‘sucker’ in world affairs.” Of course, Trump is hyperbolic, but didn’t our alliance have a “free rider” problem?
Trump’s character may ameliorate some problems, but it indisputably exacerbates others. Imagine the problems Trump would have avoided if he had never encountered Stormy Daniels. (Unless you’re one of the terminally naïve who believes Trump never had any relations with her, and that he had Michael Cohen pay $130,000 to her to cover up an affair that never happened.) Imagine if Trump had never hired Cohen! Imagine if Trump had never hired or associated with any of his transparent sycophants — the Omarosa Manigaults and Steve Bannons of the world. Imagine if he had listened to his lawyers’ advice. Imagine if Trump had kept his criticisms of Jeff Sessions behind closed doors instead of raging against him on Twitter for all the world to see. Imagine if he saw his cabinet as trusted advisers, instead of scapegoats-in-waiting.
“FourFiveSeconds” is a song that features Paul McCartney, Kanye West, and Rihanna, and one of the lyrics is, “all of my kindness is taken for weakness.” Good character is not an impediment to success. But it is not sufficient for success, either. And if Americans lament the bad character in their political leaders, maybe they ought to look in the mirror and ask some tough questions about who they reward at the ballot box. Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins won reelection in 2018, despite being indicted on fraud charges. New Jersey senator Bob Menendez won reelection easily. Trump’s a symptom, not the disease.
Romney concludes with wisdom:
I will support policies that I believe are in the best interest of the country and my state and oppose those that are not. I do not intend to comment on every tweet or fault. But I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.
Trump is the president until he retires, is defeated for reelection, or is impeached. Best to try to push him in the right direction on policy as much as you can and call him out when he crosses lines. But Trump’s character isn’t going to change.
This morning, the president’s reaction on Twitter is fairly mild — so far: “Here we go with Mitt Romney, but so fast! Question will be, is he a Flake? I hope not. Would much prefer that Mitt focus on Border Security and so many other things where he can be helpful. I won big, and he didn’t. He should be happy for all Republicans. Be a TEAM player & WIN!”
What You Need to Know about Bernie Sanders
On the last day of the year, I gathered together 20 things you probably didn’t know about Bernie Sanders, and it’s worth a look. He may hold the record for most write-in votes by a non-declared presidential candidate; his old political party thinks he’s a sellout and called him ‘Bernie the Bomber’; as a mayor, he fought to tax a hospital, once declared at a charity event, “I don’t believe in charities”; he attended a Nicaraguan government rally where the crowd chanted “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die”; he cultivated friendships with representatives of the Irish Republican Army; expressed a belief in psychosomatic cancer; and once said that no one should ever be paid more than $1 million per year — which just happens to be his total income for the past few years.
Whatever you’ve heard about Bernie Sanders, the truth is wilder and stranger than you ever imagined.
Netflix Programming, Now Brought to You by Saudi Arabian Censors
Want to know why “multinational corporations” gets expressed with a sneer in politicians’ speeches? Stories like this one:
Netflix has taken down an episode of a satirical comedy show critical of Saudi Arabia in the country after officials from the kingdom complained, sparking criticism from Human Rights Watch, which said the act undermined the streaming service’s “claim to support artistic freedom”.
Or Google helping China develop a censored search engine, European banks helping Iran evade sanctions, Silicon Valley’s social-media companies leaving the door wide open for foreign intelligence, companies that fail to take reasonable steps to protect customer data . . .
Guys, those of us who want companies to not be tied down by endless regulations would have an easier time if you guys could demonstrate some semblance of a moral compass.
ADDENDUM: Washington governor Jay Inslee is running for president.
In other news, obscure former congressman Jay Inslee was elected governor of Washington in 2013.