The Morning Jolt

White House

President Trump: The Fairest ‘Authoritarian Dictator’ of Them All

President Donald Trump arrives for a Make America Great Again rally at the Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia, August 21, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Paul Krugman play-acts joining the Rebel Alliance against the Evil Empire, Trump’s refusal to play by any rules creates needless problems for himself, a ninny in Wisconsin looks like a fool while protesting Scott Walker, and a question about sports seasons and preseasons.

Could We Keep Our Criticisms of the President Tied to Reality?

Paul Krugman: “If Republicans retain control of both houses of Congress in November, we will become another Poland or Hungary faster than you can imagine.” He means “Poland or Hungary” in the sense of being undemocratic, quasi-authoritarian, and beyond the rule of law, not in the sense of hearty foods.

Krugman writes that the ruling parties in those countries have “destroyed the independence of the judiciary, suppressed freedom of the press, institutionalized large-scale corruption and effectively delegitimized dissent . . .  we’re suffering from the same disease — white nationalism run wild — that has already effectively killed democracy in some other Western nations. And we’re very, very close to the point of no return.”

Does it seem like Trump has “destroyed the independence of the judiciary”? Do authoritarian dictators often find their proposals halted by the judicial branch, on issues such as a excluding transgender individuals from military service, limiting the power of federal worker unions, ending DACA, stopping grants to sanctuary cities, or even blocking Twitter users? Whether you agree with these decisions or not, don’t they dispel Krugman’s claim that the judiciary is losing its independence under Trump?

“Appointing judges that I don’t like and disagree with” is not a synonym for “destroying the independence of the judiciary.”

Does it seem as if Trump has “suppressed freedom of the press”? Have you noticed any lack of criticism of Trump in the media? Does it seem as if people are afraid to publicly criticize the president? If you pick up the Washington Post or New York Times, aren’t the pages full of articles lambasting the administration for all kinds of sins and foolishness, both real and imagined?

One can argue that Trump “institutionalized large-scale corruption” if one completely averts one’s eyes from the scandals of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton, and/or ignores the fact that the Trump administration’s worst offenders . . . tend to resign in disgrace after a series of humiliating headlines. Would I prefer that the wild spending habits and shamelessness of Tom Price, David Shulkin, and Scott Pruitt never happened? Sure. But they all paid a price in losing their jobs. Perhaps not enough of a price, but it demonstrates that at least in some circumstances — such as generating enough bad headlines that even this nearly shameless president gets irritated — “large-scale corruption” is not institutionalized but shown the door.

Does it seem as if Trump has “effectively delegitimized dissent”? Trump’s job approval has consistently been in the low 50s in public polling.

Do authoritarian dictators have their campaign managers convicted by juries? Do authoritarian dictators have their personal lawyers raided by the FBI, get indicted on multiple charges, and plead guilty to serious crimes?

Do authoritarian dictators often deal with a special counsel investigating their election campaign, potential ties to foreign governments, alleged payments to mistresses, and so on?

Do authoritarian dictators have their major legislative priorities, like a full repeal of Obamacare or border-wall funding, denied to them by the national legislature? Do authoritarian dictators find themselves frustrated by a filibuster?

Trump generates plenty of his own genuine scandals, problems, and embarrassments. Is it too much to ask that the public discussion stick to that, and not play-acting “the Resistance” against a fascist regime?

‘Everyone Knows We Don’t Like Each Other.’

Here’s the explanation for the White House’s bare-minimum response to the passing of John McCain:

Trump told advisers over the weekend that lavishing praise on McCain would not be genuine because he did not feel that way. “Everyone knows we don’t like each other,” the president said, according to one White House official who spoke with him.

Must you like someone to say a kind word upon their death? Was there nothing about McCain that Trump could find appealing or relate to? He couldn’t even muster something like, “Everyone said John McCain was stubborn, but in my world, that’s a virtue — that shows grit and determination, even when everyone says the odds are against you” or something similar?

The Washington Post declares, “Trump has rejected the norms of his office and, increasingly, has been rejected in turn.” This is probably how the president likes it; if he wanted to live a life full of courtesy, grace, and decorum, he could do so.

But Trump defies “the rules” even when doing so provides no tangible benefit to himself, and he has no sense of perspective or any real awareness of how his actions will appear to others. He steps on rakes and creates problems for himself where just doing the normal thing would have avoided problems — like, say, national veterans organizations publicly calling on him to continue standard and traditional actions of the presidency:

The American Legion, a veterans organization, issued a sternly worded statement calling on Trump to treat McCain with more reverence.

“On the behalf of The American Legion’s two million wartime veterans, I strongly urge you to make an appropriate presidential proclamation noting Senator McCain’s death and legacy of service to our nation, and that our nation’s flag be half-staffed through his [interment],” said Denise Rohan, the group’s national commander.

As Julian Sanchez observes, Trump is “somehow both insanely obsessed with optics and seemingly unable to foresee hilariously obvious scenarios.”

In the Protester’s Defense, that Sand Looks Heavy

There’s flooding in downtown Madison, Wisc. On Saturday, Governor Scott Walker joined volunteers and the Wisconsin National Guard as they filled and distributed sandbags at Oneida Park in Monona. Some winner went out and protested Walker as he filled sandbags. The protester held a sign saying, “[No] Photo Ops, Climate Change.”

Walker can’t buy publicity this good. When people are in trouble, and the flood waters are rising, Wisconsin’s leftists will always be there . . .  to protest, instead of actually doing something useful.

ADDENDA: This may be the sort of thing that only I notice or care about, but the NFL alone has a weird way of dragging out the space between its preseason and the regular season.

No other sport puts much time between the end of its practice period and the start of meaningful games. This year, Major League Baseball’s spring training ended for most teams on March 27 and opening day was March 29 (the earliest in league history). The National Hockey League season ends September 30 and the regular season begins October 4.  In the National Basketball Association, the preseason ends October 12 and the regular season begins October 16.

But the NFL leaves a long gap between the return of practice and the return of meaningful games. Most teams don’t use their starting players at all in the final preseason game out of fear of injuries, so last Friday and Saturday’s games were the last ones that were even remotely watchable for a few quarters. (For what it’s worth, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he doesn’t think the league really needs four weeks of preseason games.)

The NFL season kicks off with a Thursday night game on September 6, and most teams begin play September 9. This means that for most teams, 14 or 15 days will have gone by between when the preseason ended for the starters and the regular season starts. If your team played on Friday night and opens the season on Monday night, as the Jets, Lions, and Rams do, 17 days pass between games for the starters! (One advantage for college football: no preseason games; every game counts.) Kind of odd to announce the return of your sport with nationally televised primetime games that are sloppy and meaningless, and then say, “Hey, we’ll be back with the real thing in a few weeks.”

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