On Discussing and Analyzing the Trump Presidency

An attempt at defining the conversation.

Note:  this is a long post which is long, but could be much longer–so it is not to be considered exhaustive of the categories discussed.  Once could write a book based on this post.

One of the ongoing difficulties in discussing the Trump administration is finding a way to discuss his behavior in way that differentiates the normal from the abnormal. In an attempt to create a way for me to do so, I would suggest the following three baskets in which to place criticisms of the the Trump administration (recognizing that there is some overlap amongst these three):

  1. Policy Debates: This is the normal space wherein most political discussion takes place. This is where broad, national disagreements exist on things like taxes or healthcare. These areas can certainly lead to some extreme rhetoric, but the basic truth is that these types of discussions are fully within the norm of politics.
  2. Policy Ignorance. This is a more serious category. While critics of any given administration will claim things like “these guys don’t what they are doing/talking about” the reality is that that type of critique is usually a proxy for the first category, i.e., policy debates. But when it comes to President Trump, there are times when there can be a genuine claim that he actually does not understand what he is doing, beyond the rhetoric of the moment.
  3. Violations of Norms. This speaks to the degree to which this administration deviates from established practices. Some of these are minor, while others (such as its attacks on the rule of law) are major and can represent very serious concerns about the effects of the administration on our politics.

Public Policy Debates

The safest place to defend Donald Trump as POTUS, as with any president, is to focus on policy choices and other actions within the normal scope of the office. So, if one was hoping for a tax cut bill, a rollback of regulations, and a conservative SCOTUS nominee, then one can sit back and be happy and pretend like all the criticisms of Trump are nothing more than politics as usual. There are areas, such as the recent strikes on Syria, that are profoundly normal.*

I would note that sometimes (indeed, perhaps often), policy debates can get ugly.  Practically every president, at some point, gets compared to Hitler by somebody, somewhere in the broad debate (this was true of both GWB and Obama).  Often rhetoric gets hot and hyperbolic.  Still, we usually understand that at the heart of the matter there is simply a disagreement on taxes, welfare policy, or whatever.

I will note, however, that there are some issues with the Trump presidency and policy-focused discussions. Specifically, the degree to which political debates end up not being really about policy, but instead about partisan identity. On the one hand, there has always been some truth to the notion that our policy positions are more about identity than we care to admit to ourselves (we tend to rationalize support for policy actions linked to “our” side and to criticize policies that done by “their” side, even when the policies may not be all that different). On the other hand, however, we clearly can see some disjunctures in general Republican support for Trump and some of his personal behavior and policy stances that really are quite remarkable. The Republicans are self-identified as the party of “family values” and yet it nominated a twice divorced, admitted adulterer to run for, and win, the presidency. Further, revelations that he had multiple additional, previously unknown, affairs (including with a porn actress and a Playboy model) has barely dented support. This is a stunningly clear indication that partisan identity can trump (pun at least partially intended) allegedly deeply held beliefs.

I will return to my initial failure to accept that Trump would be the nominee, let alone the President: I sincerely thought that American Evangelicals would not vote for him. I was quite wrong, which has led me to re-evaluate what motivates those voters.

Another example: most of my life the Republican Party has been the party of free trade. Now, all of a sudden, it is the party of tariffs and trade wars. And this seems not to really bother long-term adherents all that much. Instead, it is bought into as the remaking of American greatness with any real thought as to the efficacy of the policy suggestions, let alone their ham-fisted application.

Still, there is legitimate room for point and counter-point over policy as policy.  And if that was the basis of most concern and conversation about Trump, that would mean we were in fairly normal territory with this presidency.  The next two baskets, however, are the real problem, because they range beyond mere policy dispute.

Policy Ignorance

Speaking of ham-fisted policy implementation, there is a whole other policy-related basket in which to place Trump’s actions, and it is that there are times when it is clear that he has either a very cursory view of what he is talking about, or he is truly ignorant about it. His entire treatment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership fits this category (as, arguably does his treatment of trade in general). His proposal about the border wall, his treatment of DACA, and his approach to the travel ban all underscore policy ignorance.** In fact, I can think of no area of policy in which he demonstrates anything at all like a basic understanding of said policy area, let alone anything approaching a sophisticated view. Further, he seems to take the counsel of cable news, which is fundamentally an entertainment product, more seriously than he does the policy research and intelligence gathering capacities of the government of the United States.

Let’s focus on that last point: Trump makes every appearance of making policy decisions based on what he sees on Fox and Friends, as well as other programming. Keep in mind that morning “news’ programs like Fox and Friends are rather low on the serious news scale. They are designed mostly to be background noise for people getting ready for their day. They are not serious, in-depth reporting. They are mostly pontificating talking heads. This is not the place for the leader of the free world to be educating himself about what to do with his day.***  An example:  his impetus for sending National Guard troops to the border was inspired by a weekend viewing of Fox and Friends.  May I remind us all that he leads the most powerful government in the world and he is taking policy direction from TV news hosts.

Keep in mind: I would find it problematic if a president was privileging any news sources over the overall apparatus of the federal government. For all the flaws of any human institution, the CIA, DIA, NSA, etc. know more about what is going on in Syria than does NPR, the New York Times, or any “serious” new organization you care to mention, let alone what Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade think they know. It should be profoundly disturbing to any serious citizen, regardless of partisan affiliation, that the President of the United States thinks that cable TV is what he should be using to help guide his decisions about global politics.

His appointment of the blatantly unqualified to certain high positions (DeVos at Education and Carson at HUD come immediately to mind) also underscore the policy ignorance problem.

Another example of policy ignorance:  just look at his reaction to the omnibus spending measure he signed.  He does not understand how such processes work and appears more influenced by, again, what he sees on Fox about than he does anything else.  His continued insistence that the military is about be more awesome than ever because of a budget increase likewise demonstrates a grade-school level understanding (as best) of what all of these numbers mean (as does his mistaken suggestion that since the military is now flush with cash, that maybe they could pay for the wall).

Norms.

Now, on the one hand, deviating from existing norms is not, per se, a problem. Sometimes politicians can effectively disrupt existing modes of behavior or establish new norms. I am sure that historians of the presidency could generate a list of past deviations from norms that demonstrate the evolving nature of the office better than I can, but the basic point being that deviation from existing norms is not a problem in and of itself, but what matters is which norms and how.

The way that presidents have had to adapt to mass media, whether it be the radio, press conferences, or television, could fit this arena. Trump using Twitter, for example, is new for a President of the United States (although there are other non-US precedents, with Hugo Chávez of Venezuela being the most prominent one that I can think of). How he uses Twitter, i.e., what he says, how he says it, and why he says it are all different matters entirely. So, while using Twitter as a communication tool is new for a the office, using Twitter to attack political enemies creates its own issue, and moreover, attacking established law enforcement institutions.

There are some profoundly worrying examples of Trump violating important norms.

Two major categories would be the way he deals with the press and with rule of law.  It is one thing to criticize coverage, or to even complain about the press. It is entirely another to seek to undercut the free press by constantly calling it fake or charging that it is lying. A free press is an important foundational element of a liberal democracy and while criticizing it is fair game, undermining it is dangerous Beyond the press, he continually denigrates federal law enforcement. He has, on numerous occasions, undercut the Department of Justice and the FBI because he feels personally threatened. Beyond that, he has decried the Attorney General for not being more loyal to him, as if the AG’s job is to act as the personal attorney of the president (which also overlaps with the ignorance basket).  The way in which he treats federal law enforcement, and often the federal bureaucracy in general, not as something that he is charged with managing, but rather as entities apart from him (and in opposition to him) is extremely problematic.

Other examples of norm violations would include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • His cavalier approach to violence on the campaign trail.
  • His refusal to state, in the debates, that he would accept the election results.
  • His unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
  • His racial rhetoric. He started his campaign maligning Mexicans. He claimed a federal judge could not be fair because of him Mexican heritage. His early travel ban policy moves were motivated by blanket anti-Muslim sentiment.
  • Starting his presidency with a clear lie about the crowd size at his inauguration.
  • Another example of his denigration of the rule of law: calling the serving of a search warrant on Michael Cohen’s office, “a break in” is an example of using language to violate norms, and to specifically attack the institutional integrity of the FBI and law enforcement in general.
  • His reliance on cable news as guidance as noted above
  • “Very fine people on both sides” in regards to the Charlottesville event.  I know it was a whopping eight number of months ago, but when the President of United States “both sides” an event that feature neonazis, then we have a serious norm violation going on.
  • The pardon of Scooter Libby without the requisite request or review.

On could go on for a while…

Overlap

An example of overlap of these areas that underscores the problems inherent in our current politics is the Gorsuch appointment. On the one hand, such an appointment helped motivate Republican voters to accept Trump for all his foibles over Clinton last November. And, further, Trump’s actions in nominating him were well within what we would consider normal presidential behavior. The problem with Gorsuch, however, is that it took a serious norm-violation to give Trump the chance to behave normally. Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s decision to block committee hearings and a floor vote for President Obama’s nominee was a significant violation of established norms concerning presidential nominations. I am not saying it was unconstitutional, as I think that the actions of the Senate fall within the institutional boundaries of the document. Nonetheless, McConnell’s actions, with the support of the Republican Party, clearly violated norms of what should be allowed to happen when a vacancy on the Court occurs. It was a clear power play and it paid off. But it should not be forgotten that it was privileging partisan power over established norms of political behavior. Norm-breaking tends to beget more norm-breaking, which is something to be concerned about as we look to the health of our democracy well beyond the Trump presidency itself.

Dangers

The dangers associated with the problematic elements of this administration are that they could damage existing institutions for long-term degradation, they they drive the Republican Party more deeply in the identity direction rather than the policy one.  The current approach to James Comey by the RNC fits here.  The party appears willing to trash Comey (a lifelong Republican who is an establishment rule of law figure in the current debate) to support Trump.

If Trump supporters buy into his degradation of the rule of law and of the press (which I fear many do), then we are in for some long-term problems with basic politics. These are the kinds of things that unravel democracies.  There is already a significant partisan self-sorting going on in regards to news sources, but that should not be encouraged by the president. More importantly, the president should not be touting the notion that any bad or critical news is false. That is truly the stuff of petty dictators.

And while there is always some legitimate room to criticize law enforcement, denigrating the FBI and DOJ is a dangerous game. The president should not be seeking to undercut the rule of law, especially given that the president’s main job is the execution of the law. Any president should seek to promote the idea that law enforcement is a nonpartisan issue and that while there are legitimate policy differences to be had over what the law should be, its application should be fair and apolitical. And if there are injustices taking place in law enforcement, a president should seek appropriate remedies. But, those injustices should be about broad societal implications of the law, not the personal interests of the president, his family, and his business associates. Again, that is the stuff of petty dictatorships and it should be concerning regardless of policy preferences or partisan identity.

Fundamentally, policy differences are normal and natural.  And while it would be nice if policy debates would not get fraught with hyperbole, we usually can sort out the nonsense from the actual debate.  The problem emerges when those making policy are ignorant of what they are doing.  Responsible partisans should be able to acknowledge this.  However, the real problem comes with the norm violations, especially the anti-democratic ones.  We should all be willing to tolerate, even as we criticize, a president with whom we have policy disagreements.  Likewise, we should all be concerned when clear and profound ignorance affects policy-making (and it would be nice if co-partisans of the ignorant would step up and try to help correct the problem, rather than either enabling it or just quitting public life).  We should all be alarmed at norm violations (if not norm breaking).  The long-term health of our country is at stake on that count, and history will ultimately judge how the current political class, and even the voters, reacted.****

This post has gone on well-passed long enough, but I expect I will be revisiting these three baskets as a means of categorizing actions by this administration.  I will conclude by saying that policy dispute is fine, but defenders of the administration (or simply co-partisans of the president) have to remember that they bear responsibility for the other two baskets of behavior, and that critics have good reason to be concerned about this presidency well outside the bounds of the normal kinds of debate that surround every administration.

*It is a profound problem with US foreign policy that blowing a few things up counts as “normal” but that is a problem well beyond Trump.

**I am not talking here about policy disputes over TPP or DACA (or the Iran deal or North Korea or the budget or whatever) but a clear, demonstrated ignorance of what these policies do and how they work (or even how they are made and implemented).

***This reminds me of a paper that a student turned in to a colleague mine (James Joyner, in fact).  The entire paper was based on what the student had seen on Meet the Press the previously weekend.  It was not a very good paper, oddly enough.  Just watching “the shows” is not the way to gain deep understanding of a policy arena, especially if one has to make real world decisions about that topic area.

****On this count, for example, I do not expect history to be kind to Speaker Ryan.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Trump is militantly ignorant, and glories in it. The “information” provided him by “the shows” is about the limit of what he is capable of and willing to absorb. I had some faint hope, a year ago, that by this point, he would have become so overwhelmed and bored by the demands of the job that he’d resign. Clearly, I was wrong. As long as he can convince himself that the majority of the voters love him, he’ll stay in office.




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  2. Kylopod says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful post.

    I think you may be understating the importance of policy debates in evaluating a presidency, including this one. Even now, I think there’s still a chance we’ll emerge from the Trump presidency with less damage, in direct concrete terms, than we saw under George W. Bush. The main thrust of what went wrong under Bush was simply bad policy decisions. There was some policy ignorance there as well (particularly regarding foreign policy), and some destruction of governing norms (especially regarding the matter of torture), but they were far outweighed by the first category.

    As we see from what’s happening in Puerto Rico, there are some real human costs to the actions (or in some cases lack thereof) of the Trump Administration, and it won’t be long before we get an idea of the impact of the tax bill, the tariffs, the undermining of Obamacare, etc. But there’s still a good chance the Trump presidency won’t end with a war that cost thousands of lives, or the total collapse of the US banking system.

    The greatest damage that Trump is doing thus far is to the institution of American government, which will have long-term effects that are hard to measure in concrete terms.




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  3. Charon says:

    The problem with Gorsuch, however, is that it took a serious norm-violation to give Trump the chance to behave normally. Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s decision to block committee hearings and a floor vote for President Obama’s nominee was a significant violation of established norms concerning presidential nominations. I am not saying it was unconstitutional, as I think that the actions of the Senate fall within the institutional boundaries of the document. Nonetheless, McConnell’s actions, with the support of the Republican Party, clearly violated norms of what should be allowed to happen when a vacancy on the Court occurs. It was a clear power play and it paid off. But it should not be forgotten that it was privileging partisan power over established norms of political behavior. Norm-breaking tends to beget more norm-breaking, which is something to be concerned about as we look to the health of our democracy well beyond the Trump presidency itself.

    For only one side to break norms would be unilateral disarmament by the other.

    There is a category difference in norm breaking by Mitch McConnell and norm breaking by Donald Trump. Mitch McConnell is merely being opportunistic and unscrupulous. Trump is so sociopathic, so NPD, so neurologically impaired that the existance of norms is not on his radar, does not occur to him.

    Trump cares about 4 considerations, none of which have much to do with performing his actual job:

    1) Avoid shame, embarassment, humiliation.

    2) Enjoy adulation.

    3) Enrich himself, preferably by cheating for greater enjoyment (e.g., stiffing contractors and vendors, exploiting fake charities, laundering crooked money etc).

    4) Humiliate people by bullying them.

    That’s it, he cares about nothing else so has little attention to give to anything else.




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  4. teve tory says:

    I am not saying it was unconstitutional, as I think that the actions of the Senate fall within the institutional boundaries of the document. Nonetheless, McConnell’s actions, with the support of the Republican Party, clearly violated norms of what should be allowed to happen when a vacancy on the Court occurs. It was a clear power play and it paid off.

    I have a very smart friend who argues that McConnell knew more about the russian scheming than we are aware, because McConnell wouldn’t have broken the nominee hearings norm to such a shameful degree if he thought, like the rest of us, that Hillary would almost certainly win.

    I can’t say I’m persuaded, I think it’s more likely that McConnell just knew his supporters are shameless partisans who don’t give a shit about norms, or anything other than power*, but it’s a scary idea.

    (* see also: Trump, Evangelical Support For)




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  5. Charon says:

    @teve tory:

    There was a lot of Russian money flowing into GOP campaigns in addition to the $30 M through the NRA as a cutout, McConnell might have known that.




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  6. teve tory says:

    @Charon: You give four rules to Trump, Ed Brayton thinks there are 8. I’d be interested to see what you think of his list.




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  7. @Kylopod:

    I think you may be understating the importance of policy debates in evaluating a presidency, including this one

    I don’t think I am understating, rather my point is that policy is the normal battlefield for such evaluations. I think a lot of people mistake concerns over the factors as simply extensions of the policy evaluation.

    And you make a point: if we were talking policy alone, we would be dealing with a different evaluation of this presidency (indeed, in some ways, that is my exact point: the problems are in the other areas moreso than policy, per se–although some of the policies are pretty odious as well).




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  8. @Charon:

    There is a category difference in norm breaking by Mitch McConnell and norm breaking by Donald Trump. Mitch McConnell is merely being opportunistic and unscrupulous.

    I am not so sure that motivation matters: the breaking of a norm has serious consequences downstream.

    Indeed, you suggest as much:

    For only one side to break norms would be unilateral disarmament by the other.

    Retaliatory norm-breaking just leads to quicker erosion of the norms that hold our system in place. If we do find ourselves in an escalating cascade of such behavior, which I fear is possible, then we may be in some serious trouble. This is part of my point.




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  9. @teve tory: I see no evidence for some broader, Russian-linked theory to explain McConnell’s behavior. I think it was, as you basically suggest, a power-play.




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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    An example of overlap of these areas that underscores the problems inherent in our current politics is the Gorsuch appointment.

    Thank you for this. It is the norm breaking, which as you point out preceded trump, that bothers me the most. Things we took for granted are trashed up and down, in and out by trump, the hollowing out of the State Dept is one, the whole sale gutting of the EPA for another, the lack of tax returns, the obvious lies, etc etc etc.

    Gorsuch is a problem, a big problem. So now the majority party in the Senate can just refuse to vote on any judicial nominees from a president of the opposition party because there is an election coming up? Hint, there is always an election coming up. Also as @Charon: notes,

    For only one side to break norms would be unilateral disarmament by the other.

    So how can DEMs allow the Gorsuch appointment to stand? It only goes down from here.

    On this count, for example, I do not expect history to be kind to Speaker Ryan.

    History will not be kind to Ryan on any counts, he is an unprincipled hack. I think Jeff Flake would be a better example.




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  11. @OzarkHillbilly:

    History will not be kind to Ryan on any counts, he is an unprincipled hack. I think Jeff Flake would be a better example.

    I thought about Flake (and McCain). Ryan, however, will be harshly treated because he held a significant constitutional office and did nothing with it vis-a-vis Trump.




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  12. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory: That’s an excellent article, but I think it’s attempting to lay out Trump’s qualities as president rather than his objectives (which is what Charon was doing). Those are closely related but they aren’t the same.

    Perhaps the most unique feature of Trump as president is that he does not seem to have pursued the job out of any real desire to implement policies. It’s all about himself, and to the extent that he’s pursued a policy agenda at all (which has become increasingly incoherent over time), it’s simply a means to the end of what he really cares about, basking in his own adulation and tearing down his enemies.

    As I’ve emphasized before, it’s not so much that Trump is a narcissist as that he’s a cartoon narcissist. There may have been past presidents who cared more about their ego and the trappings of power than anything they did while in office. There definitely have been past politicians like that. But nearly all of them were a lot more subtle than Trump. (Newt Gingrich is somewhere in that territory, even if he’s more than a touch better versed in policy.) In 2011 he told an audience, “if I decide to run, you’ll have the great pleasure of voting for the man that will easily go down as the greatest president in the history of the United States: Me, Donald John Trump.” The world is filled with narcissists, and 99% of them never talk that way because they have enough sense to realize how dumb and deranged statements like that sound. That’s what’s so remarkable about Trump: he’s a walking cartoon character. He doesn’t just have these qualities, he’s like the most ridiculous caricature imaginable of someone with those qualities. And he’s got absolutely zero self-awareness of it. In a sense that makes his presidency a fantastic experiment (if you don’t consider the amount of real tangible harm it’s causing) of all the worst traits a president could have in their most visible and obvious form.




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  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: True enough, and his Republican successor will be no better. The GOP is a shell of a political party, without principles they are but slaves on a quest for power for the sake of the powerful.




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  14. Charon says:

    @teve tory: The Hoarse Whisperer narrows it down to the first two on my list, I added two more to his.

    https://twitter.com/HoarseWisperer/status/884179369853321218

    https://twitter.com/HoarseWisperer/status/921138911241482240

    As for Brayton’s list:

    # 1 is a behavior, not a motivation
    #2,3,5,6,7,8 are all within #1 on my list
    # 4 was #4 on my list, but perhaps it too is a behavior not a motivation.




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  15. teve tory says:

    As I’ve emphasized before, it’s not so much that Trump is a narcissist as that he’s a cartoon narcissist.

    Remember Charles Krauthammer alleging Obama’s narcissism based on some bullshit count of his pronouns? I wonder if Krauthammer’s done a similar analysis of Trump’s text.




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  16. Charon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am not so sure that motivation matters: the breaking of a norm has serious consequences downstream.

    It matters because McConnell’s behavior is compatible with a system of rules and laws, even if they sometimes get circumvented. Trump’s behavior is about a cult of personality with loyalty to the monarch. By analogy, it resembles the Wermacht taking an oath of loyalty to Hitler rather than to Germany.




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  17. Charon says:

    @teve tory:

    I did reply, but it is stuck in moderation.




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  18. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory:

    Remember Charles Krauthammer alleging Obama’s narcissism based on some bullshit count of his pronouns? I wonder if Krauthammer’s done a similar analysis of Trump’s text.

    If I’m not mistaken, George Will originated that meme, and it was then picked up by Krauthammer and other conservatives. Language Log systematically debunked the claim, showing that Obama used the pronoun “I” significantly less than most of his predecessors. Not that that’s a good way of measuring narcissism anyway. Try to spot the narcissism in any of the following sentences from his 2016 convention speech, all of which contain the word “I”:

    “I am more optimistic about the future of America than ever before…. I think it’s fair to say…. The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity…. I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together…. I hope you don’t mind, Bill, but…. She knows that sometimes during those 40 years she’s made mistakes — just like I have — just like we all do….”

    The real purpose of this pseudoscientific exercise was to give Obama critics an excuse to shut down their common sense. Once Obama’s “narcissism” attains the status of mathematical truth, there’s no longer any reason to actually listen to anything he’s saying, or pay attention to his actual behavior. They “knew” he was a narcissist because, well, numbers don’t lie. If they’d ever stepped back from this “proof” and tried to take a real look at the man, they’d have found their characterization of him absurdly thin. A more accurate–and painfully obvious–assessment of Obama’s personal character was provided by David Brooks in 2016 when he wrote, “Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.”

    People who believe Trump is a narcissist don’t need some absurd mathematical exercise to prove it, all they need to do is just listen to the man for a half-minute.




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  19. teve tory says:

    Living in the Deep South, I always found claims of Obama’s narcissism to be thinly disguised attacks on him for being Uppity.




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  20. teve tory says:

    @Charon: There’s something that I might include in the Horse Whisperer’s list, and separate or distinguish in yours’ and Ed’s lists–he has to win, and he does bully, but there has to be an opponent when he wins, and the opponent has to lose. He can’t ever just win in a positive-sum way. There always has to be someone else who is diminished. Bullies may bully but not feel a need to in every situation. People who need adulation and ‘wins’ may do so in a positive-sum way. But not Trump. Trump insists on a loser, every time he wins. It’s like his narcissism has an extra dash of cruelty.




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  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kylopod:

    A more accurate–and painfully obvious–assessment of Obama’s personal character was provided by David Brooks in 2016

    Thank you for that. I don’t often get to the NYT these days so I missed it.




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  22. grumpy realist says:

    @teve tory: If Trump were waving around a sign saying “I am an incredibly insecure individual terrified of everyone else, including kittens” he couldn’t make it more obvious.




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  23. Charon says:

    @teve tory:

    Yes, I think that goes to his penchant for stiffing contractors and vendors, setting up scams like Trump University. Enriching himself is just more fun if he can hurt someone doing it.

    And to grumpy realist above about his insecurity, he seems really obsessed with his sexual prowess reputation, with the payoffs to women and obsession with the Pee Tape.




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  24. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Retaliatory norm-breaking just leads to quicker erosion of the norms that hold our system in place. If we do find ourselves in an escalating cascade of such behavior, which I fear is possible, then we may be in some serious trouble. This is part of my point.

    I’m a great deal more concerned about breaking norms than laws. Laws have mechanism to protect them, while norms do not.

    It’s unfortunate the US Constitution says nothing about political parties, as that has allowed less-secure norms shape partisanship and some governmental procedures. Voting on a replacement for a Supreme Court Justice, for example, shouldn’t be a matter left to the discretion of the party in control of the Senate.

    For a historical example, look up how the Roman Republic collapsed. In part, it began with blatant norm-breaking from both sides on the matter of a law to distribute land to citizens who had lost theirs in the course of various wars.

    To be sure, it took decades for the Republic to fall, and in some ways Rome’s best times were still ahead (the Antonine Dynasty, or the era of the Five Good Emperors). In between there was strife and civil war.

    So, yes, America may survive Trump. But will it survive broken norms and rabid partisanship?




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  25. teve tory says:

    is it just me or does the skin around trump’s eyes always seem a shade lighter than the rest of his face?




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  26. Charon says:

    @teve tory:

    James Comey commented on that and thinks it’s from tanning goggles.




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  27. teve tory says:

    I just noticed the photo above. Look at the bags right under his eyes. They look almost white.




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  28. teve tory says:

    (I probly saw the comey thing referenced on twitter at some point and forgot about it until i saw the photo.)




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  29. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod: W Bush did, indeed, pursue disastrous policies. But that does fall within Dr. Taylor’s catagory of policy disagreements. Bush’s policies were, sadly, within the norms of the Republican Party and the last 50 years of our politics.
    Ignorance is also common among Republicans. In many cases, as with Trump, the ignorance is genuine. But when Rs serve their donors by cutting taxes for the wealthy, some of them must be educated and self aware enough to know they’re lying about trickle down.
    Dr. T notes McConnell’s norm breaking on the Gorsuch nomination. There is also the eagerness to threaten to shut down the government going back to Gingrich and the use of the filibuster on everything.
    This isn’t really about Trump. The problem is Republicans. It appears Cohen really did go to Prague, in which case the most paranoid assumptions about “collusion” are true and Trump will be resigning. Once he’s gone, the Rs will blame everything on Trump, claim they, like Germans in WWII, were around the corner buying smokes the whole time, and resume the game of bad policy, ignorance, and norm breaking right where Trump left off.




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  30. Joe says:

    @teve tory: The pale circles under Trump’s eyes have always been an issue, and always made me assume some kind of tanning goggles. Most color caricatures you see of Trump emphasize the white circles, and have for a long time.




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  31. CSK says:

    @Joe:

    I’ve never seen anyone with a natural tan who looked quite that orange. Usually that tint is the dead giveaway of a cheap self-tanning lotion.




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  32. Barry says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “Retaliatory norm-breaking just leads to quicker erosion of the norms that hold our system in place. If we do find ourselves in an escalating cascade of such behavior, which I fear is possible, then we may be in some serious trouble. This is part of my point.”

    The problem is that we *are* in this situation.

    The GOP got a Supreme Court justice out of that. Big reward, no penalty. That is a lesson learned for them.




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  33. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08:

    W Bush did, indeed, pursue disastrous policies. But that does fall within Dr. Taylor’s catagory of policy disagreements. Bush’s policies were, sadly, within the norms of the Republican Party and the last 50 years of our politics.

    What I’m trying to get across is that policies are the usual standard by which we evaluate presidents, and I don’t think that’s fundamentally changing with Trump. Calling Trump the “worst president in history” is increasingly becoming a Democratic talking point. What I say is that he’s the most obviously unfit person ever to assume the American presidency. That seems self-evident, and it is something we knew before he even became president. Fitness has to do with basic ability, which isn’t the normal barometer by which we judge presidents. With many failed presidents–Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter come to mind–it’s easy to imagine them having potentially gone down in history as good presidents, especially if they’d been elected at a different time and had faced different situations. They made bad decisions that doomed their presidencies (and in Hoover’s and Carter’s cases were to some extent in the wrong place at the wrong time), but it wasn’t inevitable that they would have. In contrast, it’s virtually impossible to imagine Trump ever being a good president in any time or place. He’s fundamentally unfit for the job.

    The flip side of that, however, is that unfitness doesn’t automatically lead to the kind of extreme damage we associate with failed presidents. His incompetence has great potential to lead to catastrophe, but it isn’t inevitable, and there are certain types of catastrophes that are ironically less likely with a president like him. I have the sense that Trump would not have led us into the Iraq War–not because he has the sense to avoid a disastrous foreign-policy entanglement, but simply because he lacks the focus and finesse to launch such a project in the first place.




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  34. @Kylopod: I will readily allow that it is too soon to know exactly where Trump’s presidency should be ranked. And yes, part of that evaluation will be policy outcomes. I do think the assessment of damage to norms and institutions also will have to come into play.




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  35. @Barry:

    The problem is that we *are* in this situation.

    The GOP got a Supreme Court justice out of that. Big reward, no penalty. That is a lesson learned for them.

    There hasn’t been retaliation yet. This is my point.




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  36. An Interested Party says:

    There hasn’t been retaliation yet.

    Indeed…if the Dems take the Senate in the fall and a Supreme Court seat becomes vacant, can you imagine the pressure that will be put on Chuck Schumer and his caucus to do exactly what Mitch McConnell did? And how could anyone fault Schumer for doing exactly that…




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  37. teve tory says:

    I desperately hope the Dems win the Senate in 7 mos. If RBG, Breyer, or Kennedy is replaced by someone from the Federalist Society, it’s bye-bye legal abortion, worker’s rights, environmental laws…




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  38. teve tory says:

    In Prisoner’s Dilemma contests, the optimal strategy is called tit-for-tat. You act nice as the default. If the other team acts nice, you keep acting nice. If the other team betrays you once, you betray them once. Etc.

    Following that logic, if the Dems can block the next SCOTUS seat, they should, and then after that’s done, resume the norm.




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  39. Charon says:

    @teve tory:

    It’s not just SCOTUS, it’s the whole Federal judiciary. McConnell and Grassley created a slew of vacancies by slow-walking or not considering nominations, and Trump has been racing to fill them.

    Tit-for-tat would require shutting down judiciary appointments entirely, even that would not fully compensate.

    As for norm breaking, it isn’t just McConnell and Trump and Nunes etc., this latest with Sean Hannity-Michael Cohen shows it’s at Fox News too. I say you can include the Christian Right adoration for Trump under that rubric as well.




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