Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Losing even when we win

Now that Donald Trump is President, it's inevitable that we never-Trumpers (among which I am proud to identify myself) will be jeeringly asked by Trumpites to comment on every small thing Trump does that is right, or at least not wrong. The Mexico City policy, a pons asinorum of Republican Presidenthood for years, being just one.

That last sentence is all that you will see from me about that particular thing in this post, because my larger point concerns the fixation on "particular things" in policy without seeing the bigger picture.

I never opposed Trump for purely consequential reasons. I opposed him for reasons of principle. I won't endorse or vote for a man who is morally unfit for office, as he was and remains. If he now listens to some good advisers and does some things that support policy positions I also support, that doesn't change his moral unfitness. His fundamental character hasn't changed, as witness his childishly egocentric Twitter obsessions. This should go without saying. He's a disgrace and a loose cannon. As I have said to various friends, the Trump presidency is like having a nasty four-year-old as king. What you hope for, sadly, is that his regents and advisers will have enough control over him to a) prevent him from doing anything really disastrous, policy-wise and b) induce him to do some good things, policy-wise. Even if these hopes are realized, that doesn't change the fact that he's a nasty four-year-old. And absent a miracle of evident repentance and maturing, no, I won't be voting for him in four years. This is a matter of principle and the fitness of the individual for office.

Meanwhile, we are already seeing, again and again, the corruption of good people while attempting to defend his silliness, with Kellyanne Conway being a perfect case.

But here's another--a situation in which goodness loses no matter what happens. Trump went out and shot off his mouth to the effect that he (of course he said "we") has in hand a healthcare plan that will cover everybody and have lower deductibles. This is absolute baloney. There is no plan that will do that, and certainly the Republicans have no such plan.

Once he did that, he created a situation in which something will be lost no matter what happens. On the one hand, if he were to try to stick to what he said, he would refuse to sign Obamacare repeal if it didn't include a replacement that covers everybody and offers lower deductibles, and maybe free ponies too. That would obviously be pretty disastrous, at least if you think Obamacare should be repealed and that there are no free ponies. On the other hand, what looks like it's going to happen instead is that everybody is going to pretend that Trump never shot off his mouth and instead Trump is actually going to cooperate with Congress in repealing Obamacare, which will in fact not mean coverage for everybody or lower deductibles, much less free ponies. 

From a policy perspective, this is the outcome I favor (especially if they do enough deregulation at the same time so as not to collapse the insurance market by merely withdrawing the mandate on consumers while keeping mandates on the insurers), but what has been lost is truth. Representative Tom Price (proposed HHS secretary) and other Republicans are having to keep on talking about wide "access" to healthcare coverage rather than universal coverage. This was a possibility that anyone could have foreseen when Trump made his silly and ignorant remarks about "our plan"--namely, that he was just blathering as usual and that Republicans would then have to pretend that he was saying the same thing they are saying.

But shouldn't those of us who care about truth in discourse be sad about this? I certainly am. And there's something else I'm sad about: People who say that it doesn't matter that Trump said all that nonsense about how "we have a plan" to cover everybody when it was obvious that this was a falsehood. Well, yes, it matters. It matters for two reasons: First, it matters because it created embarrassment (at a minimum) for Congressmen who are trying to do something (from our perspective) good in policy--namely, repeal Obamacare. The President is supposed to work with his own party's Congressmen rather than creating uncertainty and chaos. But second, and perhaps more important, it matters because words have meaning and because Trump lied again, thereby making it difficult for good Congressmen to avoid lying themselves. After all, we don't expect them to tell the media, "Yeah, President Trump is an idiot. Of course we don't have a plan to cover everybody. Neither does he. But we think we have a good plan anyway, and we're virtually certain that he will sign it despite what he said. He's a pain, and of course he wasn't talking about what we're talking about, but we believe our plan will pass." Now, maybe they can get out of actually lying. I'm not saying that Rep. Price actually lied. He was asked about his goals and his policy proposals at the hearing and could answer truthfully about those. But the temptation is undeniably there--at least to make it sound like they and the President are on the same page, rather than his being a loose cannon whom they have to hope to control.

This kind of thing is going to go on for the next four years. It's inevitable with a President this ignorant, uncontrolled, inclined to over-promising, and loudmouthed. And what we who have and who value principle must not say is, "It doesn't matter."

But that's what I'm starting to hear, even from smart people: It's a moot point. It doesn't matter what he says; it only matters what he does.

Thus the concept of the importance of truth is further degraded, as is the dignity of the presidential office. The President becomes a policy puppet who lies over and over again and whose lies we brush off or laugh at as long as he doesn't actually prevent decent policy and/or even signs decent policy.

Yet it is in this context that we never-Trumpers are being jeeringly asked to admit that we were wrong.

No, we weren't wrong. We were right. Especially, we were right about the corruption of the right. We've seen it again and again in the campaign, most notably of course concerning Trump's wicked treatment of women and the excuses made and still being made. But we're still seeing it now. Every time he says some nonsense and a conservative says, "It doesn't really matter," that's another instance. 


Unknown said...

I agree that Trump's character is reprehensible, I agree with your ethical analysis. I dagree with your assessment of his understanding of politics.

I worked with and for developers and can tell you no developer as successful as DT is stupid.

To call him stupid shows a lack of understanding of the development process and in sense excuses his political actions as somebody who can't understand the natureof his decisions.

It's sloppy!

Lydia McGrew said...

Most of the time, I think he doesn't care. He has enough bare IQ points if he cared to apply them. I don't think there was any heavy, deep, strategic reason behind his blathering about the healthcare plan. He's just talkin'. He knows nobody is going to hold him accountable. Maybe a few people will like what he said, and he's not constrained by it anyway. It's not that he couldn't understand the nature of his decisions but more that he doesn't give a damn. "Ignorant" I absolutely stand by. And willfully so. He can't be bothered to work with Congress or to find out why or whether "covering everybody" is possible. He kinda likes the idea of single payer and has indicated as much on more than one occasion. But he isn't bothering to *inform* himself about the ins and outs of Obamacare and what the Republicans are up to and what the details will need to be of dismantling it without collapsing the insurance market. In quite a number of cases he doesn't bother to inform himself. Thus he is, and remains, *vastly* ignorant on many subjects that a President either shouldn't be ignorant of or, at least, shouldn't be pretending knowledge of if he is ignorant of them. But he doesn't care. Not because he's stupid in the sense of "low IQ" but because he's not in this for the purposes of making well-informed, careful, wise policy decisions.

Saints and Sceptics said...

Perhaps we can safely put it this way: the man is a fool.
And it is infinitely more dangerous to be foolish than unintelligent.


Saints and Sceptics said...

Perhaps we can safely put it this way: the man is a fool.
And it is infinitely more dangerous to be foolish than unintelligent.


Lydia McGrew said...

And an arrogant fool as well. In the Proverbs sense.

Saints and Sceptics said...

It is worrying that the arrogant fool took to Twitter to defend Milo today.
To be fair, I suppose Trump would claim he was defending free speech. And the behaviour of some of the "protesters" was sinister and barbaric.
But Trump does seem to demonstrate a peculiar loyalty to nihilistic amoral pseudo-intellectual popularists like Milo.

Lydia McGrew said...

Milo calls him "Daddy." (I'm not making that up.) And Milo has been a vocal supporter of Trump. Presumably whatever he tweeted was a combo. of paybacks for Milo's loyalty and taking the golden opportunity to point out the despicable violence by the left.

Tony said...

much less free ponies.

Thank goodness we aren't going to be getting those free ponies. I don't know what I would say to my young daughters if I had to tell them we were going to pass up the "free ponies" they were giving away.

Seriously, Trump's mouth doesn't know when to take a break. Whether he is smart or not (and he almost certainly is smart in the IQ sense) doesn't matter, he has no desire to restrain himself to saying things that he has bothered to think through. And so far, he has had no sufficient negative incentives applied to discover a reason to restrain himself. One may presume that, because "what goes around comes around", he will in fact get sufficient negatives in lost court battles and bills not passed and (and lost mid-terms elections), and so on, that any normal person would discover in them reasons to think twice before speaking once. But with a man of this character, 70 years old and still puerile in terms of self-control, I doubt it. Especially because there is a strong incentive to find in the recent election outcome "justification" for his behavior, if you want to find it: all sorts of toadies can flatter him by suggesting that being thoughtless and uncontrolled is exactly what "works" for him.

My hope is that he manages to do permanent damage to certain evils, like PC control of media and universities and upper echelons of bureaucracy, before the whole thing comes unraveled and the wheels come off. But I can't expect it - that would require believing that there is some deeper wisdom underlying his madness, and it would be madness to think so.