Trump the pundit handicaps 2020 Democratic contenders
By ZEKE MILLER
Monday, February 18
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kamala Harris had the best campaign roll-out. Amy Klobuchar’s snowy debut showed grit. Elizabeth Warren’s opening campaign video was a bit odd. Take it from an unlikely armchair pundit sizing up the 2020 Democratic field: President Donald Trump.
In tweets, public remarks and private conversations, Trump is making clear he is closely following the campaign to challenge him on the ballot. Facing no serious primary opponent of his own — at least so far — Trump is establishing himself as an in-their-face observer of the Democratic Party’s nominating process — and no will be surprised to find that he’s not being coy about weighing in.
Presidents traditionally ignore their potential opponents as long as possible to maintain their status as an incumbent floating above the contenders who are auditioning for a job they already inhabit.
Not Trump. He’s eager to shape the debate, sow discord and help position himself for the general election. It’s just one more norm to shatter, and a risky bet that his acerbic politics will work to his advantage once again.
This is the president whose 240-character blasts and penchant for insults made mincemeat of his 2016 Republican rivals. And Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, said the president aims to use Twitter again this time to “define his potential opponent and impact the Democrat primary debate.”
But often Trump’s commentary reflects a peculiar sense of disengagement from the events of the day, as though he were a panelist on the cable news shows he records and watches, rather than their prime subject of discussion. He puts the armchair in armchair punditry. In an interview with The New York Times, Trump assessed Harris’ campaign like a talk show regular, declaring her opening moves as having a “better crowd, better enthusiasm” than the other Democrats.
Crowd size was also at play last week when he held a rally in El Paso, Texas, that was countered a few blocks away by one led by former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a potential 2020 candidate.
“So we have let’s say 35,000 people tonight, and he has 200 people, 300 people,” Trump observed, wildly exaggerating both numbers. “Not too good. In fact, what I would do is, I would say, that may be the end of his presidential bid.”
When Sen. Klobuchar announced her candidacy on a frigid day in her home state of Minnesota, Trump anointed her with a nickname of sorts, and a benign one at that: “By the end of her speech she looked like a Snowman(woman)!”
Inside the West Wing and in conversations with outside allies, Trump has been workshopping other attempts to imprint his new adversaries with lasting labels, according to two people on whom the president has tested out the nicknames. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations with the president. He is also testing out lines of attack in public rallies, exploring vulnerabilities he could use against them should they advance to the general election.
No candidate has drawn more commentary and criticism from Trump than Sen. Warren, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat. Warren’s past claims of Native American heritage prompted Trump to brand her “Pocahontas” and he has shown no qualms about deploying racially charged barbs harking back to some of the nation’s darkest abuses.
Wading into a Twitter frenzy over an Instagram video Warren posted after she announced her exploratory committee while sharing a beer with her husband at their kitchen table, Trump jeered: “Best line in the Elizabeth Warren beer catastrophe is, to her husband, ‘Thank you for being here. I’m glad you’re here’ It’s their house, he’s supposed to be there!”
“If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash!” Trump tweeted.
Even in the midst of the partial government shutdown, those tweets mocking Warren were widely joked about by White House staff weary from the protracted closure, according to one aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations. The person said the president repeatedly ridiculed Warren’s video in private conversations with aides and outside advisers.
Attention from Trump can drive up fundraising and elevate a candidate above a crowded field. But responding to attacks also distracts from a candidate’s message.
Trump’s rivals in the 2016 GOP primary learned that lesson as he bedeviled them with name-calling. Trump goaded Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida into making a thinly veiled insult of his manhood that quickly backfired, and weeks later he sucked Texas Sen. Ted Cruz into a brutal back-and-forth about an insult he had leveled at Cruz’s wife.
“The president has an ability to use social media to define his opponents and influence the primary debate in a way no sitting president before him has,” said former White House spokesman Raj Shah. “I expect him to take full advantage.”
On Friday, hours after declaring a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump tweeted a video made by a supporter that featured the president’s Democratic critics in Congress. Harris, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker were shown sitting dourly during the State of the Union address, set to the R.E.M. ballad “Everybody Hurts.”
The mocking video may have been taken down later in the day after a copyright complaint by the band, and re-cut using Trump-supporter Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” But the message to Trump’s would-be 2020 rivals, and people girding for another wild presidential cycle, remained anchored to the lyrics of that R.E.M. song: “Hold on.”
Must the president be a moral leader?
February 15, 2019
Author: Michael Blake, Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Governance, University of Washington
Disclosure statement: Michael Blake receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Partners: University of Washington provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The best presidents – including figures such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington – are celebrated not only as good leaders, but as good men. They embody not simply political skill, but personal virtue.
Why, though, should anyone expect a president to demonstrate that sort of virtue? If someone is good at the difficult job of political leadership, must they demonstrate exceptional moral character as well?
Character and democracy
Voters disagree about the extent to which the president must demonstrate moral leadership. Scholars who study political ethics disagree as well.
Those who insist that the president must be virtuous often begin with the thought that a person in that office will face new and unanticipated problems during his or her term. A president whose decision-making is informed by a consistent character, will, in the face of new challenges, rely upon the lessons that have built that character.
As scholar James David Barber wrote, the best way to understand a president’s likely responses to a crisis is to understand what that president values most highly.
Abraham Lincoln, for instance, consistently and publicly referred to the same set of moral values throughout his life – values centered on a deep, while imperfect, belief in the moral equality of people. These principles provided him with guidance throughout the horrors of the Civil War.
A president whose decisions are not grounded in the right sort of ethical values may be less well-equipped to respond well – and, more importantly, might be frighteningly unpredictable in his or her responses.
Other political ethicists have emphasized the ways in which democracies can fall apart in the absence of personal virtue. Conservative thinkers, in particular, have argued that political institutions can only function when all those who participate within them are capable of compromise and of self-government. Rules, to put it simply, don’t work unless people governed by those rules care about them and voluntarily choose to abide by them.
If this is true of citizens, it is even more true of the president, whose opportunities to damage the system through unprincipled actions are so much greater.
Vice and efficiency
These arguments have been met with powerful objections. Political philosophers – including, most prominently, Niccolò Machiavelli – have argued that the nature of political life requires a willingness to demonstrate habits of character that would ordinarily be understood as vices. The good leader, insisted Machiavelli, is morally right to do what is usually taken as wrong. He or she must be cruel, deceptive and often violent.
The philosopher Arthur Applbaum refers to this as role morality. What a person is right to do, argues Applbaum, often depends upon the job that person is doing. The good lawyer, for instance, may have to bully, browbeat or humiliate hostile witnesses. That is what a zealous defense might require. Machiavelli notes simply that, in a hostile and brutal world, political leaders might have similar reasons to do what is usually forbidden.
Modern philosophers such as Michael Walzer have continued this line of reasoning. If the world is imperfect, and requires a politician to lie, cheat or otherwise do wrong in the name of doing good, then there is sometimes a moral reason for the politician to do that wrong.
George Washington, for example, was quite happy to engage in deception, if that deception would help protect the United States. He consistently sought to deceive his adversaries about his intentions and his resources – and, importantly, sought to deceive his own subordinates, reasoning that a lie must be believed at home for it to be useful abroad.
A president who refused to engage in this sort of deception, argues Walzer, would be choosing to keep his or her conscience clear, instead of providing some genuine and concrete help to others. Walzer’s conclusion is that a good political agent must often refuse to be a good person. It is only by sometimes doing what is ordinarily wrong, that the politician can make the world better for all.
Virtue, vice and the presidency
These ideas have, of course, been a part of many long-standing debates about presidential morality. Henry Kissinger, for instance, defended the Nixon administration’s decision to seek the firing of the special prosecutor, based upon the need for that administration to present itself to the Soviet Union as both powerful and unified.
It was not necessary, Kissinger wrote later, that the American leadership displayed personal virtue. It was enough that their decisions enabled a society in which the American people were capable of demonstrating that virtue.
More recently, many evangelical supporters of President Trump have used the Biblical story of Cyrus the Great, an ancient Persian king, to explain their continued support for the president. Although Cyrus was not himself Jewish, he chose to free the Jews held as slaves in Babylon. Evangelical leader Mike Evans noted that that Cyrus, like Donald Trump, was an “imperfect vessel,” whose decisions nevertheless made it possible for others to live as God wished them to.
So, too, some evangelicals argue that President Trump’s own seeming lapses of virtue might not disqualify him from the presidency – so long as his decisions enable others to lead lives exemplifying the virtues he does not always show himself.
These debates – between those who seek a president who models ethical virtue, and those who would regard that desire as misguided at best – are likely to continue.
One thing that must be acknowledged, however, is that even the best defenses of presidential vice cannot be taken to excuse all forms of moral failure.
Machiavelli, and those who follow him, can at most be used to defend a president whose vices are effectively able to create a more ethical world for others. Not all sorts of wrongdoing, though, can plausibly be thought to have these effects.
Some vices, such as an outsized confidence, or the will to use violence in the name of justice, may be defended with reference to the ideas of Machiavelli or Walzer.
Other ethical failings, however – such as a vindictive desire to punish perceived enemies – often seem less likely to lead to good results. This sort of failure, however, appears to be common among those who have sought the presidency. It is a failure, moreover, that does not depend upon party affiliation.
In recent years, for example, both Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon took particular delight in humiliating and degrading their political adversaries. Both, perhaps, might have been better leaders, had they been more reflective about when and how to wrong.
In presidential politics, all parties might at least agree on this much: If there is sometimes a reason to seek an ethically flawed president, it does not follow that all ethical flaws are equally worth defending.
Why Protest Trump When We Can Impeach Him?
By Matthew Johnson
While I commend efforts to turn Presidents’ Day into a display of outrage over the non-emergency declaration rather than a celebration of non-existent presidential grandeur, I would much rather impeach Trump than protest him.
I was on the fence on the merits of pushing impeachment before the long-awaited arrival of the Mueller report, but the cogent essay published in The Atlantic thoroughly convinced me that beginning the impeachment process immediately is the way to go. I don’t see the utility in waiting if there is no guarantee the public will ever see Mueller’s findings—thus averting further outrage that could force the hand of Senate Republicans. Moreover, the argument that the Democrats shouldn’t try to impeach because they would lose is not only contrary to the goal of attempting to enforce the rule of law but is also cowardly. One could easily reduce this argument to if you can’t win, then don’t play. This lose-first mentality has been a fixture of the Democratic strategy for far too long. The Democratic party must move beyond compromise with an uncompromising opponent if it wants to win in 2019, 2020, and beyond.
Well-intentioned friends of mine have brought up the point that even if Trump is removed from office, “Commander” Mike Pence would take his place. And Mike Pence is just as evil but far more boring and, therefore, able to conduct his machinations outside public scrutiny—and more effectively. It’s a clever argument, but I don’t buy it for two reasons: the first is that Trump enjoys far more grassroots support than Pence (for the aforementioned reason that watching Pence speak, or do anything, is worse than—to borrow Colbert’s word play—watching paint lie), and the second is that the downfall of Trump would undoubtedly mire an accidental Pence presidency into an inability to effectively pursue the Trump/Pence agenda. We should recall that former President Ford has already gone down in the dustbin of history as a less-than-one-term president who pardoned Nixon and did little else. Pence would likely follow suit.
Trump ought to be impeached not because most Americans dislike him but because the Constitution demands it. You can have a constitutional government predicated on rule of law and separation of powers—or you can have an autocracy. But you can’t have both.
Matt Johnson, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is co-author of Trumpism.
Australia police say they didn’t know Bahraini was a refugee
By ROD McGUIRK
Monday, February 18
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian Federal Police did not know a Bahraini soccer player was a refugee who feared persecution in his homeland when the agency alerted Bahrain and Thailand that he was on a flight bound for Bangkok, Australian officials said Monday.
Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram told a Senate committee he blamed human error within his own agency for a failure to email to police Hakeem al-Araibi’s refugee status in time. But Outram would not concede under questioning by senators that the 25-year-old former Bahrain national soccer team player would not have been arrested in Bangkok on Nov. 27 without the Australian tip-off.
“I apologize for the error that occurred within the ABF, but I can’t say, nor can I accept, that that error necessarily led to his detention in Thailand that would have occurred anyway,” Outram said.
Police Deputy Commissioner Ramzi Jabbour told the committee Bahrain and Thailand were alerted by police almost six hours before al-Araibi landed after a nine-hour flight from Melbourne on his honeymoon.
The bungle drew the Australian government, international soccer bodies and human rights advocates into a top-level dispute with the Thai and Bahrain governments to gain al-Araibi’s freedom. He was detained at the airport and was held 76 days under threat of extradition to Bahrain before he was released last week and returned to Melbourne.
The rules of international policing organization Interpol prevent a Red Notice from being issued for an acknowledged refugee to be sent back to the country from which he or she fled persecution.
Australian officials face days of questioning by a Senate committee this week to determine how the bungle arose.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin told the committee that police did not know that al-Araibi was a refugee and did not have access to his visa status when Bahrain applied for a Red Notice to Australia’s Interpol bureau on Nov. 9.
The Australian Border Force did not advise Australian police that al-Araibi was a refugee until a day after he was detained in Thailand, Colvin said.
Interpol subsequently withdrew the Red Notice, but Bahrain did not drop its bid to extradite al-Araibi until last week.
Jabbour said Bahrain issued the Red Notice on the same day Thailand issued al-Araibi a tourist visa.
“I cannot comment as to what was the trigger” of the Bahrain Red Notice, Jabbour said.
On whether Thailand knew before Australia’s notification that al-Araibi was coming, Jabbour said, “We didn’t get a response either way whether this came as news to them.”
Thailand said in a statement two weeks ago, “We would not have become involved in the issue had we not received the Red Notice alert from the Australian Interpol and the subsequent formal request by Bahrain for his arrest and extradition.”
Australian law does not allow for al-Araibi’s arrest in Australia under a Bahrain Red Notice and warrant.
Bahrain had wanted al-Araibi to serve a 10-year prison sentence for an arson attack that damaged a police station. The former Bahrain national soccer team player has denied those charges, which he was convicted of in absentia, and says the case is politically motivated.
He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain. Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.
Al-Araibi says he fled Bahrain because of political repression and that he fears torture if he returns.