Saturday, February 25, 2017

Editorial: Trump: Evil or Incompetent?

Supporters of Donald Trump object to comparisons of the so-called President of the United States with Adolph Hitler, but Trump does appear to have taken a page or two from Hitler’s playbook as he seeks to exert power and undermine the press’s role as a check on his demagoguery. Trump’s frequent dismissal of the mainstream press as “fake news” and the new charge, “enemy of the American people,” is reminiscent of the Nazi Party’s use of “L├╝genpresse” (lying press) to defame the anti-Hitler press in Germany in the 1930s, claiming they were opposing the “will of the people” — and some Trump supporters actually shouted “L├╝genpresse” at the journalists traveling with Trump during the campaign in October.

In an article for the Los Angeles Review of Books (Feb. 5), Hitler biographer Ron Rosenbaum, who wrote Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, said that during the campaign he declined requests to draw comparison’s between Hitler and Trump. “While Trump’s crusade had at times been malign, as had his vociferous supporters, he and they did not seem bent on genocide,” Rosenbaum wrote, but after the election things changed. “Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German.” The playbook, he noted, is Mein Kampf, and “Hitler’s method was to lie until he got what he wanted, by which point it was too late.”

“There is, of course, no comparison with Trump in terms of scale,” Rosenbaum wrote. “His biggest policy decisions so far have been to name reprehensible figures to various cabinet posts and to enact dreadful executive orders. But this, too, is a form of destruction. While marchers and the courts have put up a fight after the Muslim ban, each new act, each new lie, accepted by default, seems less outrageous. Let’s call it what it is: defining mendacity down.”

We hope we’re not alarmist in comparing Trump to Hitler. Maybe Benito Mussolini is a better model for Trump’s ambitions.

There also is the argument that his administration isn’t competent enough to work the levers of power. Trump recklessly imposed a ban on entry into the United States of travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, including those who had visas or held green cards as permanent residents of the US, without consulting professionals at the departments of State, Homeland Security or Justice. He fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she said she wouldn’t defend the travel ban because she was not convinced it was lawful. (Trump got someone else to handle the appeal, but the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals panel apparently agreed with Yates.)

Then Trump let retired Gen. Michael Flynn remain as national security adviser for two weeks after acting AG Yates had warned the White House that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the US. Flynn apparently was recorded discussing with the ambassador the lifting of sanctions against Russia, while Flynn was still a private citizen, which would be a violation of federal law. Trump only took action to oust Flynn after reports of the FBI’s investigation of Flynn were leaked to the Washington Post — and Trump and other White House officials later blamed the leakers more than Flynn.

Trump’s performance at his 77-minute press conference on Feb. 16 was remarkable for his hostility to the press as well as what has been his reckless disregard, if not outright contempt, for the truth.

The Grifter in Chief wants his supporters to believe they can’t trust anything they read in mainstream newspapers or TV, but reputable newspapers and TV news programs admit their errors. Trump rarely acknowledges his misstatements, even after they are pointed out. And there are plenty. Of 370 Trump statements examined by PolitiFact, the independent fact checker run by the Tampa Bay Times , it found that only 4% were true and 12% were mostly true, while 50% were rated either “false (33%) or “Pants on Fire” lies (17%). Trump was the biggest liar among presidential candidates from either party in the past election cycle.

Trump claimed that a new Rasmussen poll showed his approval rating at 55% and going up, but other polls show Trump with significantly lower approval ratings, such as Gallup (40%) and Pew Research Center (39%). “Trump’s overall job approval is much lower than those of prior presidents in their first weeks in office,” Pew said. “Nearly half (46%) strongly disapprove of his job performance, while 29% strongly approve.”

Trump dismissed those findings, tweeting, “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.”

So the good news is that less than 40% of Americans may be falling for Trump’s con. The bad news is that 26.7% of eligible voters can swing an election, as happened on Nov. 8, because only 60.2% of the voting-eligible population actually cast a ballot. And Trump supporters appear to be happy with his job performance so far, as a CNN/ORC poll released Feb. 7 showed 90% support among Republicans. The same poll showed his job approval was 44% overall, and 53% of the general public disapproved of the way Trump is handling his job.

Trump isn’t helped by gaffes such as occurred during a Feb. 18 rally in Melbourne, Fla. when he referred to a supposed tragedy in Sweden. “We’ve got to keep our country safe,” he told his supporters. “You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?”

Swedes were baffled. Nothing particularly bad happened on Feb. 17 and there were no terrorist attacks in the recent past. “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” Carl Bildt, a former prime minister and foreign minister, wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday, Feb. 19, Trump offered his own clarification, writing on Twitter, “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”

In that story, Fox News host Tucker Carlson interviewed Ami Horowitz, a filmmaker who asserts that migrants in Sweden have been associated with a crime wave. “Sweden had its first terrorist Islamic attack not that long ago, so they’re now getting a taste of what we’ve been seeing across Europe already,” Horowitz said.

It was not clear what Horowitz was referring to, but the New York Times noted that in 2010, a suicide bomber struck central Stockholm, injuring two people. The bomber was an Iraqi-born Swede who had developed an affinity for Al Qaeda. But that attack occurred long before the current wave of migrants to Sweden.

Part of the problem may be that Trump doesn’t like to read or sit still for intelligence briefings; he reportedly gets most of his information from watching cable TV news, particularly Fox News and Morning Joe on MSNBC. So he is one of those Fox News viewers who are more likely to be misinformed about public policy issues than other news consumers, as several studies have found.

In the most recent such study, in May 2012, Farleigh Dickinson University, in its PublicMind survey of 1,185 nationwide respondents, found that someone who watched only Fox News would be less informed on domestic issues than all other news consumers, including those who didn’t watch any news broadcasts. On international questions, Fox News viewers were also least informed, behind MSNBC and people who didn’t watch broadcast news.

But Trump apparently still trusts Fox News more than the Central Intelligence Agency. Maybe he’s modeling Rufus T. Firefly.

Democrats and Republican congressional leaders should set up an independent commission to find out what communications occurred between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s financial dealings in Russia and other nations amount to a conflict of interest. Republicans who don’t stand up to Trump now will end up handcuffed to him in the next election. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2017

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