Thursday, August 17, 2017

Stop asking if this is a turning point for Trump

I keep seeing some version of the following claim:  Trump's response to Charlottesville will finally be the thing that does him in politically.  This is the second time in a few days that I have addressed this point, but it warrants another post because, no, this isn't different, and no, Donald Trump isn't going to suffer any additional consequences.

1)  Remember that overt racism is what brought Donald Trump into politics.  Donald Trump became the top Republican in the country by leading the "birther" movement, and birtherism was all about race.  In the 2012 American National Election Studies survey, we asked respondents where they thought Obama was born.  Guess what?  People's beliefs were closely connected to their responses to questions about things like whether or not the legacy of slavery still affects African-Americans today.  What does that have to do with where Obama was born?  Not a fucking thing!  It's just about race.  Like birtherism.  If you want to play around with the data yourself, here's a great site I use in class all the time.  (If you are one of my students, you probably have the URL memorized!)  Donald Trump got into politics as a racist demagogue.  Anyone who expects consequences now... have you been paying any attention?

2)  Trump's overt racism, even when it prompts expressions of scorn from other Republicans, never leads anywhere.  When he asserted that Judge Curiel couldn't oversee the fraud case against "Trump University" because he was a "Mexican," later amended to "Mexican-American," even Paul Ryan had to admit that it was "textbook" racism.  What happened?  What did Ryan or the rest of the party do?  Nothing.  Oh, and after claiming that he would never settle because only guilty people settle?  Trump settled the case against that bullshit "university."  Just in case you missed that detail...

3)  Pussygate.  Remember when pussygate was supposed to be the end of Trump?  Remember how everyone both condemned him and predicted his doom?  Yes, he had a hell of an assist from James Comey at the end there, but people actually voted for the guy who brags about committing sexual assault.

So, tell me again why this is different, and now, Trump has finally crossed a line?

There is.  No.  Line.

Trump's approval rating is down below 40%.  Gallup has him at 36% as of this morning.  This leads us to two questions.  How low can it go, and does it matter?

On the first question, without an economic collapse or major foreign policy disaster, not much lower.  He's down to his core supporters.  The people who still support him are the ones who are basically racist, misogynist, xenophobic... you know, the hardcore deplorables.  I can't believe I have to type this shit.  I'm a political science professor.  I used to be the guy who never took a public position.  Now, I'm publicly stating that if you support the President... well...  But seriously...  How hard is it to say that the nazis are the bad guys and that when they are involved, it's not a "many sides" kind of thing?!  Help me out here, Indy!

Thank you.  And it's a good thing they never made another movie after that one, right?  Right?!

Anyway, the basic question we need to keep in mind about Trump is as follows.  Trump has always been overtly racist.  Anyone who has ever supported Trump should be asked the following question:  Do you support Trump because he is a racist, or despite the fact that he is a racist?  If Trump's numbers are to go down further in the wake of this incident, it must be the case that Trump's remaining supporters include those who support him despite his racism.  What is the balance between those who cheer his racism and those who merely tolerate it?  That is hard to measure at this point.  I'm just guessing here, and I don't like guesswork, but at this point, I suspect that Trump is down to those who support him because of his racism, in which case his numbers won't go down because of this incident.

On the second question-- the consequences of low approval ratings-- well, that's more complicated.  While Samuel Kernell's Going Public is based on the argument that public approval is a crucial tool for moving public opinion, and thereby forcing Congress's hand lest they risk their own electoral fortunes, most presidential scholars see public approval as a lesser matter in terms of policy efficacy.  Congress right now basically doesn't give a shit what Trump thinks.  Scholars in the Neustadt tradition see professional reputation as being more important, and the only people in Congress who have a shred of respect for Trump are the mouth-breathers like Steve King, and this worthless sycophant...

The flip-side, though, is the question of whether or not Trump's approval ratings could get so low that congressional Republicans decide to stop protecting him.  Could Ryan or McConnell decide to start punishing him, somehow, for the shit he does?

That's a big, "NO," right there.  This was the topic of my post the other day.  Congressional Republicans just don't have that many options for imposing consequences on Trump, and the options they have, they aren't going to take.

So, here we are.  Trump is doing what he has always done.  His approval ratings are low, but probably can't go much lower without either an economic downturn or a foreign policy disaster, and congressional Republicans won't impose any consequences on him.

In other words, same old, same old...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Trump, Charlottesville and North Korea Part II: Self-immolation versus world-immolation

I'm going to start by saying, "I called it."  Yesterday, I posted this about how Trump getting distracted by Charlottesville would give the North Korea situation a chance to calm down.  And it did.  The North Koreans announced that they won't be shooting that missile at Guam after all.  Vox posted this after the North Koreans backed down, making much the same argument, but... I saw it coming before it happened, and posted before the fact.  So... yeah.  Keep reading this blog!  Profane and obscure, but basically right!  (Except when I'm wrong, but even then, I have cool music, right?)

Anywho, speaking of obscure, post hoc ergo propter hoc.  Latin for, "after this, therefore because of this."  It is one of the most important logical fallacies to understand because it is so tempting.  It is also one of the most common logical fallacies to plague the thinking of the great, unwashed masses.

That's not how causation works.  Time order is an important condition for causation, but just because A happened before B, that doesn't mean A caused B.  If you want to understand why this is so important, just think about those damned anti-vaxxers.  My kid got a vaccination, and then developed symptoms of autism.  Post hoc ergo propter hoc!  Of course, that vile fucking piece of shit, Andrew Wakefield had a lot to do with this.  He falsified some data, and published an article in Lancet, which they had to retract, but that still led to a lot of kids dying unnecessarily, and at the core of his bullshit was the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Don't fall prey to post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Trump warned of "fire and fury," and then talked about being "locked and loaded."  Then, just yesterday, North Korea announced that it wouldn't fire at Guam.  Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Trump quit talking about North Korea because he was distracted by Charlottesville and the criticism he was taking from the media.  North Korea then announced that it wouldn't fire at Guam.  Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

You see the problem.

Obviously, the first version will be more appealing to Trump because it will make him look like a "winner," and he can brag about being bigly, and oooh, look at how bigly his hands are!

Of course, yesterday morning, I explained that the distraction of Charlottesville would end the situation, before North Korea backed away from its missile threats.

In social science terms, how do we distinguish between these two stories?



Well, the first version has a problem in that it omits some intervening events, and I'm going to claim some credit for pointing out the sequence as it was happening.  I think that gives me a bit more credibility here, but that leads to the next point.  Watch the Trump administration's behavior!

Trump's impulse would normally be to brag, and try to rub Kim Jong Un's face in having backed down.  Why?  Because Trump treated the whole situation as a show of dominance.  However, Tillerson, Mattis, Kelly and the grown-ups probably look at it my way, and understand that if Trump goes back to taunting Kim Jong Un, tensions get ratcheted up again.  They need him to keep his fuckin' mouth shut about North Korea for a while.  As long as he stays distracted by Charlottesville, or anything else so that real negotiations can happen, they're happy.  Or, at least, less upset.  With Trump, it's all relative.  But, if Trump tries to do some dominance display and brag about "winning" with North Korea, he undercuts the process.

Yesterday, Trump decided to backtrack from his second Charlottesville statement.  He's going full racist again, and basically avoiding the subject of North Korea.  Wasn't Kelly supposed to try to impose some discipline here?

John Kelly is basically OK with this.  Would he rather Trump not talk like David Duke?  Yes, but that ain't gonna happen, so he'll settle for Trump just focusing on Charlottesville.  Why?  Because while this is a public relations disaster for Trump, it is better to de-escalate North Korea, even if the cost is another incident of Trump being obviously an idiot racist.  There's nothing new about Trump being a loud-mouthed racist.  That will blow over.  His party will issue their half-hearted condemnations, then Trump will beat them back into submission.  See my previous comments on the Mika Brzezinski incident.

And within a week or two, Trump will do something else outrageously stupid and vile, and this will be off the headlines.  Within a month, people will have forgotten about Trump's reaction to Charlottesville because Trump will have done so many stupid and vile things that this just fades into the din.  He's just Trump.  But, North Korea will have been resolved because Trump let himself get distracted.  He chose self-immolation rather than world-immolation.  Again, I say yay(?)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Charlottesville and North Korea

Donald Trump's first comment about Charlottesville was that despicable comment about "many sides," in which he refused to call out white supremacist terrorism for what it is.  He needed two days of prodding for that to happen.  We all know why, and now he's sulking about the negative press he has been getting over it, because as we know, press coverage is the only thing that truly matters to Trump.

But did you notice something?  While this has been happening, did you notice what Trump hasn't been doing?  He hasn't been talking about "fire and fury" with North Korea.

To be sure, the North Korea situation is not resolved.  That will take time and diplomacy.  However, diplomacy can't happen as long as Trump keeps trying to out-crazy the North Koreans.

North Korea understands the logic of Thomas Schelling.  I keep writing about The Strategy of Conflict, and they get it.  You need to act like you might just be crazy enough to carry out a threat that would be self-destructive to carry out.  But, the benefit comes from being sane and acting crazy.  I keep hammering this point in because it is critical, and it was central to the "Political science and craziness" series.  So, what North Korea always does is rattle its sabre, and act like just maybe, they might launch a crazy attack, leaving just enough doubt that other countries give them food, fuel, etc., because they are dirt poor, and since they have nukes, nobody sane would dare attack them.  We've seen this before.  Anyone with a brain knows how North Korean sabre-rattling plays out.  That's why Guam shouldn't really be worried.

The problem is Trump.  Is Trump smart enough to understand this?  No.  Trump can't think himself out of a paper bag.  He'll just yell at the paper bag, call it a "loser," and, "third rate."  Any bag with any self-respect is plastic!  You're a loser, bag!  And low energy!

Then, he'll sob in the corner about his inability to get out of the bag, and probably blame some Mexicans.  Or, maybe the "fake news" is only pretending that the bag exists.  He's not in the bag!  You're in the bag!  It's a big bag, reversed!  And everyone's in the bag but Trump!

OK, that metaphor went on longer than I expected.  Point being, Trump is... not smart.  The "fire and fury" stuff was not smart.  There is nothing to be gained by escalating rhetoric with North Korea.  They aren't going to fire a missile at Guam first.  Why?  Because Kim Jong Un doesn't want to be wiped off the map, and if he shot that missile, he'd be signing his own death warrant.

The question has been whether or not Trump was psyching himself up for a pre-emptive strike.

And now he's distracted!

I'm going to be blunt and crass about this because I'm me.  There is a silver lining to Charlottesville.  It has distracted Trump from North Korea.  The more he shifts his attention away from North Korea and towards how persecuted he feels by the media over his connections to the white supremacist movement (e.g. Bannon, Gorka) and his history of cozying up to racists, the more he, by necessity, shifts his limited cognitive capacity away from North Korea and lets the grown-ups handle that situation.

That's a good thing.  Comparatively.

Charlottesville was vile.  The KKK, neo-nazis and other white supremacists are feeling free to come out of the woodwork because they are emboldened by Donald Trump.  Just ask David Duke.  He's quite open about it.  More people are probably going to die.

At least Trump is distracted from North Korea, though.  This is how this world doesn't end.  Yay?

Tuesday music: If you only listen to American music, you just suck

Maintaining topicality has been harder with this series than with the other days.  So, here's something non-topical.  I don't know if I have used this fellow before for anything because I haven't consistently included artist names or titles in the text to make the blog searchable for music... because I'm an idiot.  I should change that.  (The searchable thing.   Making one's self not be an idiot is hard.  Just ask Trump!)  Teta, "Tsakorarake."  Country of origin: Madagascar.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Will THIS be Trump's undoing?

Trump did something stupid and despicable.  Everyone must condemn him.  Surely this will mean his political doom, right?

Lather, rinse, repeat.

After Trump's most recent incident that everyone needed to condemn (his misogynistic attacks on Mika Brzezinski), I posted this.  I stand by it, and it has significant relevance to Trump's response to Charlottesville.

The basic point of my earlier post was that unless congressional Republicans impose some consequences on Trump, he can continue to get away with anything.  What consequences could they impose?  I mean, in general, what could congressional Republicans do to Trump?

1)  Impeachment.  As I have explained before, many times, this will never happen, but it would be a consequence.

2)  25th Amendment.  In principle, Trump could be declared mentally unfit for office.  Another pipe dream.  Same reasons.  Note that I won't even bother spilling virtual ink on this.  Ain't gonna happen.

3)  Block Trump's policies, either by refusing to act legislatively, or by passing legislation to counteract his executive actions.  The problem with this approach is that Trump's policy agenda comports with the GOP's agenda in most areas.  The places where it doesn't, like trade, are areas where differences would occur anyway, so really, what's the difference?  Either the GOP would have to work against their own agenda, or do what they would do anyway.

4)  Whenever Trump acts like Trump, keep acting like a British cop...

So, options 1 and 2 won't happen.  Option 3 requires real policy sacrifice, and option 4, the option the GOP keeps choosing, is an old Robin Williams joke.

This is the basic problem, and I have to keep going back to good, old Thomas Schelling and The Strategy of Conflict.  Threats matter, and your threats are difficult to manage when carrying them out is self-destructive.  Option 3 is really the GOP's only choice once you take impeachment and the 25th Amendment off the table, which they have.  As long as the GOP decides that whatever policy they can get from Trump matters more than reigning him in, Trump can continue to get away with anything.  When you're President, they let you do that.

Monday morning blues: If you don't love blues, you hate America

This past Friday, I used Duke Ellington for the jazz series, but went on a tangent about Lonnie Johnson's presence on the recording.  Apropos of nothing, here's some Lonnie Johnson, recorded in 1930.

Um, who invented rock 'n roll?  Chuck Berry, maybe?  Little Richard would obviously say, "Little Richard."  Loudly.  I beg to differ.  The correct answer is Lonnie Johnson, in 1930.  Listen, and remember that this was 1930.  This was six years before Robert Johnson's first batch of Delta blues recordings.

Oh, who cares, right?  That's Delta blues.  Fine.  This was 13 years before Muddy Waters moved to Chicago.

Fine, Chicago ain't Memphis.  BB King, whose primary association was with Memphis, was five years old when this was recorded.  Linguistic conventions tell me to spell that out rather than type the Arabic numeral.  Oh, and people who moved to Memphis?  Elvis wouldn't be born for another five years.

I could go on about how early this was in blues history, but seriously.  1930.  Just listen, and pay attention to how musically prescient and influential Lonnie Johnson was.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Trump's reaction to white supremacist violence

When David Duke endorsed Donald Trump, Trump refused to disavow the endorsement.  When the Trump administration put out a Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, it conspicuously omitted any mention of jews.  I could go on, but there's no point.  Trump's statement on the Charlottesville white supremacist violence is perfectly in character.  He can't condemn, or even really acknowledge the existence of white supremacism.  Some data are in order here.

In the 2016 American National Election Studies survey, respondents were asked to put themselves on a 10-point scale for how sure they were about whether or not Obama is a muslim.  In my opinion, they should have used a 7-point scale, but nobody cares what I think.  (If you are reading this, you may have heard me rant on this topic anyway).  Anyway, 5.3% said they were "extremely sure" Obama was a muslim, 15.5% said they were "very sure," 10.7% were "moderately sure," and 5.0% "a little sure."  Another 3.9% said, "not sure at all," but leaned towards the notion that Obama was muslim.  Add that up and you've got 40.4%.

That's... roughly Trump's approval rating right now.  And that's not entirely a coincidence.  These aren't exactly the same people.  Some people who believed, incorrectly, that Obama was muslim voted for Clinton, and some who knew Obama to be christian voted for Trump, but the fact that the numbers are so close should at least grab your attention.  I'm just doing a Sunday morning blog post, but here's the dirty, little secret.  If you have taken a class from me, you have heard me beat the following point into your head:  party ID predicts everything.  Vote choice, entertainment preferences, breakfast cereal...  You name it.

But, if you have the statistical background, you can play around with the 2016 National Election Studies data here, even if you aren't on an academic terminal and can't download the data set from ICPSR.  Belief about Obama's religion has an interesting statistical relationship with a lot of stuff in 2016.  Short version:  Trump supporters really were deplorable, and Clinton probably low-balled the number.  I think we're gonna need a bigger basket.

This deserves a full post later, but I'm just doing a quick Sunday post in response to Charlottesville.

My main point, though, is that there is a reason that Trump isn't doing a more full-throated condemnation of the violence.  A lot of his supporters are, while not violent protesters, the kind of people who are far more likely to say that Obama is muslim, and then vote for the guy who proposes that we ban all muslims from entering the country, while encouraging that protesters at his rallies be violently ejected, promising to pay the legal bills of anyone arrested for carrying out his wishes.

Anyone claiming to be shocked at Trump's response is either a) stupid, b) not paying attention, or c) being disingenuous.