Hillary's loss to Trump has many fathers, but one rarely mentioned is the professional campaign staff that she assembled. I have occasionally been around such people, and from those experiences have formed a rather dour view of campaign professionals.They are guns for hire, little else. First and foremost, being a campaign professional is a business, not a calling, and consequently the prime goal of campaign professionals is maximizing their earnings. Secondarily, they want to be known. Thirdly, they want to be respected. And lastly they want their candidate to win, partly to gain respect for themselves, partly in the hope of gaining a lucrative position for themselves, and partly because winning is the reward for their work.  For true campaign professionals, the quality of the candidates and positions that they promote plays little role.

I suspect, therefore, that the bad campaign by Clinton was not entirely her fault. A campaign is like a business startup. It needs a leader with clear and knowledgeable ideas of what to do. That leader may be the candidate, like Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama, or Donald Trump, or it may the campaign manager. Hillary, who plainly admitted that she's a bad campaigner (and perhaps, like Gore, mistakenly tried to distance herself from the one terrific campaigner who was totally on her side, Mr. Clinton), assembled and depended on a huge and well-credentialed campaign team, fully equipped with all the most modern paraphernalia.

But plenty of bad campaigners have gotten elected when backed by really good managers, people who were not just political professionals but who also had a personal commitment to the candidate and the candidate's political goals. Look at the genial but clueless GW Bush with Karl Rove; Warren Harding with Harry Daugherty; Silent Calvin Coolidge with Will Hays, or George HW Bush with Lee Atwater. They were all themselves unappealing campaigners, but their smart and committed campaign managers put them in the White House. Hillary's staff of hired guns served her very badly--as did the staffs of other losing Democratic candidates So let the Dems either nominate great campaigners, or find committed managers who know how to run a campaign.


A NY Times Best Comment of the Week worth Seeing

I have been accused of excessive optimism because I focus on possible reasons for hope in the new Administration. But the below post from the Times does state the facts as they now appear:

Let’s see, so far we have a guy from Alabama dedicated to upholding the fine Southern tradition of voting prevention heading up the Justice Department, an alleged reincarnation of Patton affectionately known as “Mad Dog” for defense secretary, a general who wants to expand the Al Qaeda terrorist training camp in Guantánamo for Homeland Security, a conspiracy theorist as national security adviser, a fast-food billionaire who opposes health care benefits and better wages as labor secretary, a guy with a plan to dismantle health care access as Health and Human Services, a neurosurgeon with zero leadership experience for Housing, a billionaire who wants to divert funds from public schools for Education, a climate-change denier from fracking earthquake country for the Environmental Protection Agency, an interior secretary who wants to sell off public lands and half of the top management of Goldman Sachs for the rest.
What could go wrong?
— Look Ahead in Washington, reacting to an op-ed by Frank Bruni about Donald Trump’s search for a secretary of state. 
This comment received more than 1,800 reader recommendations.


Tanya Azarchs: Another Point of View

Tanya, a friend of Mark's (at least until this post), sent the following interesting comment:

What we have just witnessed is really a landslide of a victory of populism that started with Bernie and ended with Trump.  Let me define populism as a political stance that rides into power on a wave if promises that only wishful thinking can bring rational people to accept as believable and not leading to disaster down the road.  It manipulates people, energizing them with fear, and offering enticing promises that awaken their greed.  I might smile tolerantly and say let’s let the experiment go on, if it weren’t that the populist fanfare cloaks a radical revolution that is unprecedented in US history.  In the back halls of power, there are those that are champing at the bit to institute a vision of an America that hearkens back to the debates between Jefferson and Hamilton/Washington at the beginning of this country on what should be the role of the federal government.  That debate was not present during the election which was fought on the issues that seemed more important to voters:  whether Hillary mishandled her emails and whether Donald groped women.  The important issue of how we should be governed, and what is the role of government, which is about to undergo a radical transformation, was not mentioned. The transformation is of such a magnitude that if it had been a leftist agenda, there would be calls for a crackdown on subversive activities. The will result in a massive dissolution of federal government programs other than defense.  Some of those may be taken up by the states, but that will take time. And not all states with have the wherewithal to leap into the breach.
Under the battlecry of “drain the swamp,” the powers of agencies involved in social welfare—Medicare and other healthcare, Social Security, education and the EPA—will be curtailed and the benefits they afford will be sharply decreased.  Privatization and voucher schemes sound efficient, but the amounts proposed for vouchers would not begin to pay for private programs equivalent to the government programs.  Civil liberties will also increasingly be thrown back to the states to determine.  Why not, you might say.  But empirically, the impetus for advancing civil rights and social reform has not come from the states, let alone the free market; they have had to be dragged forward by federal mandates on such things as the right of all citizens to vote, to receive an adequate education, to have employment protection, to be free of discrimination, to have a safety net in times of misfortune, to be secure in retirement—and the list goes on.  All these are the hallmarks of a civilized, advanced economy. 
The radicals in the Republican party are romantics, hankering for a simpler time when society did well (they don’t read Dickens) without a “nanny state”.  We need to have a dialogue on just how much individual responsibility we can expect in a world that is too complex for too many people, and headed to even greater complexity when robots will do all the work.  It will not be sufficient to say that those left behind are just lazy; structural unemployment is expanding and will need to be recognized as something neither markets nor incentives can solve. 
Already the perception of inequality of opportunity is expressing itself in anger, and demands for radical change.  Social unrest can become serious if Trump’s proposed changes do not address the causes of that anger.  However, his changes are not designed to help the structurally unemployed or underemployed (rather the reverse), so the prognosis is not good.  Mercantilist policies will not bring jobs back to the US—certainly they will hurt the high-skilled jobs market that exports services like finance, and do not recognize that low skilled jobs fell prey to automation and breakup of unions rather than globalization. Other policies will attack the very social and educational programs that that could help provide a safety net or a path to social mobility.  The tax cuts will disproportionally help the wealthy and corporations.  The best one could say is that the cuts might unleash a wave of investment that will benefit all.  But investment does not take place until an increase in demand is identified. While the market is obviously focusing on the fiscal stimulus that may come, it is discounting the potential for a severe impact from a high dollar and potential trade wars.  If the positive forces do not outweigh the negative, the economic revolution may well produce a social revolution.  Austria of the late 30’s comes to mind.


Thoughts On Keith's "Man In A Cage" Thesis

               I can't tell with any certainty whether Keith is making a serious case here (American Counterpoint 12/14/16) or if he's being facetious, as is his wont at times. However,  for the sake of argument I'm going to take the bait and respond.
The Power Of Crazy

               The point would be, if I'm getting it right, that international adversaries might approach Donald Trump in something of the way, say, that urban pedestrians will typically cross the street to avoid confrontation with a ranting schizophrenic.   This is an interesting idea and reminds me a of an argument that a friend of mine used to make about the advantage George W. Bush's reputation for crazy unpredictability gave him in the Middle East.  My friend, who was a Bush supporter,  believed that enemies would bend over backwards not to cross Bush,  out of fear of a disproportionate response
               Thinking about the array of potential current enemies that Keith mentions, I think that Trump's unpredictability could indeed possibly give him an edge in dealing with someone like Vladimir Putin, who is (a) rational (b) given to aggressive and convoluted strategies and (c) playing from a relatively weak position. Putin values predictability because it gives him the handle he needs to manipulate and outmaneuver stronger opponents. Putin achieved his victory in the Crimea, for example, because he knew with a high degree of confidence that the Western leaders, including President Obama, were bluffing in their campaign to restrain him and would never intervene militarily to block annexation. That was predictable.  Locking horns with Mr. Trump in similar circumstances, the rational Putin  would not be so sure and might thus be inclined more towards self-restraint.
When Crazy Becomes Reckless

               Keith's argument works less well vis-a-vis rogue states, which tend by definition to be irrational.  Kim Jong Un, for example,   would probably love nothing better than an excuse for violent confrontation of the type Trump might be apt to provide, even if it risked Kim's own self-destruction. To continue the analogy, there's nothing more dangerous and explosive, as all New Yorkers know,  than two angry schizophrenics on a City street suddenly up in one another's  faces. They may have nothing to gain, but usually nothing much to lose either. America has plenty to lose and never wants to be in the position of becoming one of those schizophrenics.
               Keith's thesis  doesn't work so well vis-a-vis China either. China is the ultimate long-range player on the world stage today, and as such cannot be easily bullied or bluffed. China also values predictably, but for reasons different from those motivating Mr. Putin. China's carefully assertive posture in the world is based on its view that it has time as an ally, and that the controlled and steady expansion of its power will eventually force a rational United States to come to terms peacefully with the new geopolitical balance.  Such, in my own opinion, is probably in America's long-range interest as well.  However, any sudden lurches towards American revanchism might prompt China to re-evaluate and lock us onto a one-way path to a place none of us ever want to see.

               China has always been particularly touchy on the subject of Taiwan, and many years of bi-partisan American foreign policy have forged a shaky but seemingly viable modus vivendi  with China on this issue. However, while not even yet in office, Trump managed to blunder onto this fraught territory on December 2 when he spoke privately by phone with the President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan. He didn't initiate the call, only received it, but in the tortured world of diplomatic niceties, this was apparently an explosive faux pas. It's not clear whether Trump didn't know he was violating protocol, or if he knew and didn't care.  Either way, the incident would appear to signal the beginning of a dangerous new era in our relations with our most important rival in the world.

               Given that Trump expended large chunks of his campaign rhetoric bashing China for "stealing" American jobs, the Chinese no doubt went to work on a strategic re-grounding for themselves the moment they realized Trump had won the U.S. election. And it's my guess that they set about this not so much from a defensive posture either, but rather with the idea of capitalizing on new opportunities likely to come their way now as the result of blunders to which the impulsive Mr. Trump will be prone. All of us should be watching for what their next moves are going to be in the treacherous chess game now underway in the South China Sea and how a newly-inaugurated President Trump responds.
The Man In The Cage Grows Small

               Keith's "man in the cage" metaphor pictured an indomitable litigator whose argumentative prowess allowed him to steamroller over any lawyer daring to take the opposing side. This picture is no doubt consistent with Donald Trump's self-image as the grand "Master of the Deal" or the tough-guy boss firing losers on his reality TV show. The world, however, is not a courtroom or a business.  It's certainly not a TV show. The Man In The Cage quickly loses his power once he finds himself outside the controlled environment he knows.  Thrown out into the world at large, he confronts new problems without any enforceable legal code to guide him, and really without any rules at all other than ad-hoc protocols that change before he has time to consider them fully.  The Man In the Cage becomes small and stays that way unless he learns to adapt.  Even then, he's only a player and not the master of anything.
               I'm trying to give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt at this point, but I can see few signs that an ability to adapt is among his core competencies. The power to simplify complex problems is a strength, but only to the extent  the problem-solver is under no illusions that his simplified picture gives him anything more than a starting point.

               I've followed Trump's business career for years, and I have to admit again that I never believed he could win the Republican nomination or, having achieved that, the general election. Yet here we are. So, ipso facto, there's more to the man than I ever gave him credit for.  I can only hope now that he has more rabbits in his hat he can deploy wisely in a world where the likes of Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un, and the many unpredictable Islamic opponents are eagerly awaiting his first mistakes. This is not even to mention the legions of his own countrymen and countrywomen who will soon be emerging from their shock at his election victory to collaborate around plans to undermine him.

               So while I can't  feel much in the way of optimism, I can and will keep open eyes and an open mind. Soon we'll start finding out what's in store.


Wheeling in the man in a cage

I was once the legal strategist for the defendant sued by a seriously mistaken, but furious and totally convinced plaintiff. After several generous settlement efforts failed, I got the defendant a fierce litigator, the kind you wheel into court in a cage. He demolished the plaintiff’s cases so thoroughly that the court made the plaintiff pay the defendant’s legal fees.

With President Obama’s administration in its last days, and President-elect Trump’s foreign policy beginning to take shape, I wonder if this story may not foretell a very successful Trump foreign policy.

President Obama has conducted a thoughtful, rational foreign policy that was often very successful. Nevertheless, today the US faces a multitude of cruel, dangerous, and often extremely aggressive international enemies—Putin’s Russia, Xi’s China, the Ayatollah’s Iran, ISIS, the Taliban, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, assorted dictators—all armed to the teeth and itching to impose their will.
In this dangerous environment, the aggressive talk of President-elect Trump has raised great fear and uncertainty.

For instance, as economic historian Barry Eichengreen wrote in the online blog Project Syndicate on December 14, 2016,
“Whether Trump slaps a tariff on Chinese goods, repudiates the North American Free Trade Agreement, packs the Federal Reserve Board, or undermines fiscal sustainability remains to be seen. Conceivable outcomes range from mildly reassuring to utterly catastrophic. Who knows what will happen?”

But when I think about the lawyer in a cage, I begin to wonder if Trump’s aggressive policies might be just what we need. He is the temperamental opposite to the cool, rational and decent Obama; hot-headed, angry, unpredictable and not very nice. In a normal world—as with sane litigants—Obama’s approaches would be much the better. But facing a world with extremely dangerous, unpredictable, and unscrupulous leaders arrayed against us, an aggressive President might be just the ticket.
To be sure, Trump arrives with an apparent admiration for Putin and a clear desire to negotiate friendly deals with him. But so did all the recent American Presidents, who soon learned that he is deceitful and intent on pursuing his own interests regardless of the cost to Russians and others. With people like him, as with the plaintiff in my case, the only solution is force. The same holds for terrorists, and perhaps for China as well.

A couple of caveats: in writing this, I am assuming that Trump is a patriot, neither a loyal Russian agent nor just an impulsive, monumentally greedy bully out for his family’s glory. I am also assuming that Trump can be kept in his cage, as it were, and will not launch nuclear war, cancel the Iran agreement, or take other insane steps that people like Eichengreen fear. It is both Trump’s strength and a cause for concern that he is so unpredictable. And that means there is a very good chance that these assumptions could be wrong.


Why Trump Won

Since the Republican Party nominated Donald Trump for President in July, I have been trying to understand why he became the nominee, and ultimately the President-elect. Although many others voted for Trump too, his victory clearly required and received heavy support from previously solid Democrats, who formed an important part of a group I am calling his core voters. The conventional view is that these core supporters are disgruntled white men (and their wives) who lost high wage jobs to imports and technology in recent decades, and fear immigrants, people of different color or religion, and cultural change.

In reading such books as Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, Drew Westen’s The Political Brain, JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, Jessamin Birdsall’s White Evangelicals for Trump, and Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in their own Land, I have tried to understand more about these voters and why they supported a man like Trump.

First, and unlike the conventional view, it seems to me that racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia were not primarily responsible for the core voters’ support of Trump. Their support stems primarily from other concerns, and such labels often served to harden their position by making many Trump voters feel wrongly accused and misunderstood.

 Nor were Trump’s core supporters motivated only by economics. Core supporters have undeniably suffered economically during recent decades. But they seem at least as aroused by social and cultural concerns as by economic ones. For instance, some of the largest and most direct beneficiaries of Obama policies, previously strongly Democratic, nevertheless favored Trump, including Elkhart, Indiana, a city Obama showcased and repeatedly visited, and the States that his auto bailout most directly benefited: Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana
A more plausible reason for Trump’s core supporters is the world of information and analysis in which many of them live. As Hochschild notes, often their sole sources of news and thought about public affairs are Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and his clones, and the large network of alt-right internet publicists like Breitbart. These media masters have gained huge followings with a continuous focus on what Jonathan Haidt identifies as core conservative values: instincts like pride, loyalty, tradition, authority, sanctity, fear of change, and what psychologists call stranger anxiety—fearing and blaming outsiders—all while outrageously—and entertainingly—slandering anyone who think otherwise.

Against this background, Trump’s cultural attunement to the Fox/Limbaugh world-view and his flamboyant presentation proved virtually irresistible. Even his wayward personal conduct bespoke not so much disqualification for office as authenticity. Trump presented himself as genuine, not politically correct; bold, not cautious and submissive; strong, not weak; smart and cunning, not a sucker; and one who could cut through complexity, not struggle with it. In other words, he presented himself as strongly aligned with important conservative values.

And in Hillary Clinton, he faced an opponent who in certain ways appeared to be his opposite. She constantly tripped over her own errors; presented herself as artificial and pc, not genuine; cautious, tricky, and greedy, not bold, cunning and successful; as much a victim as a victor; and immersed in complexity, not a conqueror of it.

Another crucial element in Trump’s success was an attitude toward truth that sharply differs from that of the “elites” he so vilified. We all think of truth as a claim that we strongly believe to represent reality. But Trump, his supporters, and his opponents all differ over what reasons can lead to such strong belief. Mr. Trump seems to have no particular belief in his claims, strong or otherwise; they are simply promotional instruments. His core supporters, on the other hand, do believe in truth. But for them, only some personal connection to the claim justifies belief: direct sensory experience, religion, or trust in the person making the claim. Trump and the Fox/Limbaugh/Breitbart media masters have gained that trust by assiduously attuning themselves to the feelings of this constiuency. Secular authorities have mostly not, so their claims get disregarded or taken merely as indicating their prejudices. As for opponents of Trump, they largely distrust the claims of his media world, and try to decide truth for themselves.

Consequently, to Mr. Trump it is not the truth that matters, but a claim’s usefulness to his purpose. As Trump himself put it in his book The Art of the Deal, his approach is to “play to peoples’ fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”

Trump’s core supporters, who rely on personal relationship to establish truthfulness, seem to believe that they themselves neither can nor should evaluate claims outside their personal experience. Consequently, they make little effort to do so and depend entirely on those they trust.

Opponents of Mr. Trump also use personal relationships to evaluate claims if possible. But they feel it proper, possible, and necessary—their duty as citizens of a free democracy—to determine the truth of claims for themselves, even those outside their personal experience. To do so they use their education, their experience of the world, and what they consider reliable written sources to decide what to believe.

In other words, my conclusion is that the self-abnegation of Trump’s supporters, and their reliance on personal trust, have been key reasons for Trump’s victory. The media masters they trust have catered brilliantly to their instincts and prejudices, earning their emotional buy-in. They have also isolated their listeners by arousing a mistrust of the federal government, the mainstream press, other established institutions, and a long list of outsiders. Rendered dependent on the Fox/Limaugh/Breitbart media for most of their information, core Trump supporters could be led to swallow a long list of falsehoods and mis-analyses, and they voted accordingly.