Monday, February 6, 2017

Trump's Progressive Tropes

O’Reilly: Do you respect Putin?

Trump: I do respect him but —

O’Reilly: Do you? Why?

Trump: Well, I respect a lot of people but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world — that’s a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea.

O’Reilly: But he’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer.

Trump: There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent. You think our country’s so innocent?

O’Reilly: I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers.

Trump: Well — take a look at what we’ve done too. We made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.

O’Reilly: But mistakes are different than —

Trump: A lot of mistakes, but a lot of people were killed. A lot of killers around, believe me.
The above is from Bill O'Reilly's interview with President Trump which was broadcast on Fox News Sunday. 

What is striking is the President's deployment of a rhetorical trick routinely used by President Obama and which I've harshly criticized; it's just as bad when Trump indulges in the same.  Taking the view that America has done business with some pretty bad dudes before because we needed to do so light of the bigger picture is defensible.  Taking potshots at your own country is beneath a president.

Before Obama, it had never been used by an American President, being mostly restricted to academia.  It's the deflection of any criticism of the shortcomings of foreigners by bringing in the alleged shortcomings of America, no matter how inaccurate.  To be sure, Trump has not yet utilized the other half of the trick, which is criticizing America without any non-American context.  For more on the technique as used by Barack Obama, read Rhetorical Tricks.

And, like President Obama's rhetoric, Trump's statement is one that American progressives would applaud if made by a Democrat since it is all about taking America down a peg.   In fact, because Trump is not an ideologue of the normal categories of American politics with his political thoughts over the past 20 years coming from across the political spectrum, he often makes references with a leftish tinge (for another example, read What Would Otter Do?).   He believes President George W Bush lied about WMD in the run up to the Iraq War.  It also showed up during the primary campaign when he raised the possibility that Ted Cruz's father, an anti-Castro Cuban, had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.  What was missed at the time, even by those who criticized the remark, was the broader context.  The allegation against the senior Cruz is part of the feverish conspiracy theorizing by the Oliver Stone type leftists who believe JFK was murdered by anti-Castro Cubans in revenge for the President's perceived lack of support for the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961.  In their world, Lee Harvey Oswald was either a patsy, manipulated by the anti-Castro Cubans into believing he was acting on behalf of Castro, or a long-time deep cover CIA operative whose defection to the USSR had been directed and planned by American intelligence.

I am a firm believer that good temperament is key to a successful Presidency.  FDR and Ronald Reagan had the best temperaments of our 20th century presidents, followed by Dwight Eisenhower, and I continue to have big concerns about Donald Trump's temperament and stability, along with his lack of depth in understanding many of the largest issues he faces.  I've been heartened by the quality of a number of Trump's appointments like Mattis, Tillerson and Sessions (Flynn and Bannon, not so much).  Nikki Haley, the new U.N. ambassador, delivered a strong attack on Putin and Russia last week and the nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, is a spectacularly good selection.  The bottom line is this administration will depend even more than most on the quality and influence of the best of its appointees, rather than the instinctive reactions of the president.   The long-term forecast remains uncertain.

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