This Trump Jr. story is interesting for several reasons. My take:
1. Strange though it may seem, I think this actually makes it seem less likely that the Trump campaign actively colluded with Russia to steal the election. My impression is that Trump Jr. was lured into the meeting without having much prior knowledge. This is based on the email exchange, which reads to me like an amateur who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Here is page 4 (which did not post due to space constraints). pic.twitter.com/z1Xi4nr2gq
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
2. If Russia actually wanted to release anything incriminating they had on Clinton, they wouldn’t do it via the Trump campaign. That would be stupid, since it would automatically make the information seem suspect. Instead, they would distribute it through some friendly-but-seemingly-independent media outlet, and let the Trump campaign pick it up later. Indeed, this is actually what happened with a lot of the Russian-supported anti-Clinton/pro-Trump propaganda that was circulated online during the election. This also makes it seem unlikely they actually gave the Trump campaign any useful information.
3. A few weeks ago I wrote about the fact that the Russians would be unlikely to tell the Trump campaign about their election interference. Rather, they did the election interference independently, and then arranged the meetings with campaign personnel in order to undermine the people’s faith in the electoral process.
This meeting is totally consistent with that. They lured Trump Jr. into a meeting by claiming they had dirt on Clinton, and then didn’t give him anything, knowing how bad it would make him look when it came to light.
In summary, I don’t think Russian operatives would ever work with the Trump people to interfere with the election, simply because many of the Trump people are too incompetent to be trusted with anything like that. The Russian intelligence operatives could handle it by themselves.
My sense is that the Russian plan had two distinct components: one was to influence the election in favor of Trump. The other was to play on the amateurishness and arrogance of the Trump campaign staff to goad them into doing stupid stuff that could be used to undermine them later.
We know that Russian Intelligence worked to increase Donald Trump’s election chances by spreading propaganda. And we now know that they also attempted to tamper with US voting systems. And we know that President Trump has long spoken approvingly of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And we know that Trump campaign personnel met with various Russian officials during the campaign.
All of this looks highly suspicious, and suggests that something was going on between Trump and Russia.
However, there is one thing about the “Russia colluded with the Trump campaign to steal the election” theory that doesn’t add up. Namely, if Russia was covertly influencing the election, why would they bother to tell the Trump campaign about it?
Think about it: there’s no reason for them to have any contact beyond perhaps an initial meeting to lay out the plan. Why keep having these meetings between Trump’s people and Russia’s people? All it did was increase the likelihood of the plot getting exposed.
This is actually the best argument the Trump people have in their favor, as far as I can see. If they were committing such a serious crime, why leave such incriminating evidence?
The “Trump’s campaign is innocent” scenario could be something like the following: sure, they met with Russian people, but it was nothing to do with election-hacking. Trump’s platform and Russia’s interests in promoting a new nationalistic world order just happened to align, and they were hashing out details of what they would do in the event that Trump won. Russia independently carried out their manipulation of the election without the knowledge of the Trump campaign.
Which would be the way to do it, if you were running a remotely competent espionage operation. You don’t tell people stuff they don’t need to know, and from Russia’s perspective, the Trump campaign wouldn’t have needed to know that Russia was attempting to influence the election.
But this leads to the question: why did the Russians meet with them at all? Presumably, Russian officials knew about the plan, even if the Trump people didn’t. And they would therefore know how bad the meetings would look if word of the Russian interference ever came out.
This points strongly to the conclusion that the Russians suckered Trump, or at least Trump’s people. They knew it would make them look bad when these meetings came to light, and so would undermine the American people’s faith in the entire government and the electoral process.
If this is the case, Trump and his personnel, rather than being willing pawns of a Russian plot, are actually naïve victims who fell into a Russian trap.
Personally, I find it hard to imagine the people working for Trump were that unbelievably easy to trick. But it’s hard to see any other explanation.
Here’s a rarity for you, readers: I’m going to agree with Donald Trump about something. In February 2016, then-candidate Trump said “It takes guts to run for president.”
He’s right. In fact, it takes guts to run for anything these days; since every political contest is seen not only as having huge national implications, but as being the front line in the battle between Good and Evil. It tends to make people… passionate.
The Georgia 6th district election is the latest example. The most expensive Congressional election in history, it drew national attention. Trump tweeted his support for Republican Karen Handel before the election, and tweeted congratulations when she won.
Everyone viewed it as a proxy battle in the national contest between Trumpism and anti-Trumpism. Everyone, that is, except Rep. Handel and her Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. They both tried to keep their campaigns focused on local issues.
The district is historically Republican, so it stands to reason that Handel’s strategy would be–no pun intended–conservative. But Ossoff, rather than shying away from the national fight, should have fully embraced it and positioned himself as the bold lone warrior–the last line of defense against tyranny.
Hyperbolic? A bit, sure. But in political campaigns as in military ones, “Fortune favors the bold”.
One reason Trump’s campaign did so well is that he was willing to take political risks and say shocking things that most politicians would never dare utter, but that riled his core supporters into a frenzy.
This strategy is, of course, risky. Trump alienated a lot of people–probably the majority of people, in fact–with his statements, but the people who liked them really, REALLY liked them.
Trump’s campaign created the following cycle, which it used continuously from its first day to its last:
- Trump says something outrageous
- Press and politicians react with horror
- Trump refuses to back down.
- This galvanizes Trump’s core supporters
This strategy made sense, because Trump was the underdog. When you are the underdog, you have to take big risks, because it’s the only way to change the calculus that has made you an underdog in the first place.
The central gamble of Trump’s campaign was that it was worth it to alienate moderates in order to get a really fired-up core of supporters. It worked. (Barely.)
Now: what did Ossoff do to try to whip his supporters into a frenzy? As near as I can tell, not much. I knew little about Ossoff except that he was the Democrat in Georgia who people thought might pull off an upset. That’s nice, and if I had lived there, I would have voted for him. But that’s it–there was nothing I heard about the man himself that made me think, “Ossoff is the only one who can save America!”
Ossoff portrayed himself as a generic, clean-cut Democrat. That would have worked if he’d been in a Democratic-leaning district. But as it was, he should have been more willing to embrace the theme that he was fighting to save the last bastion of freedom on Earth, rather than to make things more fair for the people in the 6th district.
People might say that I’m just Monday Morning Quarterbacking, and I guess that’s a valid criticism. But all we know for sure is that the Democrats lost an election they thought they could win. Again. Maybe my ideas on campaign strategy won’t work, but at this point its fair to say that what the Democrats have been doing isn’t working either.
You’re going along in life, a typical, liberaltarian American millennial, enjoying a materially comfortable life with your friends, who are of every gender, religion, race, sexual orientation and ethnic background. It all seems quite nice.
And then you come to find out that, all of sudden, the Presidency has fallen into the hands of a nasty, misogynistic liar who despises you and all your friends, and who means to ruin the culture you grew up in, all on the pretext of “bringing back the coal jobs”.
“Well, now, that’s quite the caterpillar in my buttermilk,” you say. “What manner of devilry hath wrought this state of affairs?”
For a detailed explanation, see here. But the short answer is, it’s a thing called the Electoral College.
“That’s about the meanest trick I ever heard of,” you cry. “Can’t the Congress do something about this horrible chicanery?”
No, they can’t. Because the problem with the Electoral College is directly tied to the problem with Congress: apportionment of seats has caused both to favor one party. They have systematically designed the system to work for very specific voting blocs.
“Well, none of this sounds like it would stand up in a court of law,” you reply (rather exasperatedly). “I believe I’m going to fight this all the way!”
Good luck with that. Because the outfit running Congress has also stacked the Court in their favor, even violating the spirit of the Constitution to do so. So, even if you somehow get your case to the Supreme Court, don’t count on winning it.
“Has the world gone mad?” you ask in frustration. “I was raised to believe that liberal values had won out all across the developed world, and that racism, misogyny and robber barons were all relics of a bygone era.”
Yes–we were all told that. But as it turns out, liberalism only really controlled one branch of government–the so-called “fourth estate”. And that doesn’t get you as much you might think.
“It all sounds hopeless when you put it like that! They control all the levers of power; and all we have are our social media accounts and some safety pins. What can we do to dig ourselves out of this?”
“Yes,” you exclaim, filled at once with gallant liberal élan. “Let’s go for that!”
–but the problem with that is that to redraw the districts, you need to have political power, and to gain political power…
“…you need to redraw the districts,” you finish, in a defeated monotone, realizing the depth of our plight. “Then it really is impossible, isn’t it?”
No. It’s not impossible.
“Really?” Your ears perk up at this. “I thought you were just now trying to convince me that it was.”
No, no–we just need to think outside the box, that’s all. After all, what are Congressional districts? Are they, once drawn by a given party, henceforth and forevermore ordained to be in favor of that party even unto eternity?
“That’s a pretty highfalutin way of putting it,” you answer, a bit annoyed. “But even so, I can tell you that the answer’s ‘no’.”
Right! Congressional districts are just lines on a map. So just because they are drawn around a specific area…
“…doesn’t mean that the people living in that area have to stay there forever!” you say slowly.
Correct again! You are a sharp one, you know that?
(“Why, thank you,” you reply.)
Here, look at this map of the margins of victory by county in the 2016 Presidential election. Look at all those giant blue columns towering over everything.
“Great Scott! Look at all those surplus blue votes in California!”
I know, right? So my thought is: what if we simply transferred some of those extra blue votes into the red areas?
“You mean… people living in liberal cities should move out into the hinterlands, and cancel out all the redistricting and apportionment shenanigans?”
You ask this cautiously, because you are understandably skeptical that such a crazy idea could ever work. After all, isn’t it awfully difficult for people living in the city to just pack up and move out into the countryside? How will they get jobs and housing?
Good question. Maybe just moving to smaller cities would do the trick, though. Even the cities in the heartland have some liberal enclaves. The local politicians there may be sympathetic to bringing in more liberals. That seems like a promising place to start.
“Look,” you say, striking a more realistic tone. “This all sounds great on paper, but do you really think it can happen? Can we really save America just by moving to different cities?”
Maybe. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed. And certain… interested parties are already passing laws to make it difficult to vote for people who have just moved to a new state. So, it’s by no means a sure thing.
But, at the same time… can you think of a better plan?
“I want to use another word for him other than charisma, because it doesn’t seem the right one for me. I always thought charisma was a positive trait, someone people turn to and smile.”
She’s not alone. Several people to whom I’ve told my theory disagree that Trump has charisma.
So, first, I should define what I mean by “charisma”. I’m using Max Weber’s definition:
“[A] certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader […] How the quality in question would be ultimately judged from an ethical, aesthetic, or other such point of view is naturally indifferent for the purpose of definition.”
Interestingly, Weber defined charisma as something that originated more with the followers rather than the leader. As the Wikipedia article puts it:
“In contrast to the current popular use of the term charismatic leader, Weber saw charismatic authority not so much as character traits of the charismatic leader but as a relationship between the leader and his followers. The validity of charism is founded on its “recognition” by the leader’s followers.”
That’s my first reason for arguing that Trump has charisma: he’s able to inspire devotion from his followers independent of any specific thing he says or does, but simply by being him.
Now it’s true that Trump’s appeal is definitely not even close to universal. Many people find the mere sight of him repulsive. That argues against the idea that he has charisma. At the very least, shouldn’t people not be repulsed by him if he’s so charismatic?
I’ll admit: part of the reason I say he’s charismatic is that otherwise, it’s hard to see what enabled him to beat not only Clinton, but also all the other Republican primary contenders.
His policies were (and are) vague and change depending on the day, he had no political experience, he had a bad temper, and he had scandals like the Trump University case hanging over him. And all that was before the Access Hollywood tape.
He wasn’t even the most extreme conservative in the primary–that was Senator Ted Cruz. So it’s not even possible to argue that his ideological purity was what got him through.
You might argue, as Thingy does, that Trump’s appeal to racist and ethno-nationalist elements was what propelled him to victory, rather than charisma.
This is very plausible. After all, we know that racist and nationalist groups did endorse Trump. So maybe that was the key to his success.
My counter-argument is that Trump isn’t the first politician to appeal to such sentiments. In the 1990s, Patrick J. Buchanan famously ran on a nationalist platform that attracted the support of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and other such groups. Buchanan had a strong-ish primary showing, but never got close to the Republican nomination; let alone the Presidency.
(Ironic historical trivia note: Buchanan ran for and ultimately got the nomination of the Reform Party in 2000. During the Reform party primary, Buchanan was labelled a “Hitler lover” by one of his rival Reform party candidates…. Donald Trump.)
Buchanan was a veteran political operative who had previously worked for Richard Nixon. And his nationalist message in the 1990s was very similar to Trump’s message in 2016. The major differences were that Buchanan’s policies were more detailed, and his speeches were much better-written than Trump’s.
Yet Buchanan never had the kind of electoral success that Trump did. Why not?
One possible explanation is luck. Maybe Buchanan had stronger primary opponents; or maybe the increase in sheer number of primary opponents worked in Trump’s favor.
Let’s say that hypothesis is correct and that Trump just got lucky and drew a better hand than Buchanan did in the primaries. It was still a one-on-one contest in the general election.
“Well, that’s easy to explain,” you say. “Trump lost the popular vote! He only won the election due to a convoluted set of rules about apportionment of Congressional seats being equal to the number of Electors. He won on a technicality.”
True, but even so, it’s kind of amazing that he could even get close enough to be able to win the Electoral College. This is why I resort the charisma theory–because it’s the only thing that explains how he was able to win both the general election and the primaries. Plus, charisma has a strong historical track record that makes it very compelling as an explanation for an election outcome.
All that said, there are other terms that you could use besides “charisma”. “Showmanship” is one that some people have suggested to me. “The gift of the Blarney”, as they say in The Music Man, is what I always think of.
Actually, The Music Man isn’t a bad analogue for Trump. It’s about a con man who gets money by convincing people the youth are being corrupted, and they need to pay him to organize a band to keep them from going bad.
The concept of someone whipping people into a frenzy and profiting off of it is nothing new–this being perhaps the most remarkable example:
This is the thing about Trump (Donald, I mean; not the guy on Trackdown.): He so clearly fits this specific stock-character mold that I think at some level, it became part of his appeal. People like to see a larger-than-life character like that, even when they sort of know he’s lying to them.
Trump may have started out as a property developer, but his real skill lies in entertainment and promotion. He learned some things from his time as a TV star, and he knows how to put on an entertaining show for his audiences.
Call it charisma, call it showmanship–call it a cult of personality. Ultimately, Trump’s one notable talent is his ability to make the crowd look at him.
What I expected to happen in the 2016 election was that Clinton would win, but Trump would do better than most people expected, and it would scare the political establishment into making some concessions to the nationalist movement that had propelled Trump to the nomination.
My assumption was that it would be similar to what happened in the 1990s when Ross Perot ran a highly successful campaign based on reducing the budget deficit. He didn’t win, but his support was sufficient to convince both parties they needed to balance the budget. (At least for a while.)
I figured that the Republicans and Democrats would realize they had to do something to appease the fury Trump had awakened.
Looking back, I think this might have been a better outcome for the nationalist faction than the Trump victory has been.
“Over the past 48 hours, the outsider politician who pledged to upend Washington has:
— Abandoned his vow to label China a currency manipulator.
— Rethought his hands-off assessment of the Syrian conflict — and ordered a missile attack.
— Turned his warm approach toward Vladimir Putin decidedly chilly and declared U.S.-Russia relations “may be at an all-time low.”
— Decided NATO isn’t actually obsolete, as he had claimed.
— Realized the U.S. Export-Import Bank is worth keeping around.”
In the aftermath of Bannon’s fall from… well, not “grace” exactly, but you know what I mean–Trump has abandoned many of the nationalist ideas he campaigned on.
I’ve often thought that even if I supported nationalist policies, Trump is one of the last people I would want advancing the cause. As I wrote back in October:
Trump himself, the de facto nationalist candidate, has even less interest in the merits of globalism vs. nationalism. His decision to promote nationalist policies is purely pragmatic. He adopted it when he discovered it would enable him to win the Republican nomination. I think that the only reason he won’t abandon it now is because, for a host of reasons, only ardent nationalists will support him at this point. If he drops nationalism, he is left with nothing.
Well, things have changed since then. Now, instead of nothing, Trump’s potential reward for abandoning nationalism is the adulation of the Washington establishment, the political press, and most of the government.
Also, it means he gets to put the most powerful military on earth to work destroying stuff on his command.
Given this, combined with everything we know about Trump’s personality, it’s easy to see why Trump now refuses to, as the expression goes, “dance with the one that brought him”.
It’s not a coincidence that Bannon got removed from the NSC and two days later, Trump orders missile strikes that Bannon and his “alt-right”/”America First” crowd oppose.
My question is: did Trump simply become outraged because he saw the pictures coming out of Syria, and decided he didn’t care what Bannon said? Or is this the result of Trump’s long-term dissatisfaction at the series of apparent failures spearheaded by Bannon?
Or is it that Trump is now listening more to his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner than he is to Bannon? (Possibly as a result of said Bannon-led failures?)
There are a number of different explanations, all of which suggest that Trump is pretty impulsive and won’t hesitate to radically change his mind in short order.
But of course, that goes both ways. If Bannon can get thrown in the doghouse this easily, he can get pulled back out just as quickly. And that’s the main takeaway for me: Trump acts quickly–some would say decisively, others would say recklessly. Even his apparent friendly relations with Russia couldn’t quell his desire to take action in Syria. It must have really been important to him, because it meant reversing one of his core campaign positions, and losing a lot of his most zealous supporters.
I remember an episode of The McLaughlin Group from years ago, in which John McLaughlin asked Pat Buchanan “Who won the week?” Buchanan hesitated, and McLaughlin pressed him harder: “Come on, Pat! Someone’s got to win the week!”
Buchanan finally answered that nobody had won the week–“It was a draw,” he explained. McLaughlin let it go after that, though he didn’t seem happy about it.
McLaughlin was a pioneer in this entertaining-but-superficial style of political reporting. But as is so often the case, those who followed the trail have mimicked all of his flaws while picking up none of his entertaining virtues.
And so the political press covers everything with a fast-paced and myopic focus on which groups happen to be winning or losing at the moment. In general, the extent of one side’s win or loss is over-hyped, giving an impression of a more permanent victory or defeat than is warranted.
For instance, remember a month ago when President Trump was winning in the headlines because the press liked his address to Congress? That seems like ancient history now, because all the headlines are about the defeat Trump suffered when his health care bill couldn’t pass the House.
It’s sort of like coverage of a sporting event, except that unlike sports analysts, political pundits tend to assume that whichever team happens to be winning at the moment will continue to do so forever, even if the lead is extremely small.
The real problem with this is not just that leads to absurdly hyperbolic analysis, or even “we have always been at war with Eastasia“-style retconning in the way journalists re-phrase narratives to make them appear consistent.
No, the real problem is that the serious stories in politics are slow-moving and gradual phenomena, and are imperceptible over the course of a week or even a year. You have to be able to see the big picture, not just which party is winning or losing on a given day, in order to understand them.
“Gerrymandering has completely broken our political system and I believe my best platform to help repair it is from the outside, by campaigning for independent redistricting commissions.”
He’s right on the first part–gerrymandering has completely broken our political system. It has created a bunch of sharply divided, non-competitive districts that are designed to favor one party or the other. (Usually the Republicans, obviously) This results in extreme polarization in the Congress.
Will Schwarzenegger’s plan to fix it actually work? Not bloody likely, in my opinion.
First of all, even if somehow someone manages to create an “independent redistricting commission”, the political pressure on it will be enormous. And any decision they reach will be immediately attacked as unfair by whichever party stands to lose seats as a result of it. (And again: that party will be the Republicans. I know this because they benefit from the current arrangement, and so any meaningful change would have to come at their expense.)
Moreover, and for all the same reasons, it is unlikely that anyone would be able to create such a commission with any meaningful power.
The Republicans have absolutely no incentive to support such a project, and every reason to oppose it. And they control all the levers of power, so they have the means to thwart the initiative.
So, to summarize: Schwarzenegger has a nice idea. But it’s not going to happen.
What should he do instead to try to fix the problem? Well for starters, he should look into my suggestion from this post:
[T]he liberal entertainment industry… could make other cities have the same brand power as New York and L.A. [and] help to attract other Democrats.
That strategy could work not only for Democrats, but also for anti-Trump Republicans such as Schwarzenegger. It is easier to change the demographics in the existing districts than it would be to change the shape of the districts themselves.