Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Warning Signs

There are numerous reports of various shake-ups and screw-ups in the early days of the Trump transition team. Christie was cut loose (for a variety of reasons). Pence has allegedly excised all lobbyists. One of the Nat-Sec guys, Mike Rogers, resigned (was pushed to resign?). There are allegations that American allies were randomly dialing into Trump Tower trying to speak with the President Elect. And so on.

Trump, himself, said (tweeted) that everything was under control. If you think that presidential communication via tweet is maybe not the best idea in the world, that might not be confidence inspiring.

But who knows?

What Do We Know?

Right now we know very, very little. This isn't necessarily bad--It's always nicer to know more than less--but the team isn't even in power yet. It's also, well, it's what people voted for: a guy who isn't a politician who doesn't do things the standard way. If he can make it through--or muddle through--all of this, in a few months no one will care.

We also saw a bunch of reports of things like Trump asking for TS clearance for his kids. Now we're hearing it was a low-level aide. Who knows what the truth is--and right now? Honestly? While Trump is in no way The Omnivore's candidate, we have to really wait and see what happens before having a conclusive judgment. That's just the way it works.

On the other hand . . .

At What Point Do Yellow Flags Become Red Ones?

Right now a fledgling administration having transition pains is going to look to some people like vindication that Trump was awful and to others like no-big-deal. So when does it become a big deal?

First Point: How Would You Know?

The Omnivore really, really hates to have to say this--but how would you, a hypothetical person who voted for Trump, know if something bad had happened? Who would you trust to tell you? Does it have to be Trump himself saying "I screwed that up?" Would you trust Sean Hannity? Who?

The answer is, if you're honest, no one--a news report of any stripe--save one from sources that would never release it--is going to be dismissed as partisan / biased and, Trump voters being as unfortunately human as the rest of us, are near-perfect engines of rationalization.


  1. Has Trump broken a promise to repeal Obamacare?
  2. Has Trump downgraded a beautiful wall to maybe-a-fence?
  3. Has he decided he's not going to deport 11MM people but, rather, focus on the criminals (which Obama was doing)? That he's not going to create a new, muscular "Deportation Force"?
  4. He has promised to leave the TPP--but is he going to tear up the Iran deal on day one?
According to some news sources Trump has back-tracked on all of these. What do Trump voters think? Probably not much--either that the reports are overblown, that Trump will do the right thing--even if he doesn't do literally what he said--and so on. 

The fact that much of this--indeed, almost all of it--save for the TPP, which The Omnivore suspects most voters (Trump or otherwise) don't understand correctly, are Obama policies. Hated Obama policies.

But the point is that The Omnivore has yet to hear a Trump voter analyze this and conclude anything. And to be fair, why should they? He's not in office yet. Maybe he will repeal O-Care on day one and replace it with something amazing. But maybe not. So the question remains: At what point would you trust a news source to tell you that Trump had done something you didn't like?

Second Point: What Are The Practical Consequences?

The Omnivore finds it very, very, very unlikely that Trump would, say, drop a nuke on Mosul to kill off ISIS commanders--but if he did? Would you complain? The Omnivore suspects that most people (Trump voters or not) would have a hard time directly articulating what the ramifications of such an act would be. 

Trust The Omnivore: It would be bad--but in terms of immediate practical consequences? We'd get to see, as Ted Cruz said, if sand glows in the dark after being nuked. ISIS would, almost certainly, be plunged into disarray. What's not to love?

Let's say that Trump shut down the New York Times (somehow). Would you, the Trump voter, disavow him? The Omnivore thinks not--sure, some Trump voters probably do/did read the NYT--but not many (probably). If he managed to sue it into oblivion, who would cry for it? Liberals. Who cares about liberals.

So: what practical consequences would you consider to be evidence of a bad administration?

Third Point: What Are The Alternatives?

One of the under-rated critiques of the Obama administration, especially with regard to foreign policy, is that mostly there were just no good alternatives. Everybody hates the Libya war--but to The Omnivore's eye, it was already going south, we had a broad base of support to go after Kadaffi, and, hey, we finished what Reagan started.

There were not a lot of alternatives. Same with Syria: even smart conservatives hand-wave the issue by asking for "leadership" or "strength" which would have presumably done something? The Omnivore remembers Congress rejecting Obama's direct strikes against Assad. What were the alternatives? What are they today? What do you do about North Korea? Answer: Nothing. If there was something to be done that wasn't an absurd risk, someone would have done it.

So keep in mind that even if you think the Trump administration has made some awesome fuck-up, unless there are some good, clear alternatives (that were never evidenced for, say, Obamacare), just complaining doesn't get you far.

Fourth Point: What About The Racism (and Sexism, etc.)?

If you are upset about Trumps placing Bannon in the White House Strategist position, The Omnivore hears you. This is one of the disqualifying things that The Omnivore holds against the Trump administration--even if it does well. For right now, though, The Omnivore is talking to Trump voters who are, presumably, okay with Bannon (who???) in the White House.

The Omnivore's Assessment

The Omnivore is going to call the above so you don't have to:
  1. The Omnivore will trust any mainstream news source that reports an event where the report stands for more than 96 hours (4 days). If contradicted by another major news source, the event will be deemed "unclear." Major news sources include Network / Cable news and news or Internet publications that fall between Fox on the right and, say, NPR on the left. The Omnivore will also accept a rebuke from Speaker Ryan as evidence that the administration has badly screwed up.
  2. The Practical Consequences would need to be: (a) loss of American life in what seems like a needless or callous fashion (b) Damage to the economy (a market drop of more than, say 7% for more than 2 weeks) due to uncertainty in the government or screw-ups in management, (c) A significant military engagement with boots on the ground in a way that seems unlikely to create a short-term win (sending a large mass of troops to Syria, for example). (d) Compromising our security in some illegal fashion (leaking data to Russia, for example). 
  3. There are several "Alternatives" that are currently "on the table." The first is honoring American commitments or, if they are broken, broken with the consent of the whole government. Tearing up the Iran deal on day one would not be a reasonable action since there are alternatives around renegotiating it. Threatening North Korea with no good end-game is a lousy idea since there is an alternative in "just waiting." And so on. So status quo, right now, is an alternative.
  4. The Racism. Trump would have to do something herculean to get rid of the racism. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. The Omnivore isn't holding his breath.
A final note: if you think that Trump-Pence's expulsion of lobbyist is a good thing, consider that you've been given a "good-guys/bad-guys" view of the world. Lobbyists do have outside interests in mind, yes--but they are also avenues to expertise that is, despite what you might want to think, very, very useful in running a government. 

America being "humiliated" in the eyes of the world is something we'll survive, for certain--but if you think that Trump's demeanor is going to help him exercise leadership, you're wrong about that. He will have to lead in a significantly different fashion than he has campaigned or run his business. We'll see if he can--but the idea that other countries--allies--are (allegedly?) appalled by him isn't a good thing.

If you thought those things were signs of hope, we'll, you're wrong about that. If you think they're likely survivable? The Omnivore agrees.


  1. OK then: here's another underrated critique of the Obama administration. When he completes his second term and leaves office two months from now, he will have established a truly unenviable precedent: The USA was at war every single day of his presidency.

    Yes, he inherited an appalling mess from his predecessor; that's not in dispute. But was there truly no choice but to continue all that stupidity - to waste all that money and all those lives in ways pretty much indistinguishable from the actions of said predecessor?

    Executive summary: meh. This wasn't the leadership I was looking for.

    -- Ω

    1. What was your alternative to keeping those engagements going?

    2. I haven't forgotten Obama's repeated pledge to close Guantánamo Bay once and for all, and neither have you. There's only so much you can blame on Republican obstructionism, bad as it's been.

      And as for "keeping those engagements going": while I have no desire to have Iraq devolve into an apocalyptic free-for-all as it surely would if its people were left to sort things out on their own, this adminstration has actually expanded the scope of the conflict, particularly in Afghanistan. As you know.

      And, as you also know: the publicly offered justifications for these wars of choice were and remain utter horseshit. "Restoring democracy"? Whoo, that's a hot one. This was always about entering an era of permanent resource scarcity, and the concomitant end of the American empire.

      My "alternative", such as it was, was to be honest about the imminent contraction back when it might have mattered - say, 25±5 years ago. President Carter tried it, back in 1977, for all the good it did him (or us). I don't believe that things had to work out this way, but I'm afraid we've all been played for suckers by all sides in the only game that matters.

      Whatever "side" Paul Singer, Sheldon Adelson, John Paulson, Peter Thiel, and the Koch brothers pick - I want to be on the other one.

      -- Ω

    3. I remember a ton of stuff Obama tried to do to close Gitmo. I'm surprised you'd choose that. He faced opposition from the Pentagon, congressional democrats, and, heavily, Republicans.

      When your alternative involves a time machine, I don't think you get to criticize the current administration for not having one.

      I agree with you on the side I don't want to be on.

    4. No time machine necessary. What I meant was that though the necessary action(s) should have been undertaken decades ago, there's still a lot we can save, if we're smart and don't wait much longer.

      But are we still those people? That's the question.

      -- Ω

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