The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Another slice of Occam's Razor

Andrew Sullivan doesn't think we need to dig too deeply into President Trump's dealings to understand why he behaves the way he does:

The lies come and go. But his deeper convictions really are in plain sight.

And they are, at root, the same as those of the strongmen he associates with and most admires. The post-1945 attempt to organize the world around collective security, free trade, open societies, non-zero-sum diplomacy, and multicultural democracies is therefore close to unintelligible to him. Why on earth, in his mind, would a victorious power after a world war be … generous to its defeated foes? When you win, you don’t hold out a hand in enlightened self-interest. You gloat and stomp. In Trump’s zero-sum brain — “we should have kept the oil!” — it makes no sense. It has to be a con. And so today’s international order strikes Trump, and always has, as a massive, historic error on the part of the United States.

He always hated it, and he never understood it. That kind of complex, interdependent world requires virtues he doesn’t have and skills he doesn’t possess. He wants a world he intuitively understands: of individual nations, in which the most powerful are free to bully the others. He wants an end to transnational migration, especially from south to north. It unnerves him. He believes that warfare should be engaged not to defend the collective peace as a last resort but to plunder and occupy and threaten. He sees no moral difference between free and authoritarian societies, just a difference of “strength,” in which free societies, in his mind, are the weaker ones. He sees nations as ethno-states, exercising hard power, rather than liberal societies, governed by international codes of conduct. He believes in diplomacy as the meeting of strongmen in secret, doing deals, in alpha displays of strength — not endless bullshit sessions at multilateral summits. He’s the kind of person who thinks that the mafia boss at the back table is the coolest guy in the room.

All of this has been clear from the start. So while the Mueller probe may continue to uncover massive criminal activity all around Trump, it may never find true collusion with Russia. But the probe is still necessary, because (a) there really is criminal behavior there and (b) it can preserve the West that much longer.

But we simply must take the House back this November, and send Trump packing in 2020. Otherwise the world will become a much worse place very soon.

A "sad, embarrassing wreck of a man"

That's how lifelong Republican George Will describes his party's leader:

Americans elected a president who — this is a safe surmise — knew that he had more to fear from making his tax returns public than from keeping them secret. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians. A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.

The explanation is in doubt; what needs to be explained — his compliance — is not. Granted, Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.

Kathleen Parker says "a cancer lives among us:"

Sure, he’s rude and crude, they’ve said, but he’s going to make America great again.

No, he’s not.

Nor was he ever, notwithstanding a column I wrote just before Election Day, saying that America would survive no matter who won. My optimism was based solely on faith in the U.S. Constitution and the inherent checks and balances prescribed therein. To be wrong would mean that the checks aren’t being applied when imbalances occur.

We are there.

When our chief executive, whose principal job is to defend both the Constitution and the nation against aggressors, stands alongside our chief geopolitical foe and betrays two of our most important institutions in the service of his own ego, he has dimmed the lights in the shining city on a hill and left the world a far darker place.

It’s often said that America is great because America is good. My faith in the institutions and the individuals who conferred upon us a singular role in the history of humankind is yet unshaken. But a cancer lives among us, and the good people of this country must be precise in its excision.

Those are Republicans. Democratic Party members haven't been so kind.

Is there a simpler explanation for Trump's presser?

Writing for New Republic, Conor Lynch speculates that President Trump may not be a Russian asset per se; he might just be a fellow traveler:

To be fair to the critics..., Trump’s behavior was indeed troubling. During the NATO summit, Trump insulted and alienated leaders of the United States’ closest allies, and it became clear early on that he had no intention of toning down his rhetoric. After declaring that Germany was “captive to Russia,” blasting other members as “delinquent,” and threatening to “go it alone” if other countries didn’t raise their spending, the president held a bizarre press conference on Thursday to declare the summit a success and once again refer to himself as a “stable genius.” The NATO summit was a success in at least one sense: As Alex Ward put it in Vox, the big winner of the summit was Vladimir Putin, who “wants to divide NATO.” 

But even after Trump’s scandalous week in Europe, there is still a better explanation for his apparent hostility towards Europe and affection for Putin: Trump and Putin have similar worldviews and political temperaments, and thus see eye to eye on many things. Both are political reactionaries and ultra-nationalists and, though Putin is far more authoritarian, Trump has made it clear that he would rather be a dictator than the leader of a democracy with constitutional restraints on his authority. The American president has a long history of praising authoritarian leaders like Putin and President Xi Jinping of China while disparaging democratically elected leaders as “weak,” so it is not surprising that he would admire the Russian president. 

I mean, Occam's Razor gives this idea some credence. But let's not kid ourselves: the outcomes from Trump's worldview are in themselves very disturbing. He just may want them on his own, without Russian help.

Holy mother of veracity, what a press conference

This is not an innocent man:

I mean, credit to Putin for keeping a straight face. But I can see why officials in both major U.S. parties have called this treasonous or nearly so.

Let's see what the Republicans in Congress do now.

Update: Around 30:15, Putin offers to have Russian law enforcement interrogate the Russian GRU agents who were named in the Justice Department indictment from Friday. Where does one even start? What does he have on Trump, seriously?

Too many things in my inbox

I probably won't have time to read all of these things over lunch:

Share that last one with your non-technical friends. It's pretty clever.

Trial runs for fascism

Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole points to the Trump Administration putting babies in cages as one example of how they're building up to fascism:

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

To see, as most commentary has done, the deliberate traumatisation of migrant children as a “mistake” by Trump is culpable naivety. It is a trial run – and the trial has been a huge success. Trump’s claim last week that immigrants “infest” the US is a test-marketing of whether his fans are ready for the next step-up in language, which is of course “vermin”. And the generation of images of toddlers being dragged from their parents is a test of whether those words can be turned into sounds and pictures. It was always an experiment – it ended (but only in part) because the results were in.

The best we can hope for at this point is to take back the House of Representatives in 115 days. But we now know the Russian Government will try to disrupt or discredit those elections—so we need to prepare for that as well.

Interesting times.

Lunchtime reading

It's been a busy news day:

There was also an article on tuple equality in C# 7.3 that, while interesting to me, probably isn't interesting to many other people.

Rauner confident; should Pritzker worry?

Greg Hinz reports that Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner's internal polling numbers suggest his re-election race is a lot closer than the rest of the state believes:

The message came in an exclusive interview with Rauner campaign manager Betsy Ankney in which she claimed the incumbent has pulled within single digits of Democratic nominee J.B. Pritzker in internal campaign polls, and promised to empty a "very full" book of opposition research on him.

 "In our focus groups, people can't cite a single positive thing about Pritzker even after he's spent $80 million" on TV ads, Ankney said. That's why, when Rauner in the spring spent "$4 million over six weeks" running ads tying Pritzker to imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, "his positive rating dropped 20 (percentage) points."

Ankney declined to release the latest results from her campaign's pollster, Dave Sackett. But said Rauner has pulled "closer than any public poll indicates." The closest poll that I'm aware of came a couple of weeks ago from We Ask America for Capital Fax. It showed Pritzker ahead just 36 percent to 27 percent, a nine-point margin. (Pritzker hasn't released his poll figures either, but it's believed they show him much further ahead.)

I'm not yet worried, because Rauner remains unusually unpopular for a governor (though he's still polling better than Rod Blagojevich's 9%). But I am curious how the polls can all be so different.

Boris Johnson has ruined Britain

So says British journalist Jenni Russell:

Britain is in this mess principally because the Brexiteers — led largely by Mr. Johnson — sold the country a series of lies in the lead up to the June 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union. They did so because neither Mr. Johnson nor his fellow leader of the Leave campaign, Michael Gove, intended, wanted or expected to win.

Because Mr. Johnson and Mr. Gove were confident that the Leave campaign was a hopeless cause, they were free to make ridiculous claims that they had no expectation of ever having to fulfill. They said that Brexit would make Britain both richer and more independent, with more money for the National Health Service, much greater control of immigration and continued friction-free trade with Europe.

Every earnest warning from the other side — about how any Brexit would damage trade, business and jobs — was dismissed airily by the Brexiteers. There were no costs or downsides in this vision of the future.

This casual dishonesty has had devastating consequences.

Russell goes on to list those devastating consequences, with devastating effect.

I'm baffled by how so many people can believe someone so obviously full of shit as Johnson. Maybe now that he's out of the Cabinet (but, tellingly, not out of Parliament) he won't be as effective in his destructive tendencies.

The worst case is probably true

Jonathan Chait lays out the evidence that we know about, and concludes that President Trump is almost certainly colluding with Vladimir Putin:

A case like this presents an easy temptation for conspiracy theorists, but we can responsibly speculate as to what lies at the end of this scandal without falling prey to their fallacies. Conspiracy theories tend to attract people far from the corridors of power, and they often hypothesize vast connections within or between governments and especially intelligence agencies. One of the oddities of the Russia scandal is that many of the most exotic and sinister theories have come from people within government and especially within the intelligence field.

Suppose we are currently making the same mistake we made at the outset of this drama — suppose the dark crevices of the Russia scandal run not just a little deeper but a lot deeper. If that’s true, we are in the midst of a scandal unprecedented in American history, a subversion of the integrity of the presidency. It would mean the Cold War that Americans had long considered won has dissolved into the bizarre spectacle of Reagan’s party’s abetting the hijacking of American government by a former KGB agent. It would mean that when Special Counsel Robert Mueller closes in on the president and his inner circle, possibly beginning this summer, Trump may not merely rail on Twitter but provoke a constitutional crisis.

[I]f you’re Putin, embarking upon a coveted summit with the most Russophilic president since World War II, who is taking a crowbar to the alliance of your enemies, why wouldn’t you help him in 2018 and 2020? Ever since the fall of 2016, when Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately turned down an Obama-administration proposal for a bipartisan warning to Russia not to interfere in the election, the underlying dynamic has been set: Most Republicans would rather win an election with Putin’s help than lose one without it. The Democrats, brimming with rage, threaten to investigate Russian activity if they win a chamber of Congress this November. For Putin to redouble his attack — by hacking into voting machines or some other method — would be both strategic and in keeping with his personality. Why stop now?

It's straightforward and logical, as Occam's Razor should be. And it's deeply frightening.