Oh, Kevin


New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd annually gives her Thanksgiving column space over to her brother Kevin, whom she calls a conservative. I’ve read several of his offerings and have come away with the sense that Kevin is not a conservative; he’s a Trumpy, which is distinctly not conservative. And in this year’s essay he gives us an exquisitely clear example of why it is so difficult for moderates (Republicans and Democrats alike) to have a constructive, seek-to-understand conversation with a Trumpy. That is the focus of this post.

I want to be clear that in my comments below I am cherry picking his essay, this for brevity. Here’s a link to his complete comments. Also, full disclosure: I agree with some of what Kevin wrote. Most of that is not covered here because that isn’t where the problem lies.

Here are some examples of obstacles to conversation. The wording in green is verbatim from Kevin’s essay and the substantiating data that he presents is included in the same color.

  1. Trump gave us a strong economy.
    1. Actually, the economy continued on the same trajectory from throughout the Obama years. Until it didn’t. Trump promised 4% GDP growth. Before our current recession we had an “economy like no one has ever seen,” when we had GDP growth that averaged just 2.5%. Overall it’s 1% since Trump took office. It never hit 4%.
  2. Trump achieved the lowest unemployment in 50 years.
    1. True, but  .  .  .  Actually, unemployment continued to decline on a straight line trajectory passed on from the Obama years. The best you can say for Trump is that he didn’t screw up a good thing. Until the pandemic arrived. Then he screwed up everything, including unemployment.
  3. Trump fortified the border.
    1. There were only 9 miles of new border wall constructed over the 4 years of Trump’s presidency. All the rest of the construction was replacement for old, dilapidated fencing. And Mexico hasn’t paid a dime for any of it. Does that qualify as “fortified”?
    2. Our southern border has been turned into concentration camps on the U.S. side and death in the desert on the Mexican side. Does that qualify as “fortified”?
    3. Our immigration system refuses to grant asylum to most of the people fleeing rape and death in the Central American countries they left behind. No clue how that makes our border fortified. It does make us complicit in assault and murder.
  4. Trump has guaranteed the integrity of the judicial system by appointing over 200 judges and three Supreme Court justices.
    1. Appointing judges does not guarantee integrity of the judicial system. It only guarantees butts on benches.
    2. 10 of Trump’s nominees were rated Not Qualified by the American Bar Association and 67 were rated only Qualified (i.e., they’re marginally OK warm bodies to hold down a bench).
    3. Two of Trump’s appointees had never practiced law or even been inside a courtroom. That doesn’t sound like integrity.
    4. There was a huge deficit of federal judges when Trump came to office because Mitch McConnell had shoved a stick in the spokes of judicial appointments for nearly all of the Obama years. If there was any additional integrity it was only because more judges meant swifter justice for the accused. Trump doesn’t get integrity kudos for that.
  5. Trump had foreign policy successes, including:
    1. Renegotiating NAFTA – into essentially the same agreement but with Trump’s name attached.
    2. Abandoning the Iranian nuclear deal.
      1. Which allowed the Iranians to resume both enriching uranium and building their bomb making capabilities.
      2. Kevin doesn’t mention it, but after abandoning the multi-nation agreement Trump slapped sanctions on Iran that have been labeled “crippling.” On the other hand, they don’t seem to have curtailed any of Iran’s military activities. Not seeing a foreign policy success here.
      3. Kevin claims that we gave the Iranians a $400 million bribe to get the nuclear deal done. That claim was a standard right wing talking point when the JCPOA was being negotiated and was wailed about afterward by the anti-Obama crowd. What actually happened is that because of Iran’s past bad behavior we had frozen their assets during the Obama administration. Returning to them what was rightfully theirs was part of the Iranian nuclear deal. So, it wasn’t a bribe; it was a return of stolen property. And it was $300 million, not $400 million.
    3. Trump brokered Middle East peace deals and was the greatest friend Israel ever had.
      1. Two recently concluded agreements between Israel and the UAE and Israel and Bahrain had been in process since 2015. These agreements were essentially “normalization” documents to formalize what already existed. Trump had nothing to do with the negotiating or finalizing of the agreements. He did claim credit for them.
      2. Might not Harry Truman be the greatest friend of Israel, since he was the first world leader to recognize the new state in 1948? Or President Obama, who handed the Iron Dome defense system to Israel in 2011? Or every other president who has sided with Israel against brutal attacks in the U.N.?
      3. Note that moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem did not help Israel. It only served to inflame Palestinians and make a 2-state solution even more difficult to achieve.
      4. It’s interesting that the “greatest friend Israel ever had” meme is quoted. It’s word-for-word what Trump has said repeatedly and his followers pick it up as though making the claim is the same as stating reality. It’s akin to his saying that he’s been the greatest president for Blacks, with the possible exception (or since) Abraham Lincoln. Making the claim isn’t the same as saying truth, but Trump’s followers repeat his phony superlative opinions of himself anyway.
  6. Trump made the Republican Party tougher, teaching it to counter punch harder than its opponent.
    1. The Republican Party was intransigent and spiteful long before Trump showed up (think: Gingrich, McConnell, Boehner, anyone from the Tea Party, etc.) and they played dirty before Trump came along, doing things like filibustering everything with Obama’s name on it, essentially exterminating majority rule. For verification of Republican cheating, check with Judge (not Justice) Merrick Garland.
    2. We need to understand why “counter punch[ing] harder than its opponent” is important. Doing so guarantees no cooperation, so America’s problems don’t get solved. This sounds like being macho is more important that doing what is best for America and honoring one’s oath of office to protect and defend. I do understand the momentary puff-up feeling of being powerful that comes from dominating others.
  7. Kevin writes, “The Democrats remain mystified by the loyalty of Trump’s base. It is rock solid because half the country was tired of being patronized and lied to and worse, taken for granted. Trump was unique because he was only interested in results.”
    1. First sentence: I agree. Surely, I agree with the “mystified” part. It is what underlies the question of this post.
    2. Second sentence: How much of these beliefs of being patronized, lied to and taken for granted is due to people being fed a constant stream of right wing propaganda, rather than the facts? Hatred of ordinary Americans by elites is a standard of righty talking heads and that constant drumbeat stokes belief and ratings. And anger and hatred. Show me the facts, though, or this is just another hateful Big Lie.
    3. Counterpoint to #2 above: I don’t know about the patronizing, but there have been a lot of promises broken and without question the Democrats have taken some people for granted. Nobody likes to be treated that way.
    4. Third sentence: Trump was, is and forever will only be interested in results for Trump, not for America. And he doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process (think: playing golf throughout the pandemic). His continuing lies to undermine our election are corroding our democracy and pouring more fuel on the fire of hatred. Further, ask any contractor who worked on a Trump Building and got stiffed about what results were important to Trump. Or ask the State Department, which has consistently been overcharged for everything during the Trump administration. Secret Service personnel were forced to patronize Trump properties and rent rooms at far above standard rates. And I know it’s a small thing that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago billed the U.S. $3 to serve Trump a glass of water, but it’s a satisfactory placeholder for all his grifting. I agree that Trump is focused on results, but are results like these what we should want?

As you can see, there are sweeping claims, but almost no supporting facts. That’s standard M.O. for Trumpies and it does not lead to any possibility of a meeting of the minds. In fact, it is one of three major reasons that a fruitful conversation is so difficult. Another major reason is the denial of provable, observable facts, as is a commonly found belligerent attitude.

Kevin ends his essay with dire warnings for the media and especially for Fox News, which has recently been slightly less of a lapdog for Trump. I’m sure Kevin is right in claiming that Biden’s TV ratings will be lower than Trump’s. What is far more disturbing is that anyone would care about such a thing.

It’s worrisome that anyone would equate TV ratings with the quality of the job a president is doing for the country or even whether a president is popular. Nobody paid attention to such things until the circus sideshow barker came to town and constantly bragged about his TV ratings, as though his primary job was to get high ratings. It’s akin to Trump bragging for months about having had the biggest inaugural crowd ever, which, of course, he didn’t. He bragged that way as though that’s what was important. For most of us, it wasn’t and isn’t. It shouldn’t be for any of us.

I appreciate Kevin’s passion and understand that he has his certainties – I have my own passion and certainties – and both of us are sorely infected by confirmation bias, of course. But I need someone to bring us real world stuff to examine and which will help us to understand one another, not bring just sweeping, baseless superlatives.

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The important question is how to deal with people who refuse facts, truth and reality. They are our countrymen and -women, after all, and we are obligated to figure out how to live together.

Roughly 80% of those who voted for Trump believe his lies/fantasies/distortions that the election was rigged and riddled with fraud. They believe him when he says he won the election and that “everybody knows it.” That’s around 60 million Americans who are living in an alternate reality. I’m guessing that to them this is just another example “of being patronized and lied to and worse, taken for granted.” And I’m also guessing that they are very angry they didn’t get their way, especially because they believe they were cheated. That makes conversation extremely difficult.

These folks are supported by the continuing refusal of nearly all elected Republicans to stand up and speak up about the Big Lie that is Trump and Trumpism. They provide tacit approval to believe Trump’s hateful and anti-democratic venom. These elected officials do great damage to our country with their cowardice (read this). They make it ever-harder to have a conversation with Trumpies, because they stoke the macho bravado posturing to “counter punch harder than its opponent.” That relegates us to communicating via fistfights. Or worse, like attempting to kidnap and execute a sitting governor. It’s worth noting again that our macho, bravado angry citizens are the ones who own most of the guns in this country.

So, you tell me how to bridge this insane divide that is America today, with half of us believing the untrue. And if I got any of this wrong, please set me and everyone straight.

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  1. Writings quoted or linked from my posts reflect a point I want to make, at least in part. That does not mean that I endorse or agree with everything in such writings, so don’t bug me about it.
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JA


Copyright 2021 by Jack Altschuler
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2 Responses to Oh, Kevin
  1. John Calia Reply

    I would echo Kevin’s comments about the “patronizing” attitude of liberals. Rather than spend time on that, I’ll comment on the economic record. First, presidents don’t have a big impact on the economy. In studies I’ve read, fiscal policy (tax and spending) may have as much as a 0.5% impact up or down over the long term. That said, we know that tax reductions contribute to economic growth, that national debt over 100% of GDP hampers it and Trump’s tariffs detract from economic efficiency. Presidents fraudulently take credit for good economies and therefore are blamed when things go well. That’s the yin and the yang.

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      Perhaps tax reductions contribute to economic growth, but that depends on who gets the reductions. Over 83% of the Trump tax reduction went to corporations which repurchased their shares of their stock, which goosed the stock market but not the economy, and to wealthy people, who bought stocks which goosed the stock market and their own portfolios. The economy pretty much just chugged along.