On Trump: populism without bad manners would be preferable…

Could we have populism without all the invective? It’s the bad manners and hateful speech that really bothers me.

I mean I think I could like the idea of populism and of shaking up the world order, and I don’t mind the idea of some form of nationalism versus globalism. One-world government and economy (globalization?) does not appeal to me.

There is a reason we have different nations (perhaps some good and some bad). It is just a fact of life, based on race and language and culture and geography and so on. And that does not mean we cannot all live together in harmony — but at times we need our space. And yes, America, the United States of America, is different. We are a hodgepodge of races and culture, except there is the inescapable fact that our roots and traditions are European, English and Germanic in particular. But of course people came here from all over the world (some people involuntarily at first). We have evolved but cannot escape, or at least have not escaped, our roots and cultural traditions, good and bad.

And let me get to the point. Donald Trump is not one for complex thoughts (which is not to say he is actually an ignoramus). But that appeals probably to so many who get tired of hearing all those complex thoughts and then not seeing any good outcomes for themselves. Actually there may have been a lot of good outcomes but we all get used to them and take then for granted and ask what have you done for me lately?

And the Trump tweets. Really they are a modern version of the fireside chat made famous by FDR on the radio giving pep talks to the public during the Great Depression. They are just much abbreviated and without any eloquence, to say the least.

But it would be somewhat more palatable without the invective — without all the name calling, and without the sexism.

There is a tradition of presidents using the so-called bully pulpit (originating they say with Theodore Roosevelt) to go directly to the people. Trump seems to be putting an emphasis on bully and using it against anyone he thinks questions him — maybe not against the general public but then again in the atmosphere he creates there is something left not completely said but understood that to cross the great leader is to flirt with personal danger.

I have no idea what Mr. Trump’s actual mental abilities are. I’ll assume he is of at least average intelligence. What he does have is gut instinct, street smarts, and the advantage of having a rich father who got him started with that little million-dollar loan.

And those vaunted Trump negotiating skills: I don’t know how much of that is overblown. But what I see is crude salesmanship composed of meaningless hyperbole and pressure tactics, and appeal to an adversary’s or a potential partner’s own greed.

(We have all read that victims of a swindle often have succumbed to their own greed.)

The way I see it is whether in the business world of deals or in world leadership, the person on the other side of the table from Trump might not even believe him, but that person might be intimidated or might be intrigued by the aura of power and the chance to score big. While Trump is untested on the world leadership stage, as far as I know in business when the dust settles and things go sour, he just walks away with cash. He has admitted he has used the bankruptcy courts as a tool of the trade. I don’t know if that style can work in international relations — seems doubtful.

So anyway, with his form of bully pulpit, even before being sworn in as president in this awkward interim with a lame duck still officially at the helm (until Friday), Trump has already scored some seeming victories with his tweet version of the bully pulpit, getting some corporations to promise to move fewer jobs overseas — they are scared, no doubt.

One has to wonder why Barack Obama did not use some pressure like that in the wake of his initial victory in 2008. Of course his way would not be crude like Trump, you know, blunt force, but he had political capital.

But I have some ideas on that. You know he did not want to push it. Here he was the first black man to be elected president. But he wanted to appeal to the still white majority, and I think he truly believed in people of all races getting along. I was going to write that he did not want to be seen as being “uppity”, but I feared that would make me sound racist (as if I thought he would be uppity if he did). But somehow I think the Republicans in  congress faced with his eloquence in public and his attitude in perhaps private meetings that he did have political capital saw it as just that, uppity. Whereas someone like Trump would be seen as strong-willed.

I do not like the tone Trump is setting with our allies, particularly in Europe. While it may be true that they have taken advantage of the shield of protection the U.S. has offered over the decades by not always paying their fair share to NATO for defense, the other side of the coin is that has kept the U.S. as the leader of the free world and with that has given it the privileges of its rank as leader in trade and world politics.

(I won’t even go into Trump’s outrageous accusations and depiction of the situation with Mexico — well except to say that while Mexico has major internal problems, the U.S. benefits greatly from trade with it, and good or bad, the U.S. seems to depend upon a labor supply from there — and I have to guess that even with the problems it is all a net benefit for the U.S.)

It was surprising to see President Obama use the method of leading from behind in the NATO operation in Libya. Military alliances are tricky but I have to think it is better to be the stronger power.

While I think Trump is right to question the continued need or role for NATO (post-Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact) and the relationship between its partners, and the financing of it, I cannot see why there is need for bad words or threats over it all. But that is the Trump style. And we have yet to see whether there is any substance to match with that style. And I have to say, the style is ugly.

But still, if I have any hope (and that is about all I could have), it is that our government will focus on the need of the populace as a whole. There have been too many blunders by the elites (but non-elites are not blunder-proof).

Just watched a little piece on Morning Joe about the effect of Trump’s twitter statements and his not-so-veiled threats against U.S. corporations and business engaging in importing goods from overseas and shipping production out of country. There are benefits and disadvantages. Cases cited were U.S. final production facilities where American workers produce products that have components made out of country (cost is always a factor). So on the one hand, anything Trump can do to cut foreign competition would seem to help American workers. However, if his actions cut into the ability to import component parts, then some of those American factories will be priced out of the market. And I would add, the U.S. has an export market to be  concerned about that could be adversely affected by an upset in trade rules.

So, we will see what we will see. After Friday, the time for talking is finished. The public will want to see action.

In his original campaign Obama promised to ride herd on the Wall Street crowd and the corporations whose actions were blamed for creating or exacerbating the Great Recession. He did not. He was re-elected, partly because he may have done a good job anyway and some political blunders made by his challenger, and the advantage of being the incumbent.

Trump’s brand of politics seems to have been defined as some form of populism. Trump has very little history in politics. He has funded and talked in support of both the traditional right and left in politics at various times.

There was during the campaign the strange phenomenon of the meeting of the minds to some degree between the supporters of Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist (the ultra left in politics), and Trump who in his strategy nominally aligned himself with the far political right — but maybe the Tea Party brand, which itself is a version of populism of the right. At one time populism was seen as more of a phenomenon of the left — attacking the establishment. But in this case, elements of the right and left both took on what they perceived as an establishment out of touch with everyday people (workers and small businessmen in particular). And that weird coalition squeaked out a victory in the Electoral College.

I still think that with all his bombast and outright threats to the world and even those of us in the U.S. who may not agree with him we face peril in the Trump presidency.

p.s.

Teaching children good manners and good behavior would seem a lost cause in the Trump era. Kind of mixed signals. On the one hand we have a movement against bullying and on the other a bully has just been elected president.

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