Dispatches from Wolf Country — Old Men Yelling at Clouds
The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union–Hamilton, Federalist 68
One of the problems with the Trump ascension is that we should have seen them coming. Reagan had problems during the latter part of his Presidency, while there were some thoughts he might be losing it, he was not challenged by the media or opponents as incapable while in office. Six years after leaving office, President Reagan announced that he was withdrawing from public life and did so with quiet honesty and grace, and it was greeted with respect and admiration and sorrow by most Americans.
Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has had issues calling his sanity, temperament, judgement, morals, capacity and fitness for the office he holds since the day he announced his candidacy. The grand descent on the Golden Escalator to and through the admiring horde of paid to pretend extras and general sycophants, the Mexican rapists drug dealer crack and so on had to make you wonder, unless you are immune to wonder.
It did not get better. Recently finished Katy Tur’s book, Unbelievable, and it reads in sections like something from Celine or perhaps one of the late Medieval mystics, or perhaps a pastiche on Dante’s Inferno by Sartre or Kafka. She mentions the rumor election night that Trump was planning on continuing the rallies win or lose, and she had visions of spending the rest of her life in the press section being called Little Katie, metaphorically linked at the hip with Trump for the rest of eternity. She’s a talented writer and reporter and undergraduate philosophy major, so I suspect she knew the epitaph she wanted on her memoirs title page as a summation of her Trumpian captivity —
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” –Franz Kafka
Actually, that seems to be Trump’s primary skill — to take people, places, things, and institutions of merit and value and turn them into dung, roaches and ticks.
But, we know that the cognitive and emotional effects of aging start to impact various functions like judgement, memory and perception long before they reach the level of complete incompetence and surrender. The argument that we need to delay Social Security to force older workers to work longer assumes that they are able to either keep the jobs they have or find new ones. Neither assumption is necessarily true, of course, and is usually wrong. Add to that the realities of aging and the added complexities of life, and you start to wonder who’s fooling whom?
Now, Charlie Sykes was for a long time a conservative broadcaster in the Midwest and had a well-earned reputation for being a thoughtful, reasonable, compassionate conservative before Bush’s folks coined that term. He chose to stop broadcasting and semi-retire after the Trump victory in Clinton v. Cthulhu in 2016. He’s possibly busier now than he was then, as a MSNBC contributor, OPED writer and author of How the Right Lost It’s Mind.
He still broadcasts and remains active in Wisconsin, doing occasional shows on Wisconsin Public Radio. Charlie is several years younger than I am, and so I regard him as an early retiree. I hung on until I was 66 and since I’m still doing most of what I did before, I’m kind of wondering what exactly retirement is. Charlie wrote a great piece for the New York Times this morning on how the various reasonable, conservative Republicans who have announced retirement should consider how to use this new time when they won’t be going to meetings or shamelessly sucking up for money for re-election campaigns. In Retirement Tips in the Age of Trump, a mong the things he suggests are rocking chairs, but points out that it took him a while to figure out he had to do the rocking as well as the sitting. But, he also talks about meeting new people, staying off of Twitter, and reading.
Reading was one that I found especially telling, especially since we know are served by a President who doesn’t read although he does like pictures, movies and pieces of paper with his name on them. Sykes wrote under “Make Time to Read”
I’ve already advised Mr. Flake to get a good dog, because he’ll need one if he wants any friends, but I’d recommend that Senator Hatch spend some time with a book. Shortly before he announced his retirement, Mr. Hatch gushed about Mr. Trump that “we’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen, not only in generations, but maybe ever.” I’m going to suggest that Mr. Hatch’s loved ones give the soon-to-be ex-senator a biography of Abraham Lincoln. Or George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman or
Ronald Reagan, or even a short pamphlet on William Henry Harrison. He’ll find it eye-opening. On the subject of reading, Mr. Corker might want to spend time reading Goethe’s “Faust” — which I believe has a section on Mr. Corker’s recent vote to approve the tax bill.
One of the oddities of old age seems to be that as we age and have less to lose, we still become more and more fearful. I can think of nothing else to explain the utter loss of honor and integrity on the part of people like Orin Hatch and Bob Corker over the Tax Bill. Rather than burden the future generations with paying for things like a functioning, world class national infrastructure, education, and public health that would make their lives a lot better, they chose to burden them with paying for increased disparity in wealth and in greater loss of the possibility of the American dream.
Charlies Sykes is a kind and gentle man — despite being a Conservative Broadcaster, he was always the “Definitely not Rush Limbaugh” voice on the dial. His comments here are subtle — suggesting Bannon learn a new language like Italian so he can read Dante’s Inferno in the original Italian to “give him an idea of his future travel plans.”
The other possibility for Hatch and Corker and all the rest of the Republican Senators is that they’re just craven inbred liars and thieves. Now, that might be my take on them, but Charlie’s is a far more hopeful one.
Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury is somewhat disappointing, because I’ve heard the important stuff before. The NY Times and The Guardian had coverage of the idea that Trump and followers neither expected to win nor really wanted to. They had other plans and this was just the beginning of a Trump-Bannon media empire combined with possibly building some sort of hereditary opening for the “kids” to be able to run for President. Something went wrong with their plans, and they managed to win. Panic kind of ensued, as it should have. It’s not an easy or especially funny lead for this sort of popular history — the problem I have with it is that it all seems so real.
Great ambition unchecked by principle, or the love of glory, is an unruly tyrant–Hamilton
The Founders basically flubbed the idea of qualifications as they were laying out the requirements for constitutional offices. Part of this lies in the nature of the original electoral college and the actual conduct of voting. The Senate was going to be elected by the State Legislators, who might have different politics but given their makeup, be in an acceptable range of deviance. The popular vote would elect members of the electoral college, who would select the best candidate. The idea of “faction” or party politics was considered, of course, but their understanding was that American gentlemen having watched the horrors of faction in England would eschew letting such evil pop up in something so important as electing the nation’s Chief Magistrate.
So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. — Hamilton, Federalist 10
Now, we should remember that even as this was being discussed in the Constitutional Convention and laid out in detail in The Federalist Papers, various members of the political movers and shakers of the age — Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and others — were working for regional and ideological differences. Political parties seem to be inevitable to me; people are going to organize around common interests and common fears. The danger comes when ideological purity and intellectual calcification make it impossible to hear another point of view and react with anything besides disdain, anger and insult.
It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole. –Madison, Federalist Papers
As I say, they flubbed this. As a retired and recovering HR executive, I used to sweat hiring for a senior position until I had the chance to grill the hiring manager — often my boss — as to what this new person was supposed to do and what did the hiring manage want them to have done in the past in preparation. My team and I might massage it a bit, but the most important things for the people employing someone is to know what they want the new Schmedlap to do and what they figured Schedlap needed to have done to get ready.
In government, this is not new. In Rome, the Senate established the Cursus Honorum or “Course of Offices” a mandatory pattern of career that ensured that an aspiring leader would be prepared to lead. Most organizations have that sort of career pattern. It is rare for a qualified executive to suddenly appear on the scene without that preparation with the exception of family owned firms where blood trumps qualifications. The Roman pattern had required military service which was largely non-negotiable. Given that during the Republic, officers could move in and out of the service as needed when legions were raised and deployed, that worked reasonably well. As the Army became a more permanent institution, the idea of military tribunes rose and provided that qualified men could be appointed to serve in military leadership roles as needed.
While there was no maximum age set for office, the realities of the times did a good job preventing allowing those who’d “lost it” from taking a senior role. Today, the average life expectancy is in the early 70s. If your genetic clock is set to roll over into Alzheimer’s or Dementia or just plain old fear and paranoia and incontinence at 75, you can still be elected. All you have to do is appeal to a majority — either or the electorate or the Electoral College. Since most voters in the College are in fact pledged to vote for a particular candidate, in effect everything is done superficially by popular vote.
Given the problems inherent with quality control in voter eligibility — inevitably you end up with some form of discrimination based on some difficult to measure criteria — it seems the reasonable alternative is to set minimum qualifications for national office that reflect the reality of the 21st Century. There will always be a learning curve, but the length and steepness of the curve can be moderated if the person is ensured to be capable of achieving competence in a reasonable amount of time.
Dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.
Let me suggest that we should turn our attention to a series of Constitutional Amendments to prevent another inauguration of an incompetent, ignorant, unethical and intellectually deficient as president or vice president, appointment to the cabinet, or election to Congress. The 25th Amendment works well for things like Presidential Colonoscopies or heart attacks, but for things that are foreseeable make a pretty terrible defense of the nation.
We can argue for a week or so as to whether or not Trump should be impeached and for what. I think there’s a number of issues — emoluments, abuse of power, conflicts of interest, collusion, negligence, malfeasance and misfeasance — that might all be actionable. But, there are lots of people who in good faith would argue about any or all of these things. The removal of a President, no matter whom or why, is not a legal process but a political process. And politics is perhaps too slow as time moves on.
We are a democratic republic and most of us think we ought to stay that way. The safeguard to keep fools, crooks, the insane, the deranged, the drunken, the greedy out of office is to stop them before they get in. The Electoral College was supposed to do that. So much for that — if you’re a rational markets sort of thinker, you might come down with the pure democratic voices calling for an amendment to go purely by popular vote. That might work, except there are things like Tulips in Holland and Stock Frauds in Louisiana to lead a reasonable person to question the efficacy of the wisdom of crowds.
Real”you know, like a really smart person” persons is that they are smart enough to not say that they’re that smart.
In 1790, things moved moved a lot slower than they do today. We need to keep the Constitution relevant to reality. An amendment or a set of amendments establishing hard qualifications like education, prior service to the nation, possibly military service, security vetting, and so on prior to elections make sense. State and local service could serve as part of our American Course of Offices; Guard, Reserve, Public Health Service, as well as Federal Service in the Military, Peace Corps or other programs could demonstrate the necessary service to the state.
The number of years and the extent of the service should be weighted by the position. Let me suggest that ownership of a family owned business or running a privately held company could serve an executive qualification for some offices but shouldn’t for the President. Mr. Trump has been confused from the beginning as to his authority, and it’s far less than it was with the Trump Organization.
It pains me to write this, but for cabinet positions and the Presidency and possibly the higher offices in Congress — Speaker, Leaders, Pro Tem — there should be a very severe security evaluation. As a minimum, swearing in should be subject to the completion of that process. The President should not have the authority to just grant security clearances.
Consider this: I know a lot of smart people, and have been accused of it myself. The thing about real”you know, like a really smart person” persons is that they are smart enough to not say that they’re that smart. When I want to make a plea to my own authority in argument, it usually begins with “I just a dumb Irish Catholic from upstate New York who had to join the Army to get my first pair of shoes…” and I never would use that if I wasn’t dealing with people who had no problem believing I was brighter than the average bear.
Einstein denied being a genius. Cicero denied being a genius. People who claim to be geniuses do so usually based on an IQ score of 138 or higher. It doesn’t matter — it’s what you do with it. Trump uses a 6th or 7th grade vocabulary, and speaks ungrammatically but with a passionate attachment to his own ignorance. Maybe part of the presidential qualification should be a morning spent on the College Boards.
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Posted by Mike Farrell on January 8, 2018, With 0 Reads, Filed under Elections, Government, Of Interest. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.