It is surely a time to reflect upon the strength of American institutions, and to take some reassurance in the ways they are moving to protect our system. (For a general State Dept view of these strengths, see here. For my analysis of the importance of communicating internationally about these strengths, see here.)
The most fascinating, I find, was the addition by the Supreme Court, when it took the immigration case, of the issue of meaning of the language that the President should “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” It is generally assumed that the addition, very rare indeed, was driven by Scalia, and that his death puts the matter on hold (indeed, it seems not to have received significant attention at oral argument). But imagine the back and forth in the Conference, and the liberals having to concede that they might want to join with conservatives in beginning to create a consensus intellectual framework to constrain out of control chief executives. I would have gone for it.
At the American Foreign Services Association day at the U.S State Department on Friday, I got to ask John Hefferenr, Principal Assistant Deputy Secretary, and a career officer, about what retired Foreign Services Officers could and might tell their friends around the world to make clear that America’s institutions are not crumbling. (See my prior general post on the need for this kind of outreach through international networks of professionals and friends)
I did the best I could to reconstruct his reply, so this is not an exact quote:
First, I would say that retired Foreign Service Officers can say, write, or do anything.
A friend sent me, for consideration, an editorial in a publication called “The Week” which gathers valuale and representative articles from around the world. The Editor, William Falk, under the headline The election that cannot be discussed, essentially urges us not to discuss the election for fear of violence or losing friends.
If you suffer from a compulsion to talk politics with friends, family, and co-workers during the next six months, resist it. The primaries already have fractured the two political parties into feuding factions, and now the presidential race will be a death match between two of the most disliked, divisive figures in recent U.S. history. If you dare discuss Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton around the water cooler or at the family picnic, the ensuing argument will likely end in yelling and personal insults. You might even get punched.
. . . Read about it, watch it on TV, but I warn you: Speak not of it to people who disagree — or you may never speak to them again.
I hope he is kidding, or perhaps using it as a way to point out the deterioration of out political dialog.
Remember when we never knew quite what to feel about “W”s use of weird nicknames. “Turdblossom” was what Wikipedia describes as the “term of endearment” used by W for Karl Rove. A list of such W nicknames is here. Even the hostile ones embody a modicum of respect, for example “Sabretooth” for Barney Frank. Although I always felt that this nickname habit was a way of maintaining control over relationships, or at least suggesting a false intimacy.
But now, for Trump, W’s own brother Jeb is “low energy,” whatever that is meant to mean.
For the complete Trump insult list (not a nickname list) most of which, at least superficially, are far worse, go here. We all know of “Lying Ted,” “Crooked Hilary,” etc. I suspect these are all focus group tested.
Surely this reflects a profound deterioration in Republican candidates confidence in their ability to win based on the strength of their arguments. Maybe it also reflects an inability to make arguments at all.
Yesterday, Trump made probably the most absurd suggestion so far. As reported by the New York Times:
After assuring Americans he is not running for president “to make things unstable for the country,” the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, suggested that he might reduce the national debt by persuading creditors to accept something less than full payment.
Asked on Thursday whether the United States needed to pay its debts in full, or whether he could negotiate a partial repayment, Mr. Trump told the cable network CNBC, “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.”
It’s actually really scary. Every country in the world would be committing diplomatic malpractice if its leaders were not right now reassessing, more fundamentally than at any time since Pearl Harbor, how much they can rely on the US as a stable, predictable partner or even as a coherent adversary.
Trumps becoming presumptive nominee has to suggest to them that we might have a President, and foreign trade and military policies, best described in this compilation ad using only the words and images of fellow Republicans.
If one thing is clear about this year, it is that here seem to be few is any consequences not just to lying, but to serial lying.
What is particularly remarkable about one candidate’s lies, is that he repeats them again and again, even after being caught, with no apparent sense of shame, or even awareness. I leave for psychiatrists and psychologists to determine whether his pathological lying is knowing and intentional, or reflecting an even deeper problem of cognition on his part.
In any event, the repetition provides the path to the antidote.