Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Matt Taibbi Is Sitting This One Out

Reading Gerard Baker’s op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal this morning I was struck by the simple fact that Trump supporters, like Baker, are begrudging. They see Trump’s flaws. They do not attempt to manipulate the news in order to obfuscate his errors. And yet, they are voting for him because the alternative, Baker says, is positively horrifying.

You don’t have to believe a single word of the media’s hysterical hyperbole about Donald Trump these last four years to think that this president is seriously lacking in the character of the men and women who have made this country the greatest nation on earth.

You don’t have to think he’s Hitler’s heir to be alarmed by his evidently cavalier disregard for small matters like the independence of the judiciary, the proper use of executive power, or the truth.

To which he adds:

Yet for all his faults, for all the legitimate fears stoked by the last four years, it’s not immoral or irrational to think that the incumbent still represents a better alternative to what’s on offer.

And then there’s Matt Taibbi,  man of a different generation, who shares, in his Substack column, his torments over trying to figure out how he can vote for Joe Biden. Is it enough, he suggests to recognize Trump’s flaws?

Taibbi writes edgy prose. He writes very well and is always worth reading. He has intellectual integrity and does not write to feed the vast left wing conspiracy. He is hardly a Trump fan, but he cannot bring himself to vote for Joe Biden. So, he is going to sit this one out.

Trump’s incompetence and influence on the darkest part of the national character make it morally impossible to vote for him. But his opponents are lying, witch-hunting scum in their own right, a club of censorious bureaucrats whose instincts for democracy and free speech hover somewhere between the mid-seventies GDR and the Church of Scientology. I thought all year I’d be able to do it, but I wake up this week unable to talk myself into voting for these people, even against Trump. What choices they give us! Thank God at least it’s about to be over. If it’s about to be over. Please, let it be over.

As is his wont, Taibbi does not note any of Trump’s achievements. They do not fit his narrative. He says nothing about the Middle East, about the now gone ISIS caliphate and his challenge to our NATO partners to get over their dependency on America. He does not say anything about Trump’s record on the economy. Admittedly the record is mixed, but it is not a complete calamity. And it ought certainly not to be ignored by a serious journalist.

So. Taibbi’s screed about the election has its pluses and its minuses. And yet, he offers some clear thinking on a few important matters. Beginning with his description of the Democratic candidate. For those who are making a living whining about Trump’s lack of empathy, Taibbi’s words offer some much needed context.

Joe Biden is a corpse with hair plugs whose idea of “empathy” is to jam fingers in the sternums of people who ask the wrong questions, or call them “fat” or “full of shit,” or dare them to “try me” — and that’s if he remembers what state he’s in. Is he a better human than Donald Trump? Probably, but his mental decline has hit Lloyd Bridges-in-Hot-Shots! levels and he shares troubling characteristics with the president, beginning with a pathological struggle with truth.

And, of course, Biden is a consummate liar, while also suffering from a hair fetish, one that he has insisted on displaying in public.

Biden spent much of 2020 lying about everything from his Iraq War vote to his educational history to a fantasy about being arrested in South Africa with Nelson Mandela. The same press that killed him for this behavior in the past let it all slide this time. Same with the growing ledger of handsy-uncle incidents that had adolescent girls and campaigning politicians alike wondering why a Vice President needs to smell their hair or plant lingering kisses on their heads while cameras flash.

When he arrives at his assessment of Donald Trump, Taibbi takes his claws out. He offers a slightly different view of Trump, different from the current media narrative and surely different from the conventional wisdom. Consider his view:

Donald Trump is going to be a difficult case for future historians because he’s simultaneously the biggest liar and the most lied-about politician in American history. The standard propaganda lines about Trump are all incorrect. The usual technique involves sticking his name in headlines next to absurd disqualifying descriptors: “fascist,” “traitor,” “dictator,” and so on.

18 Ways Trump Might Be a Russian Asset” is a typical example of what passed for commentary at outlets like the Washington Post in the Trump years. Such hot takes were a sure way to get TV invites….

Frankly, I had thought that George W. Bush was the lyingest liar we had ever seen. As for the president who promised that you could keep your doctor and your health plan, accompanied by a presidential candidate who promised to end fracking and to raise your taxes, only to deny he had ever said so, one could make a good case that all politicians lie all the time. 

The difference is: not all media outlets call politicians liars all the time. That honor seems only to be granted to Republicans.

But then, Taibbi arrives at a salient point. Quite simply, he remarks that if Trump were really the fascist dictator his opponents accuse him of being, why he would have long since consigned his opponents to federal prison, or at least to house arrest.

We would gain some much-needed perspective on the Trump presidency if we could, after we learned to assess the good and the bad, to remark that Trump was a political amateur. Now, many people were so fed up with the political professionals that they wanted to blow the whole place up. And yet, noting that Trump is an amateur is surely better than to attribute malevolent intent to someone who disagrees with you or to tax him with a bundle of psychiatric diagnoses-- all the while covering up the Biden family corruption and ignoring the signs of Joe’s senility.

In Taibbi’s words:

Trump may have played cartoon Mussolini on the stump and reached for Hitlerian cliches in his campaign videos, but the dirty secret of the last four years — hidden from the broad mass of voters by both conservative and mainstream media — was that the president’s much ballyhooed strongman leanings were a fraud. Trump the Terrible was great TV, but away from cameras he was a fake despot who proved repeatedly that he didn’t know the first thing about how to exercise presidential power, even in his own defense.

Trump entered the White House buried in scandals that had been foisted upon him by officials in his own government who were openly betraying him, illegally leaking intelligence about his administration to the press on a weekly if not daily basis. Not to say it would have been a good idea, but he could have hauled every last one of these leakers off to jail, legally, and in a few cases could even have done what Barack Obama did, and used secrecy laws to go after press antagonists as well.

Surrounded by deep-state bureaucrats who had chosen to do their very best to destroy him, Trump allowed them to do their dirty work, largely unimpeded. He may have ranted, he may have tweeted, but he did not stop them. It's an important story, one that is worth emphasis.

In that, Taibbi continues, Trump was far less ruthless than even Barack Obama. Of course, Obama had the media running cover for him. Trump had the media attacking and harassing him, every hour on the hour. One must note that this disparity does explain one of the reasons why the two presidents acted differently.

Obama crushed the record by using the Espionage Act to pursue at least ten leakers for crimes like disclosing details of America’s use of torture, revealing the extent of illegal surveillance programs, even publicizing details of efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

Instead of using these imperial powers to send commandos rappelling through the windows of people like Jim Comey, John Brennan or even David Ignatius in message-sending pre-dawn raids, the “fascist” Trump did nothing. Before inauguration, he sat like the dope he is in the Trump Tower while Comey pulled a J. Edgar Hoover to his face, promising to keep “close” a damaging report about a pee tape in a supposedly top secret meeting whose details would be on CNN within about ten minutes.

And then there is the question of how Trump handled the coronavirus epidemic. Most people agree that it was anything but his finest hour. Taibbi is on board with that judgment.

Obviously, as we watch the virus return to Europe with a vengeance, even in countries that had strict lockdowns, we do not know what could or should have been done. But still, Trump’s greatest mistake was to make himself the lead communicator, in daily press briefings, about something he simply did not understand. Of course, he was not well served by the bureaucracy, but making himself the face of the fight against the virus has certainly haunted him:

Trump may not have been a dictator, but was guilty of near-total ignorance and incompetence, qualities that shone through during the Covid-19 pandemic. He took personal offense at scientific and media rhetoric about mask use, interpreting all of it as criticism of his presidency, and as a result spent much of the summer creating viral hot spots everywhere he went, in an “I’ll show them!” televised trail of death. 

On the other hand the virus has become completely politicized, to the point where no one is really reporting that Democratic state governors bear some considerable responsibility for the high death rate. And we might ask whether the mass protests and the violent insurrection that have swept the nation for the past months might have been superspreader events, too.

To blame Trump for the hundreds of thousands of deaths in this country is to assume the government could have stopped all of them, but his messaging just on this one issue has been insane. …  Trump isn’t the only politician who’s been irresponsible here — the Democrats’ decision to force long lines of voters into cramped indoor voting areas in order to get March primaries in Illinois, Ohio, Arizona, and Florida in the books while Biden had momentum was the same kind of insanity — but Trump’s inability to grapple with coronavirus highlighted his fatal weakness as a politician, his lunatic narcissism.

Taibbi errs when he attributes Trump’s inability to maintain staff members to insecurity, aka narcissism. The alternative explanation is that Trump was an amateur. He did not have a group of political allies, men and women he could trust, men and women he had been working with for years. When it came to hiring people for important jobs, Trump was too inexperienced to know who they were. Few had any real loyalty to him. He made some obvious mistakes, most of whom are no longer with the administration.

Trump is so totally insecure — and said to be especially terrified of other men — that he was unable to maintain loyal teams of operatives for any length of time, with one aide after another quickly pulling the pin to rip him in tell-all book deals. This dynamic indicated Trump is such a pain in the ass that not even the lure of vast political power can make serving him worth it for more than a few months or weeks.

He concludes the point by adding:

For all that, Trump comes perilously close to being a better choice than his Democratic opponent. That’s how revolting our situation is.

But, many of Trump’s supporters did not want another politician and certainly not another lawyer in the White House. They should have understood the downside of their choice, but apparently many of them are not unhappy about their choice. In choosing Trump they had repudiated the swamp, the Washington bureaucracy that had been largely in charge of the government. Taibbi calls them "imperial America," which means that they were ruling by diktat and fiat.

Taibbi notes that Trump’s enemies were horrified to be shunted aside, humiliated by a man with orange hair:

The extraordinary accident of Trump winning the presidency in 2016 put imperial America out of the White House for the first time. They didn’t handle the news well.

The last four years have been a ceaseless tantrum of security state hacks, media lackeys, and Beltway nomenklatura who from day one openly sought to jail our Clown-in-Chief for the unforgivable crime of getting elected without their permission. Their behavior is the only reason the Tuesday could turn out to be close.

Taibbi continues that they made it their mission in life to destroy Trump, to make it impossible for him to govern. And then they could denounce him for being unable to lead. Someone might have noticed that when your staff is in permanent mutiny, this makes it dreadfully difficult to lead:

Our imperial government-in-exile spent four years engaged in a protracted prosecution, a mega-Benghazi that involved political spying, open interference of foreign intelligence services in domestic politics, constant lies to the public about nonexistent conspiracies, and the cheering of so many norms violations that things like breaking attorney-client privilege for a sitting president, or a judge refusing to let prosecutors dismiss a case, barely rated notice. They spent almost all of their time on political schemes to oust Trump, and almost none coming up with better solutions for problems like declining incomes, rising inequality and debt, and inadequate health care.

While TV channels increasingly filled their on-air ranks with former CIA and FBI officials, another telltale sign of authoritarian drift, a whole range of private press interests were accused of treasonous collaboration and threatened with new forms of suppression. This turned out not to be necessary, as most private news companies voluntarily accepted the logic of denouncing news adverse to the Democratic Party cause as foreign subversion. 


David Foster said...

As I may have noted here before: Trump has an intuitive, pattern-recognizing sort of mind. He sees things that others don't see, or at least sees them before others do. This can lead him to innovative and effective strategies, such as his Middle Eastern policy of going *around* the Palestinians to other countries, rather than the hopeless approach of begging them for cooperation...which was the approach of all the 'experts'.

People with strictly deductive minds, who think in the boxes they have been taught to think within, don't understand this kind of thinking, and it feels chaotic to them. This category includes most politicians, media types, and academics.

trigger warning said...

I was intending to vote for Trump, but Lady Gaga changed my mind. :-D

Sam L. said...

"For all that, Trump comes perilously close to being a better choice than his Democratic opponent. That’s how revolting our situation is." That guy is nuts. "Perilously close" gives it away. I think he's in dire need of a good shrink.

I think Trump should go all CONAN THE BARBARIAN on the Dems. They NEED a righteous whuppin'. Well-selected insults would just be a start.

Ares Olympus said...

Matt is free to sit this election out, but America doesn't seem to be agreeing with likely record voter turnout. We live in a divided country with divided facts, and a far-left that hates the middle as much as the far-right hates the middle. What can sensible people do but ignore the far-everybody and kick Trump out anyway? Matt's a good writer, but I won't be joining his protest club.

Biden will be president 2021, regardless of what the United Extremes of America really want, which seems to primarily be more chaos, more division, more hatred, and more cynicism. Sleepy Joe and Cackling Kamala are just fine. They just deserve a better America to lead.

Anonymous said...

Matt's a poeur, as a writer and as a human being! He claims TRUMP is incompetent but cannot post an example! That's not "edgy writing" that's plagiarism of his readers' worst fears, as well as a naïve, total misunderstanding of what presidents really should do.

Was it incompetent to rid the US of Nafta TRADE DEAL, IN FAVOR OF THE FAR BETTER USMCA? Was it incompetent to rid the world of the ISIS Caliphate? Or bring US troops home from shithole countries? Or ease tensions with NO Korea? Or work new favorable trade deals with Japan, China and So. Korea? Or make our European allies live up to the NATO treaty?

Was it incompetent to earn four Peace Prize nominations for securing Arab countries' signatures on peace pacts with Israel?

So, N Matt, you pussified, pusillanimous piece of alimentary canal waste, just what did TRUMP do incompetently?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Trash talk is beneath your dignity, but maybe it isn't. You might have noticed that your humble blogger did correct Taibbi's neglect of Trump's accomplishments. Try some cold compresses on your fevered brow-- and try to be somewhat decent in your tirade, lest I delete your comments.