Category Archives: Politics

President Trump at the UN, September 19, 2017 – Annotated

President Trump’s statement to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2017, as prepared for delivery.

Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President, world leaders, and distinguished delegates: Welcome to New York. It is a profound honor to stand here in my home city, as a representative of the American people, to address the people of the world.

As millions of our citizens continue to suffer the effects of the devastating hurricanes that have struck our country , I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to every leader in this room who has offered assistance and aid. The American people are strong and resilient, and they will emerge from these hardships more determined than ever before.

The devastating hurricanes struck several small countries in the Caribbean but Trump does not even mention those countries. Did the US offer them special aid?

Fortunately, the United States has done very well since Election Day last November 8th . The stock market is at an all-time high — a record. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 16 years, and because of our regulatory and other reforms, we have more people working in the United States today than ever before. Companies are moving back, creating job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time. And it has just been announced that we will be spending almost $700 billion on our military and defense.

Fortunately for the US but not necessarily for people in the rest of the world, and why should the rest of the world care?

Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been. For more than 70 years, in times of war and peace, the leaders of nations, movements, and religions have stood before this assembly. Like them, I intend to address some of the very serious threats before us today but also the enormous potential waiting to be unleashed.

Our military has been by far the largest in the world for decades. This comes across as an implicit threat: “and we will not hesitate to use it against anyone who crosses us”.

We live in a time of extraordinary opportunity. Breakthroughs in science, technology, and medicine are curing illnesses and solving problems that prior generations thought impossible to solve.

But each day also brings news of growing dangers that threaten everything we cherish and value. Terrorists and extremists have gathered strength and spread to every region of the planet. Rogue regimes represented in this body not only support terrorists but threaten other nations and their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity.

Authority and authoritarian powers seek to collapse the values, the systems, and alliances that prevented conflict and tilted the world toward freedom since World War II.

International criminal networks traffic drugs, weapons, people; force dislocation and mass migration; threaten our borders; and new forms of aggression exploit technology to menace our citizens.

To put it simply, we meet at a time of both of immense promise and great peril. It is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights, or let it fall into a valley of disrepair.

We have it in our power, should we so choose, to lift millions from poverty, to help our citizens realize their dreams, and to ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred, and fear.

This institution was founded in the aftermath of two world wars to help shape this better future. It was based on the vision that diverse nations could cooperate to protect their sovereignty, preserve their security, and promote their prosperity.

It was in the same period, exactly 70 years ago, that the United States developed the Marshall Plan to help restore Europe. Those three beautiful pillars — they’re pillars of peace, sovereignty, security, and prosperity.

Three beautiful pillars? I count four.

The Marshall Plan was built on the noble idea that the whole world is safer when nations are strong, independent, and free. As President Truman said in his message to Congress at that time, “Our support of European recovery is in full accord with our support of the United Nations. The success of the United Nations depends upon the independent strength of its members.

The success of the UN depends on ALL its members, not just European ones.

To overcome the perils of the present and to achieve the promise of the future, we must begin with the wisdom of the past. Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.

We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government. But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation. This is the beautiful vision of this institution, and this is foundation for cooperation and success.

The UN vision and charter are about relationships AMONG countries, not about what happens inside countries other than for fundamental human rights, and most definitely not about commercial or power interests. Trump explicitly places self-interest before global interest and then claims implicitly in the last sentence that this prioritization is the UN’s “beautiful vision”. It is absolutely NOT. The word “strong” does not occur anywhere in the UN charter.

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Trump and His True Believers


I’ve sent you the below quotes from Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer before. I read them again today in light of having experienced 6 months of Trump in power. If Hoffer is right — and FWIW I for one think he is, given his experiences with Nazism and similar movements — then Trump is a classic instance of a mass-movement leader. But I think Trump fails in one key aspect and therein lies reason for hope. Read on.

“It is futile to judge the viability of a new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises. What has to be judged is its corporate organization for quick and total absorption of the frustrated. … The man just out of the army is an ideal potential convert, and we find him among the early adherents of all contemporary mass movements. He feels alone and lost in the free-for-all of civilian life.”

“… deprecation of the present, a facility for make-believe, a proneness to hate, a readiness to imitate, credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible, and many others which crowd the minds of the intensely frustrated are, as we shall see, unifying agents and prompters of recklessness.”

“The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.”

“Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move.”

“There is an illiterate air about the most literate true believer.”

“The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense.”

[Characteristics of the mass-movement leader] “Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable. The main requirements seem to be: audacity and a joy in defiance; an iron will; a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth; faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness; a recognition that the innermost craving of a following is for communion and that there can never be too much of it…”

[The characteristic that I don’t see in Trump] “… a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. This last faculty is one of the most essential and elusive.”

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world. Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership. There can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts.”

About the reason for hope, Trump’s advisers and lieutenants seem loyal but not capable. Think of the chaotic rollout of the first attempted ban on Muslims. It’s easy to undo and break things, difficult to design and build useful new things. What useful new thing has this group invented or created or accomplished in its first 6 months, or even begun in earnest on? Nothing I know of.

The talking heads on liberal television, for example Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, harp endlessly on the twisting of facts and gross unfairness of statements and opinions and so forth coming from Trump and his supporters. But I think the commentators miss the point and end up only reinforcing Trump by talking incessantly about the man. You’ve said it several times: shut up, go heads down, flood the polls in 2018, and throw out the bums. Unfortunately we can’t throw out Gorsuch. He will poison our lives from here on.


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Donald Trump, Andrew Jackson, the Civil War, and counterfactual speculation


A few days ago, Donald Trump whipped up a storm with remarks about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War:

In an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, Trump compared himself to President Andrew Jackson and said Jackson, if he was born later, could have helped avoid the Civil War.

And then, in comments that whipped Washington into frenzy Monday morning, Trump said he didn’t understand why the Civil War had to be fought.

“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” he said. “He was a very tough person but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw with regard to the Civil War, he said ‘There’s no reason for this.'”

“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

This link is to the full Examiner report of the interview.

Later, Trump tweeted:

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Bret Stephens’s NY Times Op-Ed on Climate Change: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong


This April 28 Bret Stephens op-ed debut is way off the mark every inch of the way.

First, what Old Jew Of Galicia? Milocz wrote that epigraph and hundreds or thousands have cited it as if it’s ancient and real wisdom that transcends the folly of whomever you want to lambaste. But what Old Jew of central or western Europe would use precise figures like 55% as opposed to 60% to describe degrees of being sure that one is right? And right about what? Everything? It seems to me that’s the only possibility of the quote, given no other information than the “quote” itself. It seems to be about totalitarian regimes that rewrite truth and history to their liking and allow no dissent. But that’s a whole different world! Climate scientists are not claiming they’re 100% right about everything, only 97% right about something very important that they’ve looked at from dozens or hundreds of different angles and almost always come up with the same conclusion, which is that warming will with high likelihood accelerate and all of humanity with high likelihood will be in a peck of trouble therefrom.

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Hillbilly Elegy and Section 8


On page 140 of Hillbilly Elegy J. D. Vance describes the section 8 resident of the rented house next door to his Mamaw’s house.

Those Section 8 recipients looked a lot like us. The matriarch of the first family to move in next door was born in Kentucky but moved north at a young age as her parents sought a better life. She’d gotten involved with a couple of men, each of whom had left her with a child but no support. She was nice, and so were her kids. But the drugs and the late-night fighting revealed troubles that too many hillbilly transplants knew too well. Confronted with such a realization of her own family’s struggle, Mamaw grew frustrated and angry.

From that anger sprang Bonnie Vance the social policy expert: “She’s a lazy whore, but she wouldn’t be if she was forced to get a job”; “I hate those fuckers for giving these people the money to move into our neighborhood.” She’d rant against the people we’d see at the grocery store: “I can’t understand why people who’ve worked all their lives scrape by while these deadbeats buy liquor and cell phone coverage with our tax money.”

Mamaw, Bonnie Vance, refers to J. D. Vance’s maternal grandmother. “[T]hose fuckers” refers to the civil servants at the county housing agency that implement Ohio’s version of the federally paid for housing program. The last sentence of the quotation reprises to material earlier in the book in which Vance describes people using food stamps subvert the government’s purposes by reselling goods to get cash and talking on their cell phones while paying for goods with food stamps. That description will provide material for another blog post. In this one, I’m writing about section 8 and its beneficiaries.

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A Remark on Hillbilly Elegy

To my young and independent correspondent,

You and Wayne recommended that I read Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance to understand Trump voters.

Another item from Vance’s book that I didn’t refer to in my earlier post was his strong denunciation of those conservatives and working class whites who persist in believing the racist lie that Obama is neither American nor Christian. Trump is merely the most influential of these racists

In Dreams From My Father, Obama, then about 30 years old and with no reason to believe he might be President in 20 years tells the story of joining a Christian church. Of course, he tells of his birth in Hawaii too.

His mother, an anthropologist and not religious, possibly an atheist (I don’t remember), believed that spirituality was an important aspect of human life, and she sought to educate her children in the range of spiritual thought. She did not advocate one school of religious thought over another to her children. As you know, her second husband was a Muslim Indonesian man, and she and her children lived in Indonesia for a time. This is where Obama attended a Muslim school. Those who darkly call this a madrassa, and remind us that Obama’s middle name is Hussein, neglect to say that he also attended a Catholic school in Indonesia.

Obama, not formally religious and not associated with any church or church tradition, took his first job after graduating from Colombia as a community organizer working in Chicago. The people he worked with, the local politically and socially active, mostly black, people were often church-going, and often worked in these social endeavors as part of their ideas of Christian service. That is, Obama saw in Chicago’s black Christian community people working to help and support one another, just as Vance urges for his hillbillies. Reflecting upon this experience, and under the influence of his respect and admiration for Michelle, a church-going woman, he and she visited various Chicago churches and choose one in which to worship.

When Obama was in office, and various political commenters and politicians were asserting that Obama was a Muslim and un-American, my darling Christian wife and I read some of his short speeches at religious events at the White House. These were gatherings such as a Passover Seder, an Easter prayer breakfast, or a dinner ending the fast of Ramadan. Of course, virtually everything a normal president says in public is prepared by a speechwriter under the president’s direction. Obama’s remarks at Christian events, however, sounded to our ears to be personal and not just reading prepared remarks. His remarks were sincere and genuine, as it seemed to us, and knowledgeable about Christian religious ideas and the Bible. My wife recognized the forms of Christian expression, such as bearing witness. Obama’s remarks at events of non-Christian religions, while appropriate, seemed to us to be more formulaic.

As in Vance’s memoir, I liked the way in which 30-year-old Obama recounts his earlier foolish ideas, and how those Chicago locals who he was supposed to be organizing taught him, and not the other way around.

By the way, Barack is the anglicized version of a word in Arabic that is the same as the Hebrew word Boruch, blessed. It’s the beginning of many Jewish prayers, as in Blessed art Thou, King of the Universe, who has given us the fruit of the vine. Indeed, that is the Hebrew word for my name, which in English is:


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Hillbilly Elegy

Wayne and my young, thoughtful correspondent,

I have read Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance, as both of you recommended it. Here are some of my thoughts.

This link is to a friendly NYT review. This one is to a NYT podcast interview with J. D. Vance that attempts to understand the Trump voter. Here’s a David Brooks column in which he recommends Hillbilly Elegy and draws lessons for our politics. This is a NYT review of three memoirs, including Hillbilly Elegy, that arise from the same social group as Vance’s family:

I enjoyed Vance’s memoir, which I think is a useful and reflective account of him life and his milieu. He criticizes some government programs that try to assist his hillbillies because those programs cannot solve their problems. He proposes a few tweaks to these programs, but none of those programs’ advocates believe that they can solve all the problems of the people they help. That is, I felt his criticism of those programs was a strawman argument, but his suggestions are fine.

He gives credit to two major tax-payer funded government programs for helping him: Ohio State University and the U. S. Marines.

He says that the deep solution to the troubles of his hillbillies must come from within themselves. They must find social support from their extended families, just as his Mamaw and Papaw (maternal grandparents) helped him to deal with his troubled and unstable mother. I agree with him, and I suspect that most thoughtful and humane people agree too. Indeed, his proposals reminded me of another person’s book that urged similar ideas upon us: It Takes a Village.

I found it hard to see why the reviewers and commenters found in this book an explanation for why a few tens of thousands of people in a few mid-Western states threw the Electoral College to Donald Trump. Perhaps Vance means to say that these hillbillies are in despair, the result of a history of bad life choices, and voting for Trump was just one more bad decision. I’d agree with that. Of course, I know that’s not why he thinks they voted for Trump.

To thank you both for recommending this memoir, I have a memoir recommendation for you: Dreams from My Father: A story of race and inheritance.
As for Obama’s book, I’m reminded of a witty exchange between Sarah Palin and internet wags during the 2008 election campaign. Palin said that Obama wasn’t qualified or experienced for the job, as the only real job he’d had was as a community organizer, while she was an actual governor. Someone pointed out that Jesus was a community organizer, and Pontius Pilate was a governor.


Here are two more items related to Hillbilly Elegy, from a year ago. This one is a NYT op-ed essay by David Leonhardt. The second is an op-ed in NYT  by J D Vance.

What struck me about the first essay was that the Republican health care plans will make dealing with the opioid epidemic harder. This opioid epidemic is among the key crises afflicting J. D. Vance’s hillbilly community, and it brought down his mother. The Republicans have long been clear about their intentions for health care, which are to cut the cost to the government for Americans’ health care and to shift that cost onto sick people.

As for Vance’s essay, I was struck by the similarity with his thoughts in its penultimate paragraph and those of Hillary Clinton from her book, It Takes a Village. Many readers say that his book helps us to understand why working class white men voted for Trump. I’d like to know who Vance voted for considering that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats advocate pretty much the same policies as he recommends, while it is certain that Trump and the Republicans will be working hard to dismantle any programs that accord with Vance’s ideas.

One policy advocated by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats and opposed by Republicans that Vance doesn’t mention is to increase the minimum wage. I wonder why he doesn’t mention it.


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