Reflections from the debate

It’s long past demonstrated that Donald Trump is not in the normal range of aspiring political leaders, or even in the 95% interval.  He’s a black swan, cruising around in unexplored regions of the possible, the part of the map that used to be marked with “here be dragons”. Still, it’s worth reviewing in order of importance why it’s unthinkable that he should be president; I’m surprised that his most despicable personal qualities end up at the bottom of the list.

(1) If nothing else in this list applied, he would be disqualified by his tin-pot dictator aspirations to subvert the most fundamental American principles, thinking he can just “not accept” the results of an election [yes, after recounts and appropriate procedural actions] and even toying with the idea that he would get to imprison his political opponents if he were to win. Trump is as close as we’ve ever seen to the candidate running to be the last elected president.

(2) He is embedded in a uniquely opaque cloud of combined ignorance and insouciance. I can’t be sure which of his whoppers are just lying to hear himself talk, and which are genuine misinformation, because he believes nothing beyond his own ego, and knows nothing about anything; not economics, not defense, not the law, nothing…and I bet he’s never read a whole book.  What may be most important here is that he doesn’t care and won’t do anything about it: his ignorance is practiced and purposeful.

(3) There should be an entry about here to the effect that the policies he would try to enact are bad ones, but because of (2), he doesn’t really have policies, just ideas that pop into his head when facing a crowd or a Twitter window.

(4) He surrounds himself with vicious, cynical, unmoored opportunists and haters, and he takes their advice (except advice to emulate a serious person) because he’s too lazy (or perhaps too stupid) to do his own thinking, and completely, supinely, at the mercy of flattery. Good leaders try to accrete people better than they are; he goes around picking up parasites and barnacles.

(4) He’s cowardly, hateful, spiteful, racist, and just mean. He’s all these things especially toward anyone who exposes his deficiencies, either directly or by comparison, and to the weak and unfortunate. The rogues’ gallery he would bring into government have binders and briefcases of nightmares to unleash.

(5) He’s personally corrupt, a con man and grifter whose entire business “success” has been built on stiffing and cheating everyone he deals with: investors, lenders, suppliers, the government; everyone.

(6) Special case of (4): he’s a lecherous, misogynistic swine about women, and totally OK being so. Never mind the policies he would enact, what would it be like to be on the White House staff? and imagine the endless opportunities for blackmail he will unreel. In a sane world, this personal quality would itself be disqualifying, and it has certainly taken up most of the air in the room as it has come to light. But on reflection, considering the risks he poses to everything that stands between us and a Mussoliniesque (or Putinesque) national ruin, I have to put this at the end of the list, which says something about what precedes it.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

14 thoughts on “Reflections from the debate”

  1. Is Trump really that much of an outlier for republicans? It seems they've always (the past few cycles, anyway) had at least one completely uninformed rich person/celebrity/whatever making a surprisingly good showing in the primaries, not to mention fact-agnostic performances from almost everyone. Trump's authoritarian style may be an outlier, but I expect to see it aped by at least a couple "mainstream" candidates next time around.

  2. Well, surely we all remember the election of 1824, when Andrew Jackson won the popular vote and had the most electoral votes of any of the four candidates in the field but not a majority. This threw the election into the House of Representatives. Henry Clay had been one of the candidates and was also Speaker of the House. John Quincy Adams had finished second behind Jackson. But Adams won the majority of the states in the House. And three days after this happened, he appointed Clay as Secretary of State. Jackson was outraged at what he called the “corrupt bargain.” He felt that he had been cheated out of the presidency.

    So why all this flapdoodle about Trump?

    1. This election has demonstrated the ongoing validity of Poe's Law like little else in my lifetime.

    2. Wish Johnson could get elected this way. Seems to me he is the perfect remedy for the nausea engendered by these other two.

    3. Ed,

      You "remember" the 1824 election? I envy you. Can you share your secret for living more than 192 years?

      Regardless, there is one important practical difference between1824 and 2016. Whatever the legitimacy of his election, John Quincy Adams was sane.

      1. Well, true confessions: I don't personally remember the election. I was not born yet. I actually went to school with his grandson Henry when the former president used to walk him to class in the morning. long after he had left office.

        But Jackson was totally outraged at the outcome of that election. He had annihilated the Creek Indians and the Seminoles for good measure, so you must admit he had good reasons for feeling the way he did.

  3. "…and I bet he’s never read a whole book…"

    Including the books on which his name appears as an author.

  4. You put the issues very well. I disagree with point 3, though. Trump does have a few policy ideas which are very familiar Republican proposals: enormous tax cuts and Supreme Court nominees who will repeal Roe, and prevent limitations on gun ownership or use. His ideas about immigration control are more extreme than many Republicans', but not all.

  5. Heh heh, I'm having a hard time deciding if your list is woefully truncated and inadequate, or whether all the rest of his shortcomings might be subsumed into your six categories. I'll have to ponder a bit. But I must say, I felt it slightly jarring that your enumeration ended so quickly.

  6. I remain unconvinced those are really his policy ideas rather than the product of running as a Republican and thus having advisers that are telling him that those are his policies.

    1. The policy ideas that are really his are the weird, idiosyncratic ones, like the insistence on shafting NATO for cash.

  7. Actually, I wonder if the most important reason is one you overlooked.

    I am not convinced the man is sane. If not, that's a better reason than policy or personality.

  8. She is hugely lucky in her opponent. You watch them in debate: each is convinced that the other is odious and does not belong in the Presidency. I find them both convincing! But, even if they are both dreadful, he is dreadful-er, and she shows signs of being able to take advice, which he does not. The Reep primaries seem to me to be about as persuasive a case for Instant Runoff Voting as I have ever seen.

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