Illusions of Progress

The LA Times is very critical.
President Trump, now in the third year of his term, is struggling to maintain the illusion of accomplishment as some of his biggest promises remain unfulfilled.

...diplomacy with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed in Vietnam last week...

No new miles of any barrier have been built during his presidency and a Republican-controlled Senate is poised to join the Democratic-controlled House in rejecting his declaration of a national emergency to pay for an installment.

Also, Trump is lately hailing progress in trade talks with China as if a landmark deal were imminent. Yet... In another blow to Trump’s trade promises, on Wednesday the Commerce Department reported that in 2018 the U.S. trade deficit grew to $621 billion, a 10-year high, and the gap with China set a record — defying the president’s vows to reverse the trend.... unlikely to include any enforceable end to China’s practice of requiring American companies to transfer technology and intellectual property to Chinese partners as a condition of doing business in the country....

“People are perfectly aware he lies all the time and that he boasts and probably delivers only on a fraction of those things. But because so many Americans have become deeply cynical and think that no politician ever delivers on their promises, they may discount what he promises but still think that that is a better bet than politicians who don't promise anything.”

Mounk added, “It’s essentially, ‘Well, he didn’t really bring back manufacturing jobs, but he tried.’”
The biggest one of all is the promise to get immigration under control. Illegal immigration is at record levels, most of them now families rather than singles likely to return home later. The Trump administration has been forced to return to catch and release policies as the courts forbid them to do anything else except for family separation, and the Congress moves to cut the number of beds for detention anyway.

One might in justice say that everything he promised to fix is worse.

It isn't cynicism about politicians keeping promises that is preventing him from 'paying a price,' though. It is that everyone can plainly see that he is the only one actually trying to fix these things. As the article notes, the Republican Senate is planning to void his emergency declaration -- even as the Republican Senate failed to pass Obamacare repeal during the first two years of his term. The Democratic House is fully committed to mass immigration, to the point of trying to eliminate ICE in order to prevent any future deportations.

For two years, Republicans had undivided control of Congress as well. Where is e-verify? Where are sanctions for employers of illegal workers? Where are those miles of wall, which might have become a budget item before now?

If President Trump pays no price for his failures, it will be because we can see that the whole government -- both political parties, and the entrenched bureaucracy -- are striving against him at every turn. It's not "at least he tried," it's that he's nearly the only one who isn't trying his damndest to do the things we don't want. For all his flaws and failures, about which this page has hardly been silent, where is the better alternative?

Do I wish he was more successful at all this? Yes, I do. Do I blame him? Only occasionally -- the DPRK issue, for example, more than the others. Often his successes are miraculous, given that the whole government is working to stop him.


E Hines said...

I don't entirely disagree with Congress moving to disapprove his declaration of emergency. Not because he has no authority to make the declaration--he does. Nor because there is no emergency on our border--there is. I just think it's tactically unnecessary and politically an error. He can get to, and past, his $5.7B by reallocating monies already appropriated but uncommitted because Congress, when it appropriated those funds didn't commit them to particular purposes, but instead left it up to the relevant Department and Agency heads' discretion regarding particular purposes. The emergency declaration only lets him reallocate a bit more.

I don't count his lack of success with Baby Kim and northern Korea a failure. That process is not ended, and the only alternative the Left has on offer is the same bottom up technique that's been an abject failure vis-a-vis northern Korea for three generations. Most of those who take the lack of success in Hanoi to be the end are of a piece with those who take any bill passed as the final word rather than just a step on the path. That last is a failure the "Freedom Caucus" shares with the Progressive-Democrats, and it has contributed heavily to the Republicans' lack of progress on immigration in the last Congress. And on getting the wall funded. And on getting progress toward a suitable replacement for rump Obamacare.

And those who disdain his effort to build a wall as just another campaign promise only display their own disdain for promises, and demonstrate why the word of Progressive-Democrats cannot be trusted.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

I would support Congress in pulling the emergency powers generally, which strike me as unwise and dubiously constitutional grants of authority to the executive.

However, if they're going to leave the powers laying there for the next guy, they might as well use them. As you say, it's an emergency.

Tom said...

Well, there are only 31 other national emergencies currently in effect, one dating all the way back to Carter, so what's one more?

Have a list.

I'm surprised Trump has made the progress he has with Kim. NK has little real incentive to negotiate away its nukes.

I also don't really blame the Freedom Caucus for taking their stands. If the Republican Party as a whole had wanted to solve those problems the way most rank-and-file Republicans want them solved, they would have done so when they controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency.

They didn't, I think, because they don't want to solve them the way rank-and-file Republicans want them solved. They are by-and-large just as elitist as Democrats, and they think what's good for business is good for America -- i.e., open borders with an endless supply of cheap labor.

djf said...

Trump is not trying. He did nothing on immigration for two years, while the GOP held Congress. He never made building a wall or any other immigration measure a priority. He hired a staff of establishment hacks with no interest in the issue (excepting Sessions, whom Trump fired), none of whom ever pressed Congress to do anything about immigration. Trump himself periodically gives away that he actually does not care about the issue anyway, as he did at the SOTU address where he called for immigration "in the largest numbers ever."

What ephemera Trump actually has accomplished is the Republican Establishment agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation, which we would have gotten from Jeb Bush. This is what the people he hired care about, and this is what they delivered.

Anyone who thought Trump was the person to challenge the permanent government and its allies was woefully naïve. They are eating him for lunch.

Sam L. said...

The Uniparty STRIKES! Why I will not support the GOP.

E Hines said...

I tend to agree with Grim that the emergency powers delegation from Congress might be too much delegation; I'm not convinced the delegation should not be withdrawn. I'm more strongly convinced that another, much more dangerous delegation--that of law/rule-making to Executive Branch facilities--should be withdrawn.

As to the Freedom Caucus, they held out for purity when they had the establishment moving in their direction on a compromise that would have moved things quite some way in their desired direction. But rather than doing the grunt work of taking that and then working for more in the next round, they wound up effectively choosing the status quo over that progress by killing that progress.

Trump offered DACA plus a million more in compromise for the wall, and Schumer agreed--and then welched on it. During the recent partial government shutdown, Pelosi preemptively refused to discuss DACA.

the GOP held Congress--in what fantasy world is 60 less than 51?

Eric Hines

Tom said...

As to the Freedom Caucus, they held out for purity ...

Maybe. It's possible they were unreasonable. On the other hand, it's also possible that's just the excuse many Republican office holders used to get out of solving the problem. I'm convinced the larger force of office-holding Republicans is essentially open borders for pro-business reasons.

I'm more strongly convinced that another, much more dangerous delegation--that of law/rule-making to Executive Branch facilities--should be withdrawn.

Amen to that.

Roy Lofquist said...

Blogger Sam L. said...
The Uniparty STRIKES! Why I will not support the GOP.
5:40 PM

Angelo Codevilla's 2010 essay "America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution" redefines the political divide from Republican v Democrat to Ruling Class v Country Class. Pretty much nails it. MUST READ!

David Foster said...

"diplomacy with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed in Vietnam last week..."

I have to wonder if the writer of this piece has ever conducted any kind of negotiation, and if so, how successfully.

Tom said...

So, what could be accomplished with NK?

Seriously, they have an existential reason to keep their nukes. What could we offer that would make them feel secure enough to eliminate their nuclear arsenal?

While eliminating their nukes is certainly important to us, is it a realistic goal? If it isn't realistic, and I tend to think it is not, then what are our realistic goals on the peninsula?

Could we negotiate lessening sanctions in exchange for a more open NK? They get trade, we get access?

I don't know, but I'm interested in what the rest of you think.

Tom said...

"Could we negotiate lessening sanctions in exchange for a more open NK? They get trade, we get access?"

I.e., a slow thaw that might eventually lead to enough connection and trust over some decades to seriously negotiate disarmament.

E Hines said...

[W]hat could be accomplished with NK?

It's a completely paranoid and irrational set of persons sitting on top. Clinicians would need lots of time to bring such ones around; doing it through diplomacy makes it even more remote and slow. However, nothing can be accomplished without engagement. Also, however, as any psychiatrist can tell you (yes, I know most of the Hall disparages psychiatry; they have their own paranoias), nothing can be accomplished without consequences for the insane one's misbehavior--it's almost straight-up Skinnerian behavior modification/operant conditioning.

Thus: stay engaged, keep the sanctions in place, strictly enforced, and ratcheting up (all of which will necessitate ratcheting up sanctions on the PRC and Russia, as well--including...disappearing...Russian oil ships and northern Korean oil receiving ships as they transfer oil) as necessary along with all other forms of pressure. I disagree with Trump's moratorium on large scale exercises; these should be continued.

And continue to expose Baby Kim and his entourage to the benefits of relaxing. Rounds of summits in the RoK, the RoC (working two birds there), Japan, India, Thailand, etc, so he can see a variety of prosperities in nations both free and varyingly authoritarian.

Play to Baby Kim's and his entourage's personal self-interests and desire for the finer things in life; although an Idi Amin offer probably wouldn't work. Personal diplomacy does this (other than the buying off and exile), and "professional," bottom up diplomacy explicitly eschews such crass personal plays--which is why the "professionals" have failed utterly for the prior three, or so, generations.

It's not going to be an overnight affair. And it may come to a military strike. If so, no demonstration strike; it'll need to be a coup de main that takes out all of Baby Kim's military, not just his nuclear stuff. Which will work three birds.

Eric Hines

Assistant Village Idiot said...

So much here, and I do like the comments at The Hall.

First, Trump continues to do an exceptionally good job of not being Hillary Clinton, which is all I ever asked. All that he has not accomplished should carry in the background the idea of what she might have accomplished. My main worry was that his thin-skinned response to insults would carry over into his foreign policy. If anything, it is the opposite.

Second I will preach to you what I keep forgetting myself, so don't take offense. None of them ever do half the good they promised or half the damage their opponents predicted. Not that there is no difference between A and B, but that we lose perspective. The larger events of the world have far more influence than presidents. We wrung our hands over what Ford and Carter did with the economy at the time. We now point to more secular changes in America and the world economy as more important.

It is like educational fads, or new quality initiatives at work. Common Core did not deliver, but neither was it the Satan's spawn we were warned would destroy American education. It mostly didn't matter. Trump will, in the end, matter a little. The economy is probably better than it would have otherwise been. His foreign policy with NoKo, China, and the Middle East looks at the moment to be more promising than what went before. There are isolated cultural victories, even if largely symbolic. And there are still lots and lots of judges. who are better than what we otherwise would have had, which will at least delay the deterioration of the republic.

We fight the long twilight battle - in the Norse sense agains the Giants, facing ultimate defeat, only for the honor of being on the right side; in the Christian sense it is not dissimilar: this world will pass away, but it is best to be found at our post when the end comes, trying to preserve what is good. We should not ask for victory, only for the chance to participate. This battle will continue long after Trump or any of us are gone.

Tom said...

Good points all, AVI. Thanks for the reminder.

"First, Trump continues to do an exceptionally good job of not being Hillary Clinton ..."

Yeah, I forget sometimes that that was overwhelmingly my main reason for voting for him in the general. By that measure, he is wildly successful.

The judges do seem to be a solid and unexpected (by me anyway) success as well.

Excellent final paragraph. That's right.

E Hines said...

We fight the long twilight battle....

No. I don't intend to be merely present and collect a participation ribbon at the end. Nor do I merely ask for victory: I demand it; I mean to fight for it and ultimately to win the war. I'm not dead yet, and neither is humanity.

Full stop.

Eric Hines

Eric Blair said...

Why the F* are you taking an opinion piece from the LA Times at face value? At best it is concern trolling, because there is now way in hell that the writers at the LA Times wish for Trump to succeed.

It is utter dreck, and if Trump hasn't fixed everything to everybody's satisfaction, well, HE'S NOT GOING TO BECAUSE NOBODY CAN DO THAT.

As AVI says "He's not Hillary Clinton". Mission accomplished.

Tom said...

Mr. Hines,

Your thoughts on NK make a lot of sense.

However, in the 'long twilight battle,' the reference was Ragnarok. Let me review a bit:

"... the Æsir and the Einherjar dress for war and head to the field. Odin, wearing a gold helmet and an intricate coat of mail, carries his spear Gungnir and rides before them. Odin advances against Fenrir, while Thor moves at his side, though Thor is unable to assist Odin because he has engaged Jörmungandr in combat. ... Freyr fights fiercely with Surtr, but falls because he lacks the sword he once gave to his messenger, Skírnir. The hound Garmr (described here as the "worst of monsters") breaks free from his bonds in front of Gnipahellir, and fights the god Týr, resulting in both of their deaths.

"Thor kills Jörmungandr but is poisoned by the serpent, and manages to walk only nine steps before falling to the earth dead. Fenrir swallows Odin, though immediately afterward his son Víðarr kicks his foot into Fenrir's lower jaw, grips the upper jaw, and rips apart Fenrir's mouth, killing the great wolf. Loki fights Heimdallr and the two kill each another."

Hm. Not really seeing "participation trophy" here.

So, what about winning?

"I'm not dead yet, and neither is humanity."

I'm very happy those things are true, but while you are fighting the good fight, humanity mostly doesn't care. America is an exception and it always was. As our sister-democracies fall beneath their own bureau-tyrants, I think we are finally seeing how truly unique we have been.

Now, today, it's quite probable that the majority of Americans can't really explain the original idea of our nation, and if they did, they might well not support it. We (being those who care about that original vision) have given over every major medium to those who want to destroy us: news media, universities, public schools, and the government bureaucracy. The military is moving that way, and the police. The fate of this generation of the Catholic Church seems to hang in the balance. And why not? Once we gave up the whole education system from K - Ph.D. and the vast majority of the media people get their daily information from, what else could have been the result?

So what remains? What is left to us?

Trump is possibly our last stand, and he isn't getting a lot done on his policy objective list. We could have made big strides over the last 2 years, but that opportunity was thrown away.

Viewing ourselves as the Einherjar going up against the giants and traitors doesn't seem that far off the mark to me. Maybe we aren't fighting because we hope to win, but because we cannot do otherwise. It isn't in us. Win or lose, we love the fight too much.

Of course, what really remains is free will and divine intervention. No one knows the future but God. Sometimes victory comes by surprise to warriors who expect to die giving their all, and it comes because they give their all. Maybe it will this time as well.

Tom said...

Well, let me walk that back a little bit.

"... every major medium ..." Not EVERY one. Christianity still has strength, though it has been weakening. There may be a few other holdouts. I dunno.

E Hines said...


What I was working from with my participation ribbon remark was this part of the twilight battle: facing ultimate defeat. Fighting to lose with glory is just going for a participation trophy. I mean to win, not lose gloriously.

while you are fighting the good fight, humanity mostly doesn't care

That's the lot of the sheepdog. The sheep don't even don't care; they're oblivious. The sheepdog does his duty anyway, with intent to win and to succeed at that. There's glory only if victory. Dying in a worthy battle is just...death and failure.

Keep in mind, too, that our Revolution was fought and won by a smallish minority. In broad terms, the colonials were roughly one-third loyalists, one-third revolutionaries, and one-third who cares/oblivious. Doing a right thing always is the lot of a minority, but that's no excuse for failure.

So what remains? What is left to us? Victory (never final; it's a repetitive struggle) and liberty. I don't hope to win. I expect to.

Eric Hines

Tom said...

I see your point, but I don't think we can write off dying in a worthy battle as just death and failure.

For example, I don't think the Texans who died at the Alamo were going for a participation trophy. They died, and they lost, but they achieved more than just death and failure.

Granted, I think choosing such a death should only come when there are no other honorable options, but in those cases it is the better choice. Dying worthily is an accomplishment.

Also, often we cannot control the results; we are only responsible for what we do in the attempt to achieve worthy results, and how we do it. The glory is in our actions, doing the right thing and doing it as well as we possibly can, not our results.

E Hines said...

Dying in battle is an unavoidable effect of fighting. Dying in battle expecting to lose maximizes, with that mindset, the likelihood of losing--that's just death and failure. There is no glory in merely acting, only ignominious futility--however high the participants might hold their heads.

The Texans at the Alamo weren't going for a participation trophy, they entered the fight intending to win--and they won. Their fight wasn't to hold the Alamo, their fight was to buy time for Houston to put something else together. The folks at the Alamo died fighting a winning war, even though they fought a nominally losing individual battle--because the battle wasn't fought, and was known not to be being fought, in isolation.

There's always the honorable option of winning. Always. No struggle is lost until humanity is exterminated. Unless we just give up and consciously, deliberately, shamefully choose to quit. No battle is fought in isolation, no war is fought in a sequence of one. Dying "worthily" in a fight, or a war, where victory was ceded at the start is just...dying.

Who would have expected a bunch of rag-tag farmers to beat the best army in the world, even if those farmers were really only fighting that army's second string? The farmers didn't even have the widespread support of their fellows. But as a group, they most certainly did control the outcome. Enough of them simply refused to lose.

Eric Hines

Tom said...

I think there's more between the lines than we're saying. To clarify, let me ask you a question:

If the Texans had, in the end, utterly lost the war, would that change your answer?

E Hines said...

What end? You mean if Houston had lost at San Jacinto? That was just one phase of the struggle. Mexico utterly lost that phase--and the war--because they, in the person of Santa Anna, chose to quit. They could have carried on. Had they, or had Houston lost that battle, San Jacinto need not have been decisive, and it would have been on the Texans to carry on--or to consciously, deliberately, shamefully choose to quit. In your alternate history, the only way the Texans would have lost, the only way they could have lost, would have been through that conscious decision to give up the struggle.

The struggle between good and evil, or between bad and not so bad, is perpetual, and it proceeds through phases. Good, or not so bad, only loses when it chooses to lose. Deaths in the struggle are part of the struggle, but they become wasted and futile only with the ignominious decision by the forces of good/not so bad to quit the fight or through final extermination. Those are the only ways in which ultimate defeat can occur; those are the only paths to utterly losing the war.

Eric Hines

Tom said...

Okay, that's interesting. Do you mind if we develop this another step?

So, what if Houston had lost, the Mexicans had not given up, and the Texans kept losing the significant battles until it became clear that they could not win militarily. They could keep fighting, of course, but a military victory was not really possible.

(Not to complicate things, but this could be similar in some ways to the situation in Northern Ireland with the IRA. They could have kept fighting on and on, but as long as the UK decided to keep fighting as well, the IRA were never going to win.)

Back to our Texas hypothetical. With military victory seeming impossible, what would have had them do? Fight on? Give in? Turn into the Texas Republican Army and fight on IRA-style in an attempt to get Mexico to quit?

E Hines said...

If they want liberty, if they want to defeat evil, or bad, of course they have to keep fighting. What else would you have them do? How else to defeat an enemy but to defeat it?

There are lots of tools available to the struggle, and all of them must be used. Evil is broad spectrum, bad is broad spectrum. The entire of spectrum of what is available to good, of what is available to not so bad, must be used. Including military, but not limited to that tool.

That's the nature of the struggle. Stay in the fight, or lose. Stay in the fight or die uselessly. Stay in the glorious fight and lose, and collect the participation ribbon of glory for glory's sake.

Or stay in the fight expecting to win, and so being able to win, and so winning.

Keep in mind, too, that your hypothetical was, in fact, the case: the Texans could not win militarily. Until they did. Just as the colonials could not win militarily against the British. Until they did.

Your missing the point. Good wins only if it stays in the fight with the expectation of winning. If the fight lasts forever, then so be it. It is, by nature, a forever fight. Unless good decides consciously to quit. Unless good decides deliberately to lose. Expecting a priori to lose is just that deliberate, thought out decision.

You celebrate dying gloriously in a losing effort. What's wrong with dying in a glorious victory? The difference is only in mindset and will to win. The only hopeless fight is the one the loser has chosen to lose.

How many more steps do you want? The end is the same: good wins only if it stays in the fight with the expectation of winning. If the fight lasts forever, then so be it. It is, by nature, a forever fight. Expecting a priori to lose is just that: a deliberate, thought out decision to lose.

Eric Hines

Tom said...

Thanks for your answer. I'm going to chew on this a while (and get some work done). I'll come back later.