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14 Reasons Why

President George W. Bush has generally kept out of the public eye since leaving the White House and … most people have been fine with that. But I’ve noticed a recent ramp-up in attention to his past administration and, in particular, a strain of thought running through various liberal and libertarian circles that Bush was actually a worse President than Trump. To wit:

I’m not very big on comparing Presidents to each other — I’ve been extremely critical of the much-touted and deeply flawed historical rankings of Presidents. Among other things, how you rank a President can depend a lot on your political opinions. And there are enough people who agree with Trump to keep his approval rating at 40% (although Bush currently has a favorable rating of 61%). But I still find myself disagreeing with this train of thought and I’d like to explain why.

Before we get going, I just want to clarify that I am well aware of Bush’s faults and failings as President. From my perspective, the largest failing of his Administration were:

  • Fiscal Irresponsibility. Bush enacted massive hikes in domestic spending and started two wars. Rather than pay for this, he elected to cut taxes and keep them down, resulting in the country’s first trillion dollar deficit (FY 2009 was Bush’s last budget and was over a trillion in the red before Obama’s stimulus). Not only did we not get entitlement reform, entitlements were expanded, damaging the country’s long-term fiscal picture.
  • Torture. Not much to elaborate on here.
  • The Iraq War. I supported the war early on. And it should be remembered that, for a while, things went well. Iraq had elections, Libya surrendered their WMDs and Hussein was gone. But then it all fell apart. Whether it was a bad idea in the first place or collapsed because of mismanagement is kind of beside the point. The long-term result was a destabilization of the region that we are still paying for.
  • The Patriot Act. Not only the act, but related actions, such as wire-tapping, that compromised civil liberties.
  • The Financial Crisis. Lax regulation, a bizarre commitment to low interest rates, and a failure to heed the warning signs led to the biggest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression.

The thing about Bush’s worst failings is that Trump has matched several of them already. He supports civil liberties violations in pursuit of both the War on Terror and the War on Immigration. He has done as much damage to our country’s finances in two years as Bush did in eight. We are currently engaged in ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq, Uganda, Syria and Libya while also supporting a brutal war in Yemen. And it’s still early. It took a few years for the problem in Iraq to unfold and the full eight years of Bush’s presidency for the financial crisis to happen.

So that’s the bar I’m setting here: show that Trump is worse than that. And I’m so confident in this exercise that I’m going to tie one hand behind my back. I will not refer to Trump’s tweeting, philandering or corruption. I will not talk about Russia collusion or indictments or obstruction of justice. I will simply focus on policy. This will head off the most common thing I’m hearing from the Bush-Was-Worse crowd: that Trump’s obnoxiousness is what we don’t like. They have a small point: in 20 years, Trump’s policies will matter more than his behavior (unless he really does tweet us into a nuclear war). So, I’ll make this sporting. I’ll pretend that having the White House occupied by an obnoxious, corrupt, philandering pathological liar who spends his mornings in his bathrobe rage-tweeting about what he sees on Fox News is not a problem.

So … finally … without further ado and drawing some inspiration from P.J. O’Rourke:

Ten Reasons Why George W. Bush Was A Better President than Donald Trump

  • PEPFAR. One of the reasons George W. Bush ran for President in the first place, according to those who knew him, was because he wanted to do something about the AIDS pandemic in Africa. And the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has been a triumph. By some estimates, it has saved as many as 11 million lives, almost all of them people with far more melanin than President Bush. And this is a big contributor to Africa’s ongoing economic rise. This is the kind of thing that would usually get a Nobel Peace Prize. It dwarfs almost everything else the President did. PEPFAR has some flaws — notably its demand that organizations not support sex work and its support for abstinence-only initiatives. But I could not imagine Donald Trump starting such an initiative for countries that he calls “shitholes”. This was such an accomplishment of Bush’s, and his insistence on it such a stark contrast to Trump, I really could just drop the mic right now.
  • Immigration. President Bush was in favor of enforcement, but he also supported a guest worker program and a path to legal status for illegal immigrants. Read his address on the subject and try to imagine Trump saying anything like that. It’s true that there were some bad aspects — there is a growing controversy over the Administration questioning American citizens’ birth certificates in the Rio Grande Valley, a program that started under Bush. But I could not imagine Bush breaking up families or cutting asylum rates in half as Trump has done.
  • The Environment. No, really! Look, I’m not going to argue that Bush’s record on the environment was good. There is plenty to criticize. But some of the criticisms were unfair. Bush was criticized for withdrawing from Kyoto, a meaningless agreement that the Senate had rejected. He was bashed for delaying an arsenic rule that was eventually implemented. But he implemented pollution controls on diesel engines, proposed a sweeping update to the Clean Air Act and supported alternative energy. And while greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2007, they grew much more slowly under Bush and have been falling ever since. Again, I’m not going to say he was great on this subject. But the Trump Administration is shaping up to be far far worse.
  • Scooter Libby. Despite enormous pressure from within his Administration, Bush refused to pardon Scooter Libby, commuting his sentence instead. According to insiders, this was because Bush understood how serious Libby’s crime was. Contrast that against Trump, who has already pardoned Joe Arpaio and is dangling pardons to his various cronies and thugs. I think Presidents are far too stingy with the pardon power. But that’s nothing compared to a President turning into a naked political weapon.
  • The Iraq Surge. I place this here not because it worked, although it did on its own terms. I put this here because it was a rare case of a President admitting that he was wrong.
  • TARP and related financial stabilization. Yes, this was cleaning up the mess he made. And I have many many complaints about how TARP was done. But in the fall of 2008, we seemed headed for a complete financial meltdown. Bush worked with both his economic team and a Democratic Congress to staunch the bleeding. It was bad; it could have been way worse.
  • Support for Science. Republicans have a reputation — not entirely undeserved — for being “anti-science” (by which we mean denying global warming). That’s not entirely wrong but, where the rubber hits the road, the GOP has been generally supportive. There’s plenty to criticize with Bush — the ban of new cell lines for stem cell research and so on. But funding was never a problem. Under Bush, NSF funding increased 46% in constant dollars, faster than it did under Clinton and markedly faster than it did under Obama. NASA funding grew 30%. NIH grew about 10% in constant dollars. While Trump’s proposals are never going to fly in Congress, he did call for dramatic cuts in science, including a 20% cut to the NIH alone.
  • Trade. Bush got off on the wrong foot with a wave of steel tariffs. But overall, he was strongly supportive of free trade, supported NAFTA, and began the process that led to the TPP agreement that Trump eventually nixed. And Bush would never have claimed that trade wars were a good thing.
  • John Roberts. It’s kind of funny to look back now at the Roberts confirmation. Conservatives were convinced he would be another Scalia and liberals feared he would be. Instead, he’s been a moderate and guided the Court to a much less aggressive approach to cases. Even though I often disagree with him, I like his approach to cases and the way he manages the Court. He’s one of the best things Bush did. Gorsuch, while I am tentatively positive on him, is unlikely to be as good. And Kavanaugh seems more of the Alito mold, which is a bit too rigid for my tastes.
  • Bush’s Post 9/11 Speech. Push past the 17 years of fog and try to remember where we were on 9/12. Bush unified the country — at least for a while — and provided a leadership I hadn’t thought him capable of. His speech after 9/11 was one of the best I’ve ever seen a President deliver and in one of our darkest moments. His “I can hear you” moment at the WTC site was a spontaneous and earnest expression of camaraderie. The good feeling didn’t last, of course. But it was miles better than anything Trump has done or ever will. Moreover, at a moment when American fear of Muslims as at its peak, Bush went to immense lengths to show that we were not at war with Islam and that Muslims were welcome in this country. You can contrast that against Trump’s … everything.

Now I don’t expect that list to resonate with everyone, including fellow conservatives and especially fellow libertarians. But I would hope that most of you would see at least a few things on that list you would agree with. And I doubt anyone could produce a similar list for Trump where items (1) through (5) were not “owning the libs” or “enraging the libs”. And if you made a comparable list of issues where Trump might be better, it would mostly consist of “well, he hasn’t plunged us into a recession … yet”.

Of course, I’ve looked at all of these from my conservative/libertarian position. But I’ll throw out four bonus points for the Left Wing: things they should appreciate.

  • McCain-Feingold. I opposed it at the time and still think it was a mistake. I don’t think it did much to clean up politics. But it was an attempt to stymie the influence of money on politics and had bipartisan support.
  • Medicare Part D. Yes, many liberals hated it at the time. But it represented the largest expansion of Medicare in the program’s history and set the stage for Obamacare.
  • Diversity in the cabinet. Trump’s cabinet is the whitest in thirty years. And Bush made a number of historic appointments, such as Colin Powell and Condi Rice, who were far from tokens. He even carried over one Democrat.
  • NCLB. The country has soured on this legislation for various reasons as have I. But it’s to be remembered that this was a bipartisan piece of legislation written with Ted Kennedy and included massive increases in federal funding for schools.

When all is said and done, I would rate Bush as a poor President but far from the worst. PEPFAR looms very large in my mind — an act of generosity that has unquestionably bettered the world. But the more I turn over his record and compare it to where Trump is going, the more it becomes obvious that this isn’t just about a personal animus for Trump. At every turn — the environment, the budget, trade policy, immigration — Trump is shaping up to be worse.

And just in case you weren’t depressed enough, here’s a final thought. Writing this list has only amplified something that’s been bothering me all year: we’re only 18 months into the Trump Presidency. We’re only 18 months in and I can already make a reasonable case that Bush — a poor President — was better than Trump. What’s going to happen when Trump’s economic, fiscal and foreign policies really come home to roost?

That’s what scares me. Things are going pretty well right now. But the pieces of a disaster — trade wars, diplomatic chaos, swelling deficit — are already in place. What happens when things stop going so well? I can easily see, in 2020 or 2024, the United States being in a far worse position than we were in 2008: a second Great Depression, a potential default on the debt, another war or three.

There’s a story baseball writer Bill James tells in one of his baseball books. In high school, he knew a man who drank like a fish and drove like a maniac. Everyone swore he would be dead in a car accident by the time he was 30.

Boy, were they wrong.

He didn’t kill himself in a car accident until he was almost 40.

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Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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83 thoughts on “14 Reasons Why

  1. A small point really, but I am afraid that it is not only Trump’s policies that will have a long term effect on our welfare, but his naked and blatant disregard for norms. Not all norms are good of course, and a transformative presidency that “shakes things up” is going to break a few, but sooo many of them are really good things. Like the norm that the Justice Department should operate apolitically, or that the White House counsel defends the Office of the Presidency and not the president, or that its improper for the President of the United States to call people names in public, or to instigate violence, or to castigate the free press as the enemy of the people. And so on.


    • Yes, I agree. That was one of the things I pushed under behavior, though. But one of the things I’m learning during the Trump era is just how important norms are. We can have laws and a Constitution, but they are only words on paper if we don’t have a culture that encourages adherence to them.


      • The problem with using “norms” as a basis for governing is that they only work when all sides feel that they are getting something from them. If a group feels that the other side is defecting against them, and it doesn’t matter if it is real or just perception, then the “norm” is eroded. If this happens for too long, all pretense that this is a “norm” dissolves.

        If, say, the SCOTUS hearing was a formality only, then the procedure against Bork was an erosion of that norm. A defection. Some may think that was important enough to change the norm, but there is always going to be consequences. Indeed, that becomes the new norm. One can pick from any number of norms that were changed by both sides in our political history, and there will be someone, somewhere who will think that change was good and necessary.

        Long story short, there is a lot of F-You-ism in politics, and trying to paper over it with a fiction norm is probably as flimsy as the paper it was writen on.


    • Norm-breaking is also really thorny to combat after the fact. Like, suppose the next president, whatever party they may represent, presses some valid criminal charges against Trump-associated people. That instantly becomes even more “political” than it would have been.

      Similarly, the next Democratic president should seriously wrestle with the question of whether to pack the Supreme Court, because even though that breaks norms, not doing it would amount to a giant concession to the previous norm-breaking that got the Court where it is now. (The ideal long-term solution is changing the lifetime appointments to staggered terms, but that’s a pipe dream.)


  2. I think I largely agree with this piece (and the individual bullet points are well-chosen), and what I the general issue is one where W was wrong within what we see as normal parameters, but when we’re talking about a position with the power of Presidency, being wrong within normal parameters can have an immense human cost.

    Bush had more than his fair share of serious failures, but the failures themselves are not unprecedented in US history. Contrary to a lot of arguments on both the right and left, it’s not like the US has been particularly shy about torture throughout its history, though it was usually a half-step removed from our direction. And the Iraq War was a catastrophic failure, but in terms of both direct costs and knock-on effects in terms of “destabilizing the region”, Vietnam was at least as bad.

    My memory is not kind to W, and I doubt history will be kind either, but the assessment that he was poor but not one of the very worst strikes me as plausible. (Certainly he was no Buchanan, nor was he forced from office in disgrace.)

    And he’s also not Trump.


    • I knew of it but had either forgotten or overlooked the name of it. To grab a point was making about how history judges presidents, I think history will be kind to George Bush because as time goes on, the policy points recede from memory and the character and personality of the man comes forward. Bush, to his own detriment politically to be frank, was militant about the perception of his stewardship of the office. Not political success, but how he represented the office and the country personally. We are already seeing it, as the Trump presidency is throwing into contrast Bush’s decency as a man if nothing else. I had a lot of issues with his policies, but I did not, and still do not, question that he thought and strived to do what he thought best for the country. Wrong sometimes, but not maliciously so.


    • I had heard of it, because a few years back, Bono praised him for it, and I was kind of “signs and wonders, what strange times we live in, that Bono should praise W”

      I had NO IDEA of what was coming.

      (The biggest thing for me about the current presidency is how it seems to be lowering the bar for ugliness and rudeness below where I thought it was possible to lower the bar, and I look around, and go, “if this is the kind of ‘sharp elbows’ world in which I am now expected to live, I wish to opt out and go join a commune or something” Even beyond all the environmental stuff and judicial stuff and all that, it’s just….everything is so mean and ugly. I mean, it always was, I guess, but this feels like Advanced Level Ugliness)


      • The difference is who is on the receiving end of the ugliness.

        George – one of the basket of deplorables who clings to guns and religion and who has been called a knuckledragging backwards hick misogynist racist Nazi almost daily for the past 15 years.

        A lot of that has been tribal virtue signalling by the coastal elites, especially the most guilt-ridden of them who went to Ivy League schools. They start from the premise that America is evil, and then try to get the benefits of self-confessing while casting blame on those other white people over there. “We’re the good white people who know how [other] backwards racist white people have sinned! We’re the sensitive, anti-racist, pro-feminist, highly educated experts who should be in charge of everything.” To be part of the in-crowd, people have to loudly echo the sentiment.

        What happened to bring Trump in is that most of middle America were seeing through the self-serving game. In word and deed the elites, especially in media, were seen as dumber and more incompetent than normal people. The prestige they’d worked so hard to build was ripped away, just as happened to the British Empire in WW-II when all of Britain’s colonies saw them getting embarassingly crushed by the Japanese.

        Suddenly everyone realized that Britain isn’t better than everyone else, that the King isn’t the apex of human society, culture, and breeding, and that British universities and British culture weren’t deserving of the high-regard the colonies had been bestowing. The British were just wankers like everyone else, and the Empire never regained its lost prestige and status.

        Trump is doing the same, giving our failed elites all the respect they deserve, which is basically none. Every time they open their mouths they sounded like well-spoken morons, and now they’ve dropped the well-spoken part, instead expressing spit-flinging outrage at every single thing Trump does, even down to his ice-cream selections. No matter how much they scream, they’ll never recover their lost prestige and status because once that’s gone, it’s gone forever.


        • There are several ways to react to pain.
          One is to want to visit that on everyone else, another is to stop and consider how others who have also felt that pain felt.

          Like, say, those people who were long derided as lazy immoral apes, loafing on welfare and breeding out of wedlock.

          I mean, seriously. For once white males are on the receiving end of someone’s scorn, and they want to blow up the world in a tantrum?


        • tribal virtue signalling by the coastal elites, especially the most guilt-ridden of them who went to Ivy League schools. They start from the premise that America is evil, and then try to get the benefits of self-confessing while casting blame on those other white people over there. “We’re the good white people who know how [other] backwards racist white people have sinned! We’re the sensitive, anti-racist, pro-feminist, highly educated experts who should be in charge of everything.”

          That would explain Columbia Law School’s Mass Incarceration Project.

          The irony there is that “Mass Incarceration Project” can be read two ways, both of them true: First came the “get them in” variety, and now we’re in the “get them out” stage.

          Of course, individual prosecutors are *NEVER* motivated by race.
          The average conviction rate of 98.6% suggests they are much more willing to give a rubber-stamp of approval to whatever racism might occur elsewhere in the criminal justice system than to initiate their own.


  3. Republican ex-Presidents are always great and wise statesmen. Republican current Presidents are always Nazi monsters who are destroying the Republic. It is always so.


    • Yep. Although to be fair, GOP opinions of Dem president tend to improve once they’re out of office, too. I expect Obama will only gain popularity as time goes on.

      I’m always reminded of this quote from I, Claudius, with “out of office” in place of “dead”, in particular as it applies to Trump:

      Sejanus: Everybody’s loved when he’s dead.
      Livia: I wouldn’t count on that if I were you.


      • I’ll admit to being one of those (though I’m not GOP). I did not support President Obama on most things but I have been very impressed how he has conducted himself as an ex-president, especially at “state” type events. He may get more partisan as election time rolls around but I have been pleasantly surprised at his relatively low profile. His eulogy at the McCain service was very good. Times like now it is good to see him and President Bush getting along so well, some needed show of unity and larger than politics during these times.


  4. I think both things can be true. Trump is absolutely the worst President in the history of the United States in my view. I think the damage he is doing can take decades to cure.

    However, this does not make Bush II a good President. Bush II took advantage of a terrorist attack to lead the United States into an unnecessary quagmire in Iraq. One that seems to be a perpetual war as we are still in Afghanistan and Iraq and it has been nearly 17 years since 9/11. His deregulation led to a fiscal crisis that caused tens of millions of younger Americans to graduate with more debt and fewer prospects to build equity and job security. I am not fond of Roberts and Alioto either.

    But considering that Trump’s loathsomeness is the gift that keeps on giving and it is seemingly impossible for Trump and his administration to hit rock bottom in terms of corruption, cruelty, incompetence, and stupidity. By that measure, Bush II and every other U.S. President (including Nixon, Harding, and Buchanan) are light years above Trump.


  5. Bob Woodward has a new book out about Trump’s White House. It appears to be a dishy book. The dish being that a lot of higher ups in the Trump admin seem to think that he is an absolute madman, asshole, and idiot. He doesn’t think very kindly of them either (and by implication also dislikes most of his base).

    But what does this say about the people who continue to serve under Trump despite the abuse and ill-will? Are they really trying to save the nation? Maybe some of them are but I think a lot of them put up with it to gain their own power/wealth (Wilbur Ross) or do things that no other admin would let them do (Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller)


    • I agree with your point there Saul, and I think there is a easy dividing line there. While it is not true in every case, starting with people whose whole lives have been public service such as the Mattis, Kelly’s, and professional diplomats and staff folks compared to those that are only their because they are affiliated with Trump. The former I’m more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to as doing it for greater good, as opposed to the later.


      • There might be a small number of true public servants under Trump. Mattis strikes me as the sanest and most competent member of Trump’s cabinet even if I disagree with his policy positions. The other members are grifters like Trump and are in the administration so they can partake in acts or corruption or malicious people who stay with Trump because they could do things that not even a normally very conservative Republican administration would allow like family separation. The grifters seem to outnumber the malicious people.


        • I think the author of this astonishing anonymous New York Times op-ed thinks they’re a true public servant, but holy shit are they anything but:

          It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.

          The result is a two-track presidency.
          Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.

          The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.

          We’ve also allowed ourselves to allow an unfit president to remain in office while arrogating power for ourselves.

          Go us.


            • As an aside, the currently accepted meaning of “double-edged sword” is completely mistaken, except everyone understands what is meant. But it once meant effectively attacking a problem from multiple angles. “Like a double-edged sword his tongue cut at the argument from both sides.”

              Nobody who uses a double-edged sword hits themselves with the back edge. In the writings of Master Joachim Meyer, in the mid 1500’s, most of the killing blows were delivered with the back edge.

              During blows the grip is shifted dynamically from an edge-aligned orientation (like a Katana) to a flat-aligned orientation, enabling the back edge to swing it at angles that the front edge couldn’t reach because of biomechanical limitations on the human arm.

              A video is worth a thousand words, so here are two.

              9 minute zwerchhau video lesson

              Very dynamic zwerchhau use

              So somewhere someone decided that Europeans just bashed each other back and forth like they were having a muscle spasm, and we got the “double-edged sword” phrase out of it.


            • Most people who hate Trump seem really unimpressed by this. Whether they are liberals or long time conservative Never Trumpers like Frum, the basic argument seems to be that if this is real rather than a ploy, the person who wrote this is a moral coward trying to protect their hide. The other observation is that rather than going through the proper constitutional methods for dealing with an incompetent President like impeachment or the 25th Amendment, Trump’s cabinet is staging a soft core coup d’etat.


              • There’s also the other factors.

                The author clearly thinks Trump is unfit for office, and a danger to the country. They decide not to pursue the Constitutional remedy (25th Amendment). They decide not to notify the public. They decide not to notify Congress.

                Instead, Trump’s own appointees — as admitted in this op-ed — literally usurp the powers of the President for themselves. In the name of “avoiding a Constitutional Crisis”. Which, among other things, means at least one senior administration official doesn’t know what a “Constitutional crisis” is if they think ignoring the Constitution in favor of breaching it is avoiding one.

                Of course the sub-text is even better, as this is clearly prep work to explain how Donald Trump was never a Republican, was not representative of Republican values or goals, and should in no way be associated with the party. And anything that he did that you like, only happened because Real Republicans did it despite Trump’s best wishes.

                I suspect I’d be absolutely horrified at what they’ve stopped, since I’m appropriately horrified at what they didn’t. And yet that pales in comparison to someone humble-bragging anonymously in the NYT about how self-sacrificing he is to usurp the Presidency.


              • It also plays into Trump’s “Deep State” hands to such an extent that Trump would’ve written it if the anonymous author didn’t.

                It ranks up there with a hypothetical 1932 article in the German press from an “anonymous high-placed Jew” saying how he’s fighting from the inside to bring down the Weimar Republic to restore Jewish control of Germany.

                Yet the New York Times ran it.


                • It also plays into Trump’s “Deep State” hands to such an extent that Trump would’ve written it if the anonymous author didn’t.

                  The Deep State is comprised of the VP, Cabinet members, and other high level political appointees?

                  “Senior members of the Administration” can only be describing political appointees. So either Mike Pence, or someone Trump personally appointed.


                  • Here’s what “Senior” meant back in 2005 according to Slate:

                    Since there are no hard and fast rules on attribution, reporters can punch up their stories by ascribing “senior” status to just about anyone. The only people who can’t be senior administration officials, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank told the Explainer, are the interns.

                    Several Washington reporters said that “senior” officials in the White House must at the very least have “commissioned status.” Commissioned staffers include those from the top three ranks of the White House hierarchy. In descending order of importance, these are: assistants to the president, deputy assistants to the president, and special assistants to the president. The 80 or so commissioned staffers in the White House get special dining-room and parking privileges. In general, they also get higher salaries.

                    In practice, reporters rarely use the term “senior” for anyone below assistant level. (Special assistant Blake Gottesman, who sits right next to the Oval Office and serves as the president’s personal aide, isn’t likely to get the title.) There are almost 20 assistants to the president, including familiar figures like Stephen Hadley, senior adviser Karl Rove, chief of staff Andrew Card, and press secretary Scott McClellan. The vice president is, of course, also a senior administration official. The most senior official of all—the president—rarely speaks on background. Bill Clinton’s press secretary tried (and failed) to work out a suitable attribution for presidential background briefings. Reporters deemed phrases like “someone close to the president” too misleading.

                    Senior administration officials don’t have to come from the White House. Cabinet secretaries are undoubtedly senior, and some reporters extend the title to their deputies and undersecretaries. Even a few officials at the assistant secretary level might merit “senior” designation. Given these possibilities, the population of senior officials in the administration could number well over 100.

                    (emphasis added)


                    • Each of them hand-chosen political appointees. Which means blathering about the “Deep state” is even stupider than normal. The Deep State literally can’t be “The people Trump brought with him into office”, which is the only set of people “Senior member of the administration” can describe.

                      But you’re not placing “Senior” in context of what the op-ed claims was done. Most of those 100 would simply not be capable of out-arguing Trump, for instance.

                      That narrows it down far more — you’re looking at Cabinet members, or top-level advisers. No one else would have both the title (“Senior members”) and the actual ability to talk Trump out of anything, or do any of the other things described in the piece.


                      • Its weird how the “Deep State” never existed before Jan 20, 2017.

                        It was never mentioned, no one wrote about it, I doubt if one person in a million would have even known what the term meant prior to that.

                        But now, yeah, its always existed, and we’ve always been at war with it.


                        • Wikipedia mentions this:

                          Barack Obama’s alleged lack of success of his campaign promises relating to the Afghanistan war and civil liberties has been attributed by Tufts University professor Michael J. Glennon to what he calls the “double government”; the defense and national security network.Mike Lofgren felt Obama was pushed into the Afghanistan “surge” in 2009. Another major campaign promise Obama made was the closure of Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp, which he was unable to accomplish. This has been attributed indirectly to the influence of a deep state.

                          The page also mentions Edward Snowden and what he claimed was going on.

                          So while the term only dates back (in English, anyway) to 2016 or so, the concept does go back to Obama in the modern use of the term. (If you want to get broader, you can get all Illuminati, of course. But in the narrow sense, I’ve seen deep-state adjacent arguments given as to why Obama couldn’t close Guantanamo, for example.)


                          • No the concept you are talking about goes back much earlier, to at least the Military Industrial Complex mentioned by Eisenhower, or even earlier, to Truman who complained that he was the most powerful man in the world, but had to spend his day just kissing ass and pleading with the Cabinet heads to act.

                            But then we could also refer to the permanent government bureaucracy instituted as part of civil service reforms in the early 20th century, which were deliberately meant to insulate government bureaucracies from political interference.

                            Because the whole point of civil service reform to was make the enactors of policy independent of the crafters of policy. We very much want the rank and file diplomats and generals and agency heads to NOT be “loyal” to the president but to carry out policy as set by Congress and the Executive branch, and ratified by the courts.

                            What Trumpists are complaining about is that the civil servants and members of the Department of Justice aren’t behaving like at-will employees of a single man.


                      • But you’re not placing “Senior” in context of what the op-ed claims was done.

                        Oh, that’s true.

                        I was only looking at who gets the title applied to them according to important journalists like those at the NYT.

                        Or, more precisely, who got it in 2005.

                        Maybe it means something different today.


          • I think this letter is an elaborate troll or an attempt to mitigate midterm election damage rather than an admission of softcore coup d’état. My evidence is that the war on immigration, Trump’s signature issue, continues despite the alleged softcore coup d’état. This seem to suggest that Trump is running the show no matter how chaotic.


          • What a curious thing; I’m honestly perplexed by the reasoning of the person who wrote it… if what they say is true (and it confirms all my priors so it must be), to what possible good end would you publish such a thing? Now? If Trump is as bad as they say (and I believe), and as unhinged and mercurial as they say (and I believe)… then the only time to write such a thing is after Trump is either impeached or leaving office. It strikes me as profoundly poor judgement to write an op-ed in the NYT(!) about the impotence of Trump. Nothing good will come of this.

            I get the theory that it is a mid-term strategy doc, and that makes some sense… if expecting a bloodbath and congressional turnover they assume Trump will be further constrained (and therefore their jobs somewhat easier) and they want to save the Republican brand… but… it makes me question their judgement as “adults in the room” and quite possibly strikes me as the umpteenth practical failure of the NeverTrump faction. Never have I seen such political incompetence from so many insiders in such a short span of time. Unless, of course, the goal is boots on the ground “somewhere” ™ … in which case, brilliant but evil.

            TLDR: Only an idiot or a genius would write such a thing; I’m leaning towards idiot.


            • I’m leaning towards idiot myself, but Vikram Bath (on Twitter) suggested that this is a ploy to provoke a Trump meltdown that really does make his Presidency untenable in front of Congress and the world.

              It seems farfetched, but somehow strikes me as the kind of clever-but-actually-completely-stupid plan that the author of the piece would dream up.


              • To what end? To try to reduce his popularity so that the 25th would stick? Then its not much of a Republican Mid-Term strategy… you’d do that after the midterms… so can’t be both.

                Also, provoking Presidential blow-ups are not the actions of sober public servants protecting us from Presidential blow-ups.

                If it wasn’t the NYT, I’d seriously question the whole “Senior Administration Official” sourcing… or maybe they are practicing a Jesuitical mental reservation and witholding the “BFF of an Aid to a…”

                Part of me thinks when this person is exposed and removed from their position that we’ll all go, huh, maybe Senior was a courtesy title.

                Either that or we’ll have to point out to a prematurely jubilant Donald Jr. that he doesn’t inherit the presidency too.


              • The argument that something was kinda clever on first glance then spectacularly dumb when really examined it but, really, when you get down to brass tacks is *REALLY* amazingly clever when you understand 14th dimensional chess is… well. I suppose it’s something that you can only judge when the refs announce that the game is over and name the person who won it.

                I was sure that Trump was a buffoon who was never going to get nominated and then I was sure that he was a buffoon who was going to win until I was sure that he was a buffoon who wouldn’t win and now I’m in a place where I have no idea how good of a judge I am of anything.

                That said, this op-ed strikes me as yet another thing that confirms the priors of everybody who reads it. Team Evil is able to yell “SEE!!! THERE’S A SHADOW GOVERNMENT AND IT’S WORKING AGAINST TRUMP!!!!” while Team Good is able to say… well, Team Good seems to be settling into “yeah, this was a bad idea and I don’t know what the NYT was thinking.”

                So maybe it doesn’t confirm everybody’s priors.


                • Wait… if I apply some half-understood mathematic principles to even less understood linguistic logic principles… then this comment means I’m on Team Good! I’ve never been on Team Good before. Let me bask in the moment. Have you checked your math?


                • I generally assume that if something appears dumb but is actually a fakeout that’s trying to be clever, it’s really dumb. This is partly because I rarely think back on things and think, “Wow, I’m really glad that complicated, counter-intuitive plan worked out exactly like I hoped it would.”


      • Only for the first 48 hours or so.

        You know what’s really depressing? How many people still believe the BS news stories about the Katrina aftermath. It’s weird how many completely false stories about murder, rape, and theft worked their way into everyone’s minds as the “Heckava Job” Brownie sat there stunned for a few days.


  6. What has always made America and our First World peers different from the East Bloc and Third World dystopias was not just norms, but the respect for independent institutions, centers of power that were not connected or beholden to the ruling powers.

    The hallmark of those dystopian countries was that all centers of power were corrupted and bent to the will of the ruling powers. Churches, unions, universities, the police and military, all are extensions of whichever power is running the country.

    This is what I see in the Trumpian faction. He, and his followers hold the view that every organ of power should serve their interests, whatever it happens to be at the moment.

    This is why a “policy” analysis of Trump doesn’t really hit that mark- it isn’t like Trump is making good faith errors of judgement, or earnestly trying and failing.

    There is a corruption of intent, so regardless of the outcome, it is malign.


  7. I’m in the “norms” camp but focused more on institutions than personal behavior.

    What made 20th century America and our postwar peer nations superior to the East bloc and Third world dystopian countries was that our institutions were free and independent power centers, and we had a powerful cultural norm to keep it so.

    In those dystopian societies, every institution and power center was corrupted and bent to serve the will of those in power, from churches to unions to sports and civic organizations. All the resources of government from the police to the utilities to the military reflected this mindset.

    This is the mindset I see in Trump and his supporters. He doesn’t follow some high minded and well intentioned political philosophy. Every institution from the Department of Justice to the NFL to churches are either groveling toadies or enemies.

    This is the corruption that really matters.


  8. We should probably do an above-the-fold post on yesterday NYT op-ed. It was startling. I understand where they’re coming from — using the 25th Amendment to remove a President with 40% support would cause riots. But the op-ed is only going to make thing worse.


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