Blow and Krugman

In “About the ‘Basket of Deplorables'” Mr. Blow says that it was a politically unwise, but not untrue, statement.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Thugs and Kisses:”  Who admires Putin, and why?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Let’s get straight to it: Hillary Clinton’s comments Friday at a fund-raiser that half of Donald Trump’s supporters could be put in a “basket of deplorables” wasn’t a smart political play.

Candidates do themselves a tremendous disservice when they attack voters rather than campaigns. Whatever advantage is procured through the rallying of one’s own base is outweighed by what will be read as divisiveness and disdain.

Here is Clinton’s full quote:

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”

Then, she continued: “But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

That second basket got too little attention. Context doesn’t provide the sizzle on which shock media subsists. Noted.

What Clinton said was impolitic, but it was not incorrect. There are things a politician cannot say. Luckily, I’m not a politician.

Donald Trump is a deplorable candidate — to put it charitably — and anyone who helps him advance his racial, religious and ethnic bigotry is part of that bigotry. Period. Anyone who elevates a sexist is part of that sexism. The same goes for xenophobia. You can’t conveniently separate yourself from the detestable part of him because you sense in him the promise of cultural or economic advantage. That hair cannot be split.

Furthermore, one doesn’t have to actively hate to contribute to a culture that allows hate to flourish.

It doesn’t matter how lovely your family, how honorable your work or service, how devout your faith — if you place ideological adherence or economic self interest above the moral imperative to condemn and denounce a demagogue, then you are deplorable.

And there is some evidence that Trump’s supporters don’t simply have a passive, tacit acceptance of an undesirable platform, but instead have an active set of beliefs that support what is deplorable in Trump.

In state after state that Trump won during the primaries, he won a majority or near majority of voters who supported a temporary ban on Muslims entering this country and who supported deporting immigrants who are in this country illegally.

In June a Reuters/Ipsos poll found: “Nearly half of Trump’s supporters described African-Americans as more ‘violent’ than whites. The same proportion described African-Americans as more ‘criminal’ than whites, while 40 percent described them as more ‘lazy’ than whites.”

A Pew poll released in February found that 65 percent of Republicans believe the next president should “speak bluntly even if critical of Islam as a whole” when talking about Islamic extremists.

Another Reuters/Ipsos online poll in July found that 58 percent of Trump supporters have a “somewhat unfavorable” view of Islam and 78 percent believe Islam was more likely to encourage acts of terrorism.

A February Public Policy Polling survey found “Trump’s support in South Carolina is built on a base of voters among whom religious and racial intolerance pervades.” What the poll found about those South Carolina supporters’ beliefs was truly shocking:

• Eighty percent of likely Trump primary voters supported Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims.

• Sixty-two percent supported creating a national database of Muslims and 40 percent supported shutting down mosques in the United States.

• Thirty-eight percent wished the South had won the Civil War.

• Thirty-three percent thought the practice of Islam should be illegal in this country.

• Thirty-two percent supported the policy of Japanese internment during World War II.

• Thirty-one percent would support a ban on homosexuals entering the country.

On Saturday, Clinton issued a statement pointing out that “I regret saying ‘half’ — that was wrong.” Place the percentage where you will — or don’t — but the fact is indisputable.

I understand that people recoil at the notion that they are part of a pejorative basket. I understand the reflexive resistance to having your negative beliefs disrobed and your sense of self dressed down.

I understand your outrage, but I’m unmoved by it. If the basket fits …

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

First of all, let’s get this straight: The Russian Federation of 2016 is not the Soviet Union of 1986. True, it covers most of the same territory and is run by some of the same thugs. But the Marxist ideology is gone, and so is the superpower status. We’re talking about a more or less ordinary corrupt petrostate here, although admittedly a big one that happens to have nukes.

I mention all of this because Donald Trump’s effusive praise for Vladimir Putin — which actually reflects a fairly common sentiment on the right — seems to have confused some people.

On one side, some express puzzlement over the spectacle of right-wingers — the kind of people who used to yell “America, love it or leave it!” — praising a Russian regime. On the other side, a few people on the left are anti-anti-Putinists, denouncing criticism of Mr. Trump’s Putin-love as “red-baiting.” But today’s Russia isn’t Communist, or even leftist; it’s just an authoritarian state, with a cult of personality around its strongman, that showers benefits on an immensely wealthy oligarchy while brutally suppressing opposition and criticism.

And that, of course, is what many on the right admire.

Am I being unfair? Could praise for Russia’s de facto dictator reflect appreciation of his substantive achievements? Well, let’s talk about what the Putin regime has, in fact, accomplished, starting with economics.

Mr. Putin came to power at the end of 1999, as Russia was recovering from a severe financial crisis, and his first eight years were marked by rapid economic growth. This growth can, however, be explained with just one word: oil.

For Russia is, as I said, a petrostate: Fuels account for more than two-thirds of its exports, manufactures barely a fifth. And oil prices more than tripled between early 1999 and 2000; a few years later they more than tripled again. Then they plunged, and so did the Russian economy, which has done very badly in the past few years.

Mr. Putin would actually have something to boast about if he had managed to diversify Russia’s exports. And this should have been possible: The old regime left behind a large cadre of highly skilled workers. In fact, Russian émigrés have been a key force behind Israel’s remarkable technology boom — and the Putin government appears to have no trouble recruiting talented hackers to break into Democratic National Committee files. But Russia wasn’t going to realize its technology potential under a regime where business success depends mainly on political connections.

So Mr. Putin’s economic management is nothing to write home about. What about other aspects of his leadership?

Russia does, of course, have a big military, which it has used to annex Crimea and support rebels in eastern Ukraine. But this muscle-flexing has made Russia weaker, not stronger. Crimea, in particular, isn’t much of a conquest: it’s a territory with fewer peoplethan either Queens or Brooklyn, and in economic terms it’s a liabilityrather than an asset, since the Russian takeover has undermined tourism, its previous mainstay.

An aside: Weirdly, some people think there’s a contradiction between Democratic mocking of the Trump/Putin bromance and President Obama’s mocking of Mitt Romney, four years ago, for calling Russia our“No. 1 geopolitical foe.” But there isn’t: Russia has a horrible regime, but as Mr. Obama said, it’s a “regional power,” not a superpower like the old Soviet Union.

Finally, what about soft power, the ability to persuade through the attractiveness of one’s culture and values? Russia has very little — except, maybe, among right-wingers who find Mr. Putin’s macho posturing and ruthlessness attractive.

Which brings us back to the significance of the Putin cult, and the way this cult has been eagerly joined by the Republican nominee for president.

There are good reasons to worry about Mr. Trump’s personal connections to the Putin regime (or to oligarchs close to that regime, which is effectively the same thing.) How crucial has Russian money been in sustaining Mr. Trump’s ramshackle business empire? There are hints that it may have been very important indeed, but given Mr. Trump’s secretiveness and his refusal to release his taxes, nobody really knows.

Beyond that, however, admiring Mr. Putin means admiring someone who has contempt for democracy and civil liberties. Or more accurately, it means admiring someone precisely because of that contempt.

When Mr. Trump and others praise Mr. Putin as a “strong leader,” they don’t mean that he has made Russia great again, because he hasn’t. He has accomplished little on the economic front, and his conquests, such as they are, are fairly pitiful. What he has done, however, is crush his domestic rivals: Oppose the Putin regime, and you’re likely to end up imprisoned or dead. Strong!

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One Response to “Blow and Krugman”

  1. Russian Sage Says:

    Whether any of those in the Trump basket who feel hopeless but are not morally corrupt and incorrigible can see their way to an active faith that Mrs. Clinton offers is questionable. But a better message she sent than the phony one Trump did to convince white voters aghast at his racism who nevertheless bought to the sales pitch he delivered at the black Baptist church.

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