The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Donald Trump’s Putin Crush,” says Trump doesn’t let reality, including the harm the Russian leader has brought to his own people, get in the way of his post-truth politics. Mr. Bruni considers “Hillary Clinton’s Sick Days” and has a question: How are her coughing fits more alarming than Donald Trump’s hissy fits? Here’s TMOW:
When it comes to rebutting Donald Trump’s idiotic observation that Vladimir Putin is a strong leader — “far more than our president has been a leader” — it is hard to top the assessment of Russian-born Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, which The Times’s Andrew Higgins quoted in his story from Moscow: “Vladimir Putin is a strong leader in the same way that arsenic is a strong drink. Praising a brutal K.G.B. dictator, especially as preferable to a democratically elected U.S. president, whether you like Obama or hate him, is despicable and dangerous.”
Indeed, Kasparov’s point cuts to the core of what is so scary about a Trump presidency: Trump is what The Economist has called “the leading exponent of ‘post-truth’ politics — a reliance on assertions that ‘feel true’ but have no basis in fact,” and, sadly, “his brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power.” When politics becomes “like pro-wrestling,” society pays a huge cost, The Economist added, because any complex explanation of any problem is dismissed as experts just trying “to bamboozle everyone else.”
So Trump just skips from blaming Mexican immigrants for high murder rates, to President Obama for inventing ISIS, to China for creating the concept of global warming, to thousands of Muslims in New Jersey for celebrating 9/11, to Obama for really having been born in Kenya, to an I.R.S. audit for preventing him from showing us his tax returns — which would probably show that he paid no taxes.
Every word of it is a lie that most in his own party won’t call out. Can you imagine the damage Trump could do to the fabric of our democracy if he had the White House pulpit from which to preach his post-truth politics — how it would filter down into public discourse at large and infect every policy debate?
“Donald Trump has not only brought haters into the mainstream, he has normalized hate for a much broader swathe of the population who were perhaps already disaffected but had their grievances and latent prejudices held in check by social norms,” observed Josh Marshall, publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com, in his blog on Saturday. “This isn’t some minor point or critique. It’s a fundamental part of what is at stake in this election, what makes it different from Obama v. Romney. … This election has become a battle to combat the moral and civic cancer Trump has [been] injecting into the body politic.”
Think about the ridiculous trope Trump has been peddling, that if only Obama were as “strong” as Putin. Well, if he were, here are some of the benefits America would enjoy:
A 2015 report in The Moscow Times noted that “life expectancy in Russia has been growing several times slower than in the rest of the world for the past 20 years, according to a research by the U.S.-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.” That coincides almost exactly with Putin’s leadership of the country. The article explained, “During the period of 1990-2013 [life expectancy] only grew by 1.8 years in Russia, while the global average number increased by 6.2 years, pushing Russia out of the top 100 countries with the highest life expectancy and placing it in 108th position — between Iraq and North Korea.”
Why don’t we have a leader strong enough to slow gains in the life expectancy of an entire nation?
An investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency released last summer found that Putin’s Russia was operating a state-sponsored doping scheme for four years across the “vast majority” of Summer and Winter Olympic sports. According to a July 18, 2016, BBC report on the investigation, “Russia’s sports ministry ‘directed, controlled and oversaw’ manipulation of urine samples provided by its athletes.” Scores of Russian athletes were barred from the Rio Olympics as a result.
I get it: A weak president doesn’t dare tamper with his Olympic athletes. A strong president dopes up his Summer and Winter Olympic teams for multiple Games.
Since Putin invaded Ukraine to shore up his faltering domestic popularity, and then got hit with Western economic sanctions, the dollar-ruble exchange rate has gone from around 36 rubles to the dollar to 65 rubles to the dollar. Russia’s economic growth fell 3.7 percent in 2015, and the I.M.F. predicts it will fall 1 percent in 2016. Inflation in Russia doubled to 15.4 percent in 2015, compared with 7.8 percent in 2014. A World Bank report quoted by the BBC in April said “the number of Russians living below the poverty line will grow at its fastest pace in more than 17 years in 2016.”
It takes a strong leader to shrink his currency by 50 percent, double inflation and vastly accelerate poverty in just two years. A weak leader could never do that.
Putin is a leader who is always looking for dignity in all the wrong places — by investing in bullying wars, not in his own people; by jailing and likely poisoning his opponents; and by being so insecure that he just shut Russia’s last independent polling firm after it indicated that many Russians may not vote in the coming parliamentary elections because, among other things, they think they’re “rigged.”
This is the man Donald Trump admires more than our own president.
And now here’s Mr. Bruni:
Before we delve any further into the coughs heard round the world and the swoon that changed history, some perspective:
Running for president isn’t hard. It’s brutal. The oddity isn’t that one of the candidates would succumb to illness and be forced off the trail for a few days. The oddity is that all of the candidates don’t drop like flies.
What we ask of them is less preparation than mortification, physical as well as psychological. Between formal speeches and informal rallies and briefings and fund-raisers and long flights and short bus rides and coffee-shop huddles and state-fairground scrums, they endure 20-hour days in which they cram in twice that many hours of work. They’re miracles of perseverance, so much so that a certain 68-year-old Democratic nominee can get a pneumonia diagnosis and deliver a big (if cloddishly rendered) speech at a fund-raiser that same night.
Their stamina isn’t at issue, just their sanity.
We haven’t learned anything new about Hillary Clinton’s penchant for secrecy. We’ve had it confirmed — for the millionth time. Her self-protection is a perverse form of self-destruction. It’s borderline pathological. But it’s something that most voters accepted or rejected somewhere along the quarter-century timeline from Travelgate to her emails. A roadside crumpling and a round of antibiotics aren’t going to change that.
Her lack of transparency might well be disqualifying if her opponent were the political equivalent of freshly Windexed glass. Her opponent is the political equivalent of a thickly armored car.
Donald Trump won’t show us his taxes. He won’t illuminate his philanthropic activity or the workings of his charity, which, according to David Fahrenthold’s terrific reporting in The Washington Post, operates in a bizarrely self-aggrandizing fashion.
He’s promising more detailed health information and a sit-down with Dr. Oz, who is Trump with a stethoscope, approaching matters of great seriousness with great silliness. (Next up: Judge Judy hears the Trump University lawsuit.)
But what Trump presented previously — a few gushing sentences from a physician who later admitted to ginning them up on the fly — was a Valentine’s Day card masquerading as medicine. I’m surprised there weren’t hearts and Cupids in the margins.
Apart from it, there’s no evidence of Trump as Hercules. More like Nero, with a coterie of sycophants fanning him and peeling his grapes.
He’s the master of phoning in to news shows rather than appearing on set, which would require more exertion. He has often done just one event a day, near an airport, so he can fly home in his plush private jet and sleep in his own comfy bed. He’s the rare exception to the slog I described above. During the primaries, it was huge news when he finally overnighted in a chain hotel in Iowa and, that same weekend, sat through all 60 minutes of a church service. Praise the Lord and pass the Gatorade.
Although his hair refuses to accept it, he’s 70 years old, and if there’s footage out there of him doing the P90X workout, I missed it. I haveseen him playing golf, which isn’t much more aerobically demanding than backgammon.
All of this makes him a singularly ineffective critic of Clinton’s health. And his surrogates and supporters are bungling the case by overstating it. To hear them talk, she’s some sporadically animated cadaver, a mash-up of “Weekend at Bernie’s” and “The Candidate.” They’re going to look ridiculous when she stands sturdily on the debate stage for 90 minutes and speaks in sentences fuller, more coherent and more grammatical than his.
Of course events could unfold differently. She could have a debate so terrible that naysaying about her health is the least of her worries. She could continue to struggle with illness, compromising the intensity with which she stumps. She could shortchange us on the additional medical records that she has rightly pledged to share, yanking her campaign off message yet again. She could have a lurking malady — as could Trump.
But we don’t have any more proof of her physical unfitness for the presidency than we did a week ago. There’s no clear link between the blood clot of 2013 and Sunday’s swoon.
What we have is a stress-aggravated instance of frailty from one of two senior citizens engaged in a marathon. Will it really eclipse the race’s other dynamics?
In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, only 36 percent of respondents said that Trump was qualified to be president. I can’t imagine any one of the other 64 percent reasoning: “He’s ignorant, but so robustlyignorant. A liar, but such a strapping one. Forget those hateful tirades; look at those cholesterol levels.”
I can’t see her coughing fits excusing his hissy fits, which are scarier and harder to cure.