Tuesday, June 12, 2018

It Doesn’t Matter Who is President

Jim 'll
Let me say it again: “It doesn’t matter who is president of the United States.” I know that I’ve said it before (here, for instance) but I feel that it bears repeating. It’s a simple message, but I don’t think that it’s sinking in well enough. Although nobody seems to want to come out and argue that this message is wrong, plenty of people seem determined to ignore it. Some of them appear to take on board what I have to say but then go on talking as if it does matter who is president. It doesn’t.

It is possible to make the point that it doesn’t matter who is president by speaking in generalities: how the political system is rigged to ignore all inputs that lie outside of a narrow range of interests of a self-serving elite; how the level of political discourse within the US is far too low for a constructive discussion of any serious issue; how artificially generated partisan divisiveness is specifically designed to prevent people from finding common cause while skillfully hiding the fact that the US is not a democracy at all (as explained here). Lots of people have gone into considerably more detail than I wish to in explaining all of this, and yet if you ask “the man on the street” whether it matters who is president, it is highly likely that he will respond in the affirmative.

Since speaking in generalities fails to persuade, let’s look at some specifics. Specifically, let’s look at Trump’s desperate antics, which enrage some people, drive others to distraction and, oddly enough, cause a few more to admire the man. Nobody seems to be making the point that no matter how Trump thrashes around, the result will be virtually the same. Here are a few examples.

• Trump is doing everything he can to dissuade the Europeans from accepting another natural gas pipeline out of Russia and to instead start buying liquefied natural gas from the US, which is at least twice as expensive and not nearly as plentiful. He has threatened to sanction European companies that do business with Russian energy companies. And yet Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that will connect Russia to Germany via the floor of the Baltic Sea, is proceeding. Another president might have acted differently, but the result would have been exactly the same.

• Trump has been flip-flopping on Russia. Sometimes he says that nobody is tougher on Russia than him; then he turns around and invites Russia back into the G7 (to which Putin says that he has other plans). He expels Russian diplomats for made-up reasons, then appears to be planning a summit with Putin. Again, whether he is friendly or hostile toward Russia doesn’t matter at all. Whether he is imposing or easing sanctions, Russia’s goals remain the same: become free of US influence and end reliance on the US dollar. The ultimate result will be exactly the same.

• Trump has gone from insulting Kim Jong Un of North Korea by calling him “little rocket man” and threatening to “completely destroy” his country to most recently holding a summit with him and signing joint letter promising to pursue peace and cooperation. Kim Jong Un has embraced the ultimate goal of a fully denuclearized Korean peninsula while Trump promised to provide North Korea with security guarantees. But what are these security guarantees worth, considering that Trump had just pulled out of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and given that before that the US had destroyed Libya after it voluntarily gave up its nuclear program? It didn’t matter when Trump threatened North Korea with complete destruction because he couldn’t have attacked it: if attacked, North Korea would have responded by destroying South Korea and Japan, voiding US security guarantees to these countries. And now it doesn’t matter when Trump is making promises, because by now everybody knows that the US is incapable of keeping its promises.

• Domestically, one of Trump’s few legislative victories was in pushing through a tax reform package that provides inducements for US companies to repatriate their foreign profits and invest them domestically. These tax cuts may stimulate some short-term financial activity and prop up an increasingly wobbly financial system a little longer, but longer-term it will only exacerbate the fiscal imbalances that are by now structural features of the system, bringing on trillion-dollar budget deficits even sooner. No matter what the president does at this point, the federal budget of the US, along with all the state budgets, is going to blow up.

• Also domestically, Trump is a politically divisive figure who has increased the chasm between liberal and conservative sides of the political spectrum (the term is a misnomer, because two colors do not a spectrum make). But this doesn’t matter, because hefty majorities among the younger generations have decided that they want nothing to do with the democrat/republican duopoly, has embraced various tenets of socialism and have decided that capitalism is bad and needs to go away. This is not a helpful development for the capitalist party or the other capitalist party; they’ll need to go away too. Trump can be as divisive as he wants to be, but all he can do is provoke a brawl at an old folks’ home. The world will move on regardless.

I am sure you can think through many more examples in the same vein. No matter what Trump does or doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say, results will be independent of his actions. The entire political system is by now just a bit of shadow puppetry, the presidency at its center is a mirage, and all the available news coverage of it is pure propaganda. Some people are eager to give Trump credit for “destroying the system,” but as we work through various specific examples we can see that the system is destroying itself quite well, thank you very much, no presidential help needed. In this sense, Trump is almost the perfect president: loud, obnoxious and ultimately irrelevant. And to remove the qualifier “almost” and become the perfect president, he would only have to achieve one thing: make everyone see that it doesn’t matter who is president.


Anonymous said...

Your examples show that what the presidency (or the country) does bears little relation to the apparent goals of those actions. It can also be shown that what the presidency does is independent of who happens to occupy that office at any given time. Trump has conclusively demonstrated that fact. If anybody could have broken the pattern, it would have been him; but here he is, faithfully playing out the fifth term of GW Bush.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Dmetry has made valid points. If we step back and watch the process being played out on the media, eg CNN MSNBC, it is a propaganda machine meant to inflict rage toward the President, day and night they hammer him in the ground to instill anger and it has worked. It looks like the real power in Washington destroyed him within the first couple of months. It is so important that we start to think critically andindependently, but we don't and I am concerned for the future.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Never ceases to amaze me. Here are people conceding that I have made valid points, and then head straight for the weeds. What difference does it make whose presidency Trump is "faithfully playing out" if IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO IS PRESIDENT? And what difference does it make whether Trump has been destroyed by the mass media propaganda machine? It didn't matter who was president before, and it doesn't now.

the blame-e said...

I have nothing against President Donald Trump. He means nothing to me. I only voted for him because I refused to vote for yet another Clinton.

Trump's election reminds me a 1979 Peter Sellers movie, "Being There." Essentially, about "a simple, sheltered gardener [who] becomes an unlikely trusted advisor to a powerful businessman (more like a powerful wealthy oligarch), and an insider in Washington politics." The description of the gardener as "simple" and "sheltered" is a polite way of saying that a "man" both mentally and sexually challenged, through mime and mimicry, becomes President of the United States.

This wonderful and poetic movie was, and still is, very painful to watch. Its premise is the same as this Orlov's. We don't select our leaders; they are selected for us. The powerful wealthy oligarch and councilor to presidents dies, leaving everything (including his drop dead beautiful young wife), to the gardener. At the businessman's funeral, giants of industry and wealth gather to bury their colleague and to select a new presidential candidate. The gardener is chosen.

Watch this movie. You can pick up a brand new DVD on Amazon for under $25.00.

The movie reminds me that if voting really mattered they wouldn't let us do it.

Jayhawk said...

I don't know why you are amazed when people miss the point, Dimitri, missing the point has become the American way of life. Nothing is read to obtain the writer's point of view. Everything is read for the purpose of reinforcing the reader's point of view.

I joined a discussion yesterday about the heinous practice of separating children from their parents at the southern US border; a discussion which revolved around the excoriation of the Trump administration. I pointed out that the practice had been being followed for six years, since Congress passed a law mandating that children could not be detained in adult facilities, and that it was Congress which had not provided for the creation of family facilities. I pointed out that the demand for the administration to stop complying with laws passed by Congress was no solution, and there was a need to demand that Congress make changes in the law. Like, for instance, create provision and provide funding for family detention facilities. I was harshly condemned for defending the heinous practice of separating families and for being a right wing troll.

You point out that since the US government has become irrelevant abroad and almost completely ineffective at home it doesn't matter who is heading it, and readers take that to mean you regard the US government as a highly effective organization for the propagation of evil, which is the popular view of today's younger generations.

Jon said...

I've noticed over the past few years that our political system has become pure theater. They will have debates in Congress, viscous attacks from both sides, the propaganda #MonkeyChoir throwing 'analyses' into our faces, but at the end nothing really changes. Big DOD bills get routinely rubber stamped without discussion, Planned Parenthood was eventually and quietly funded, the various scandals get updated every few months until they don't resemble the original narrative, Trump's foreign policy seems to be to take credit for everything while the rest of the world slowly grinds out of the west's orbit. I've stopped taking the extreme predictions of anything seriously.

Trump may have had good intentions vis-a-vis draining the swamp and being the crusader for the dispossessed, but the swamp just turned him into their court jester whose purpose is to stage manage the moral majority, silent majority, blue collar workers, red states, or whatever that class is called today as well as the snowflakes, coastal elites, and clean fingered people. Political debate now consists of pitting one side against the other and goading them on.


Jamie said...

I think it does matter who is president, but not in a predictable way. For sure, there is a ton of inertia in the status quo, and a single person is going to have a very difficult time accomplishing a specific ageda that differs much from the way things are going. On the other hand, the political system is highly complex and could be (likely is in my opinion) teetering on the edge of a state transition so seemingly small inputs could result in large outputs. It seems to me that, although we can't really understand systems this complex, that it makes a difference whether key components are stabilizing influences or destabilizing influences. Trump seems to be destabilizing, which is why many people who dislike the status quo support him. Maybe this doesn't matter most of time because of the inertia, but it could start mattering at any time and it might matter alot. Unfortunately it will only be apparent in retrospect.

pyrrhus said...

Also, Dimitri, if you look at history, the Presidency has mattered very much at critical times. For example, if Stephen Douglas had beaten Lincoln, which he would have if the South hadn't split the party, there would have been no Civil War...If Jefferson hadn't beaten Adams by a tiny margin, there would most likely not have been a Louisiana Purchase.

DurangoKid said...

pyrrhus, the events you mention would have happened regardless of who was president. It was just a matter of time. The Founding Fathers, eesh, were bent on expansion and the land west of the Appalachians were sitting ducks. The strain between the north and the south would have found expression with or without Lincoln. The policies have remained the same from one administration to the next. Washington may have advised against foreign entanglements, but he was perfectly happy to speculate in real estate and there was plenty of that to the west, young man. The crunch came when the empire arrived at the Pacific. All the land between the two coasts had been grabbed and it was time to look elsewhere. Got to keep that flame front moving or it will flicker and die. Along the way various administrations have cobbled together strategies to save capitalism from itself, but the aim has always been the same. The rich must be made whole. The only way to protect a fortune is to increase a fortune. You don't have to look much further than that to explain US foreign and domestic policy. It's been that way from the start.

My donkey said...

The United States is on a journey, and if the only things that matter are the direction of travel and final destination, then I agree that the president has no bearing on those things.

But that's not all that matters to most people. As travelers on the same journey, US citizens also care about various aspects of the ride such as its roughness, duration, saftey, amenities, scenery, roadside attractions, other passengers, and the driver. The President is not only a fellow traveler but one elected to act as driver, so he/she matters at least as much as the driver of any vehicle you choose to ride in.

If it didn't matter who the driver was, you would be as willing to board a bus driven by a drunken teenage schizophrenic as one driven by an experienced professional bus driver.

the blame-e said...

Mr. Donkey. Nice comment. Nicely written. However, I just don't agree with your thesis. The president is no more (or less) a driver of the ship of state than he is allowed to be. The closer the leader / ruler is to the controls determines everything. Right now, President Trump is no closer to the controls governing the speed and direction of the ship of state than the car driving toy issued to toddlers; the one with the bright red fake steering wheel that turns nothing, the fake horn that "Beep. Beeps." The knobs and the levers, same thing -- all fake.

And as for the passengers? Think of the Jethro Tull "Locomotive Breath."


NJGuy73 said...

Jamie Mason, here's an excerpt from a speech by Bill James (the baseball stat guru):

"...we are all, in my view, condemned to float endlessly in a vast sea of un-answered questions and unknown reference points—a Sea of Ignorance, if you will. The example that I like to use is a chess board. How many moves ahead can you see on a chess board? I can see about one move ahead of myself in a chess game. If you can see 3 or 4 moves ahead on a chess board, you can beat 99% of chess players, and if you could see 7 or 8 moves ahead in a chess game, you would be a world-class chess champion.

Well, suppose that a chess board was not eight squares wide and eight squares long, but a hundred squares wide and a hundred squares long, with a thousand moving pieces, rather than 32. How far ahead could you see on a chess board then? The world is like a chess board that is a million squares wide and a million squares long with hundreds of thousands of moving pieces and hundreds of thousands of different players moving them. In my view, anyone who imagines that he can anticipate what will happen next, in any area of life, is delusional, and people who think that experts should be able to do this are children and fools.

"If the world was 10% more complicated than the human mind, or even if it was 40% more complicated or ten times as complicated, then the difference between an intelligent person’s ability to understand the world and a less intelligent person’s ability to understand the world would be very meaningful. But since the world is billions and billions of times more complicated than the human mind, individual intelligence is almost entirely irrelevant to the understanding of the world. What is critical to understanding is humility and co-operation. What is critical to gaining more understanding of the world is to learn to accept and appreciate the vastness of our ignorance, and to understand that one can only survive in a sea of ignorance by working with others to make our small lifeboat a little bit stronger. Only by embracing the fact of our limitless ignorance can one position oneself to increase the store of knowledge."


Anonymous said...

hey Jeff,
better read a book, any used books book store will have it. it will save yiu at least 20 and is much better than the movie. by Jerzy Kosinski btw...

Peter VE said...

My Donkey:
When I voted for Obama, I thought that by voting for an intelligent, calm, well educated man, I was voting for calm rational responses to the problems this country had been left in after the previous 28 years. Instead, we got smooth calm rational continuation of those same policies. Trump just makes the looting and murder a little more obvious.

shakree said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shakree said...

So I think if we want to approximate the Founders vision, we should turn the ballot upside down and focus on Local politics. We should make "Dogcatcher" our most compelling decision and work our way down the ballot to the least of them all, the President.
We havent learned over the years, that dogcatchers may someday become President as they work their way up the food chain every election cycle

Anonymous said...

Two issues where the presidency made a difference are Cuba relations and ACA. In the big picture they may not be significant, but both matter to many.

DeVaul said...

Well, I didn't miss the point, although I admit that I was totally astonished that 25% of Americans would vote for a KNOWN SOCIOPATH. (The other 25% voted for a recent sociopath and 50% of Americans, like me, refused to vote for either criminal (known criminals).

I have never voted, but when I tell people they have a choice not to vote for a criminal, they say things that leave one questioning their sanity: "Well, who should we vote for?" "If we don't vote (for gangsters) we cannot complain." "We should exercise our right to vote (for known criminals)." "You are not an American if you don't vote (for a criminal)." etc, etc.

I don't even say anything anymore. There may come a day when, like in the Soviet Union, not voting will get you a ticket straight to Gitmo. Some Senators have already tried to put together a bill requiring everyone to vote. Luckily, it went nowhere.

It is my belief that we live under an Oligarchy, although Dmitry might dispute that. I feel like the recent election show was a contest between two competing groups of oligarchs
whose names we are not allowed to know, but sometimes learn when they step out of the shadows of Wall Street or the Pentagon or "The City" (London) or wherever in a desperate attempt to grab some power or more money. Not one of them is a decent person, and their quest for ever more money (money bag logic) means that our descent into Italian style government will be demoralizing, painful, and eventually ruinous.

My donkey said...

Dmitry, if you were amazed by the first two folks who "headed for the weeds" you must be even more amazed by the two additional folks who actually admitted voting for president! (if it doesn't matter who is president, why vote for president?)
If people find that adopting your doesn't-matter position is just as impossible as correctly spelling your first name, is there anything left to hope for?
I'm amazed by your ability to carry on under such circumstances; where do you find the strength?

toktomi said...

It was some 46 years or so ago when I cast my ballot and voted for one George McGovern. It became quite obvious not many minutes later that something was terribly wrong in the world. I never returned to ballot booth after that day and the picture of the absurdity becomes clearer year by year as new pixels are added to the view.

I call the office of the US President a hood ornament, and I advise all that will listen, if you want to make a real difference then quit voting - opt out [of everything]. Lucky for me, noone listens.