Fundamental Cruelty

Donald Trump was out here, holding a rally not far from Disneyland, so of course things got a little cartoonish:

Donald Trump cut into a handful of prominent Republican figures during a Wednesday rally, even lightly chiding those who ultimately came around to endorsing him for president.

The presumptive GOP nominee lashed out at 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, saying he “walks like a penguin.”

“Poor Mitt Romney. I have a store that’s worth more money than he is,” Trump said in Anaheim, Calif.

“I understand losers. You can make a lot of money with losers,” Trump said, before adding that the former Massachusetts governor “choked like a dog. He’s a choker.”

Is Mitt Romney a penguin or a dog? It doesn’t matter, but after he laid into Jeb Bush and Rick Perry and other “loser” Republicans – he doesn’t like the party much, or he wants everyone to know that he’s far bigger than the Republican Party – there was this:

Trump has faced repeated criticism that he doesn’t have the temperament to serve in the White House, especially based off of his biting attacks on his political rivals. But he pushed back against that criticism at the rally, arguing that he’s a “nice person” who “loves people.”

“If I was nice to everybody, I wouldn’t be here today, I’d be watching television,” he said.

“And if and when I win, I’m going to be very nice because then it is a question of good management.”

That doesn’t sound like a nice person who loves people. That sounds like a cold calculating sociopath who knows when to fake what, to get what he wants – the ruthless manager many of us have worked for. They know how this works. Smile. It increases productivity without the bother of ever having to increase wages. People will work unpaid overtime if you smile at them.

There’s a reason people come to hate their bosses. Democrats may be able to use that, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explains their thinking:

Early in the 2012 campaign, when top Democratic strategists were debating how to target Mitt Romney, they worked to hone their message about him down to a single, tight, pithy phrase. According to one senior Democrat in on the discussions, they finally settled on this:

“When people like him do well, people like you get screwed.” While this sentence never appeared in any Dem messaging, it functioned as a thematic guide, the senior Dem tells me.

Now Democrats are wrestling with how to deliver a similar message about Trump, while also dealing with a key strategic problem: In many ways, Trump is a very different kind of billionaire from Romney.

They’ve turned to Elizabeth Warren to solve that problem, and she just gave a “blistering” speech that might provide the template, which Sargent examines:

The line that is driving all the attention this morning is Warren’s suggestion, in the context of Trump’s 2006 comment that a housing crash might enrich him, that the Donald is a “small, insecure money-grubber.” But Warren isn’t merely dissing Trump’s manhood. Warren – who went on to note that Trump “roots for people to get thrown out of their house” because he “doesn’t care who gets hurt, as long as he makes a profit” – is making a broader argument. Trump is not just a small, greedy person, but a cruel one, too.

That theme is also threaded through Warren’s broadside against Trump on taxes. He isn’t just paying as little as possible – and openly boasting about it – because he’s greedy. He isn’t just refusing to release his returns because he doesn’t want to reveal he’s not as rich as he claims (another shot at Trump’s self-inflated masculinity). All this, Warren suggests, also reflects a larger moral failing: Trump plays by his own set of rules, engorging himself, while simultaneously heaping explicit scorn on social investments designed to help those who are struggling in the same economy that made him rich.

Warren notes that Trump recently likened paying his taxes to “throwing money down the drain” – i.e., he is reneging on the social contract – after “inheriting a fortune from his father” and “keeping it going by scamming people.” Thus, Warren is making a broader argument about Trump’s fundamental cruelty.

There’s only one problem with that. Trump’s fundamental cruelty is what his folks like about him. He won’t be politically correct. He’ll call a spade a spade, as they used to say when the word nigger became too hot to use. But he’s not the only one who can call people names:

Trump argues that Clinton belongs to a corrupt elite that has screwed over working people for decades, with bad trade deals that sucked jobs out of the industrial Midwest, and lax immigration policies that gave Americans’ livelihoods away to parasites and criminals. The system is failing those people, and he’d snap it over his knee and get it working again.

The Clinton response is to cast Trump as a sleazy fraud, to undercut his claims to economic prowess. But it’s also to lay out a programmatic economic agenda: A minimum wage hike; equal pay for women; paid family leave; expanded child care; investments designed to boost American businesses’ ability to compete in a globalizing economy, rather than protectionism that would start destructive trade wars. (Warren laid out a similar slate of policy solutions in her speech’s conclusion.) Clinton strategist Joel Benenson has argued that policies designed to make a concrete difference in people’s lives actually can win the argument against the seemingly seductive, but ultimately empty, story Trump is telling.

That’s calling names but adding the precise alternatives to electing a sleazy fraud, and it solves the Romney problem:

Trump is not like Romney; he is adeptly posing as the Man in the Street’s Billionaire. But he is personally cruel and rapacious: He and his presidential candidacy are directly screwing you.

That may or may not work, but it’s a plan, but Trump is who he is, and speaking at a New Mexico rally on Tuesday night, he laid into the state’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez, who is also the head of the party’s very important governors’ association, with this blast:

“We have got to get your governor to get going,” Trump said to a cheering audience. “She’s got to do a better job. Okay? Your governor has got to do a better job. She’s not doing the job. Hey! Maybe I’ll run for governor of New Mexico. I’ll get this place going. She’s not doing the job. We’ve got to get her moving. Come on: Let’s go, governor.”

Trump also criticized Martinez for allowing “large numbers” of Syrian refugees to resettle in the state. Although governors have limited control over these federal resettlements, Trump faulted Martinez for allowing it to happen. “If I was governor, that wouldn’t be happening,” Trump said.

What the hell was THAT about? Slate’s Josh Voorhees offers this:

Martinez is her state’s first female governor, the nation’s first Latina one, and generally thought of as a rising star within the Republican Party – not someone you would expect a presidential hopeful who is struggling to win over women, Latinos, and party power players alike to needlessly attack from the stump in her home state. Trump being the thin-skinned reality TV star that he is, though, this isn’t all that much of a shock.

To date, Martinez has been publicly coy about her support for Trump, dodging questions about him by telling reporters that she won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election. Privately, though, she’s been significantly more forceful with her critique of her party’s new standard-bearer, particularly when it comes to his implausible and inhumane wall-building plans for the Mexican border. Following the rally, the governor’s office responded with a statement saying she would “not be bullied into supporting a candidate.”

This could be no more than Trump signaling to his base – he’s not afraid to attack any Hispanic person, and she’s one of those lazy and useless people – and he’s not afraid to attack a woman – no special privileges for them, ever. But Voorhees sees something else:

Trump is a bully, and his attack last night could have been an effort to force Martinez’s hand, or a warning to other party figures still on the fence. It could have been Trump trying to re-establish his anti-establishment bona fides now that the GOP is mainstreaming him, or simply overreacting to a political slight, either because he couldn’t stop himself or because he didn’t want to. It could be all of those things, or none of them. But with Trump, the intent isn’t what matters as much as the outcome. And this latest outburst will once again make it clear that if the party is going to unite, it will have to come to him, not the other way around. A verbal assault on a popular party figure like Martinez probably makes that a more unappealing prospect for party holdouts, but it also gives them more incentive to move to Trump now, before they find themselves the subject of one of his quasi-impromptu stump speeches.

Yeah, he might say they walk like a penguin and their careers would be over, but James Hohmann sees no more than fundamental cruelty: 

Tellingly, she was not the only target of Trump’s ire. Several other women were in his crosshairs, as well, and his language was quite gendered.

Trump called Hillary a “low-life” and then went on to imitate the way she talks, raising his voice to a high-pitched yell. “I will never say this but she screams and drives me crazy,” Trump said. “I can’t listen.”

He once again referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as “Pocahontas,” a reference to her claims of Native American heritage. “She is probably the senator that’s doing just about the least in the United States Senate,” he said. “She’s a total failure. She said she was an Indian. She said because her cheekbones were high, she was an Indian.”

The most offensive language, though, came from one of the warm-up speakers. David Chavez, a former state lawmaker, compared voting for Clinton because she’s a woman to drinking bleach because it looks like water. “I’ve heard people say: I don’t know who to choose: Trump or Hillary. Even Bill Clinton chose other women. So you should, too,” Chavez said.

Hohmann notes that the audience cheered wildly at that. Nothing is off-limits, but it is important to be professional about this:

A Trump campaign plan to target Hillary Clinton over the decades-old Whitewater real estate scandal was made public on Wednesday afternoon when a Trump spokeswoman accidentally included a Politico reporter on the email thread.

According to Politico’s report, Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo emailed a researcher at the Republican National Committee asking him to “work up information on HRC/Whitewater as soon as possible. This is for immediate use and for the afternoon talking points process.”

Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks, who was cc-ed on Caputo’s email, accidentally responded to Politico reporter Marc Caputo instead, making the entire email exchange visible.

Oops. This was amusing, but no one was surprised. Whitewater had to return, and Josh Voorhees covers the basics:

So what was Whitewater? The short-version for those in need of a refresher: a real estate scandal that plagued the Clintons during the 1990s and that now serves as something of a catchall for a number for unproven accusations involving corruption, fraud, and public stonewalling that consumed Bill and Hillary’s eight years in the White House.

The most important thing to remember when Trump begins to ramble on about any number of those charges and conspiracies: No investigation into Whitewater ever found Hillary Clinton guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. After taking over one such probe in 1994, though, independent counsel Kenneth Starr expanded his investigation to include the Paula Jones lawsuit and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which ultimately led to President Clinton’s impeachment for perjury.

This was the starting point of it all, even if it’s now kind of irrelevant:

The Whitewater imbroglio centered on a failed real estate company, Whitewater Development, that the Clintons formed with longtime friend James McDougal in the late 1970s in order to buy and sell vacation homes in Arkansas’ Ozarks. The issue first gained national attention in 1992 when the New York Times published a report detailing the Clintons’ involvement in the development firm, their relationship with McDougal, and possible conflicts of interest. In 1989, McDougal, who also ran a savings and loan association, was indicted on federal fraud charges for making bad loans, around $130,000 of which was funneled through Whitewater Development. (He was later acquitted.)

What followed was a mess of federal investigations and partisan probes that included a host of subpoenas, some delinquent corporate tax returns, a half dozen or so fired White House travel staffers, the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster (the death of whom Trump suggested on Tuesday that the Clintons had something to do with), and accusations that Bill Clinton used his power as Arkansas governor to secure a six-figure loan for McDougal in the 1980s.

And all of it came to nothing at all, and now, after all these years, there’s nothing new here, but Voorhees sees this:

Simply invoking the word Whitewater and alluding to any number of its related conspiracy theories that still live on in some corners of conservative talk radio and online message boards should pair well with his attempts to brand his likely general election opponent with his chosen juvenile nickname of “Crooked Hillary.” It will also give him an excuse to rehash the more salacious details of the Lewinsky scandal, which he clearly delights in doing. Trump thrives on innuendo and outlandish claims, after all, and Whitewater is fertile ground for both. That will force Hillary and her allies to spend time and energy defending the last Clinton administration from charges that were never proven, when they’d much rather focus voters’ attention on dangers posed by a future President Trump.

So this new effort isn’t entirely pointless. It’s not a random act of fundamental cruelty – for Trump, cruelty always serves a purpose – and he will certainly use the latest news:

The State Department’s inspector general on Wednesday sharply criticized Hillary Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, saying that she had not sought permission to use it and would not have received it if she had.

The inspector general found that Mrs. Clinton “had an obligation to discuss using her personal email account to conduct official business” with department officials but that, contrary to her claims that the department “allowed” the arrangement, there was “no evidence” she had requested or received approval for it.

And while other senior officials had used personal email accounts for official business, including Colin Powell when he was secretary, the rules made clear by the time she became the nation’s top diplomat that using a private server for official business was neither allowed nor encouraged because of “significant security risks.”

Paul Waldman explains what’s next:

Both Democrats and Republicans are going to spin the report to argue either that Clinton is completely blameless or that it reveals her to be history’s greatest monster. Donald Trump will likely say that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that Clinton kidnapped the Lindbergh baby and produced Vanilla Ice’s first album.

But he looks at this from the Inspector General’s report:

Secretary Clinton should have preserved any Federal records she created and received on her personal account by printing and filing those records with the related files in the Office of the Secretary. At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with Department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the Department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act.

Waldman:

So that’s one problem: she should have printed out her emails so they could be archived, but she didn’t do that until the department sent a request to multiple secretaries of state, two years after she left office.

Fine, and there’s this:

Secretary Clinton used mobile devices to conduct official business using the personal email account on her private server extensively, as illustrated by the 55,000 pages of material making up the approximately 30,000 emails she provided to the Department in December 2014. Throughout Secretary Clinton’s tenure, the FAM [Foreign Affairs Manual] stated that normal day-to-day operations should be conducted on an authorized AIS [Automated Information System], yet OIG found no evidence that the Secretary requested or obtained guidance or approval to conduct official business via a personal email account on her private server. According to the current CIO and Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Secretary Clinton had an obligation to discuss using her personal email account to conduct official business with their offices, who in turn would have attempted to provide her with approved and secured means that met her business needs. However, according to these officials, DS and IRM [Bureau of Information Resource Management] did not — and would not — approve her exclusive reliance on a personal email account to conduct Department business, because of the restrictions in the FAM and the security risks in doing so.

Waldman:

Get past all the abbreviations and government-speak, and what it comes down to is that Clinton should never have used a personal email account, no matter how secure she thought it was, for department business, and that she repeatedly failed to consult with personnel who should have been aware of how her personal system worked.

If you’re saying, “Didn’t we already know that?” well yes, we mostly did, though there are some new details here. So here’s what Clinton and her supporters will say: This report doesn’t reveal anything new. Clinton already said that using a private email server instead of the State Department’s system was a mistake, and she apologized for it. But there’s no evidence that national security was actually compromised, none of her emails contained information that was classified at the time she sent or received it, and even if she violated departmental policy, she certainly didn’t do anything criminal. And don’t forget that the report was highly critical of Colin Powell, who also used his personal email for official business.

And here’s what her opponents will say: This report shows the true gravity of Clinton’s misdeeds. She violated the department’s policies. She probably committed crimes. For all we know Kim Jong Un was reading her emails every night. At every step, she tried to hide from scrutiny and accountability.

Chose your side:

Clinton’s case is meant to lead you to the conclusion that in the end this is not that big a deal. The Republicans’ case is that she was reckless and irresponsible, and terrible things might have happened as a result. On one hand, we don’t have any evidence of anything terrible happening, but on the other hand, speculation is all Republicans need to get what they want out of this matter.

This is basic politics:

Republicans aren’t making a big deal out of this because of their deep and abiding concern for cybersecurity. They just want something to hammer Clinton with. Which is fine – that’s politics. But they also know that the details are all but irrelevant. Most Americans couldn’t tell you what this controversy is actually about; they just know that Clinton did something shady with emails. As long as Republicans can weave that into a larger argument about her being untrustworthy, they’ll run with this, even if they’d be even happier if Clinton got indicted (which is theoretically possible but looking extremely unlikely at this point).

And though Clinton would like us to believe that her intentions were pure and unimpeachable, while Republicans would like us to believe that her intentions were dark and sinister, the truth is probably somewhere in between. I don’t doubt that Clinton made the initial decision to use a private server in order to retain control of her communications. That’s not because she was planning to execute some kind of nefarious criminal conspiracy over email, but because she knew that she’ll always be the target of lawsuits and fishing expeditions from her political opponents, and she didn’t want to give them any more material to work with. As a piece of forward-looking political strategy, we now know how foolish that was…

But it also appears, from what we know so far, that there weren’t really any practical consequences for the country because of her decision – no covert operations compromised, no key national security information delivered to our enemies. And cybersecurity experts will tell you that her emails likely would have been no less vulnerable had they been on the State Department’s servers, which are the target of constant hacking attempts.

As Josh Marshall notes, there’s not much here: 

Let’s focus on the essential point: Despite the fact that there are some real questions about the impartiality of the IG, the report says the issues with the management of the Secretary of State’s emails are of longstanding and go back with the last five Secretaries of State. The report also singles out Colin Powell, who had a similar set up. The criticism is there. It definitely wasn’t a good arrangement. But to see this as a damaging report after the hyperbolic and frequently insane coverage of this issue is crazy. This was never more than some poor judgment overlaid by a big bureaucratic pissing match all slathered over by a thick layer of partisan game playing and media derp.

Like most Clinton scandals, if there hadn’t been months, maybe more than a year of weird conspiracy theories, expected perp walks and general nonsense, one might read this and say, wow, that’s disappointing. But after all that, it’s just a big nothingburger. Like it almost always is.

Kevin Drum echoes that:

The Department of State apparently has epically bad email systems. Nonetheless, Hillary Clinton should have consulted with State’s IT staff about her personal email account. She didn’t. She should have turned over her work emails sooner. She didn’t. Ditto for her staff.

And that’s about it. Hillary screwed up. The IG report doesn’t present any evidence that her system was ever hacked. Nor does it suggest that Hillary was deliberately trying to prevent work-related emails from being retained. Nor was she the only one conducting official business on a personal account. Colin Powell did it too, as well as dozens of other State employees.

Nonetheless, Hillary exercised poor judgment here. That’s been clear for a long time. Beyond that, though, there’s not much more to say.

No, there’s always something more to say, and Donald Trump will say it. His fundamental cruelty demands it, and that has gotten him this far. He can go farther. It works. He can even talk about penguins.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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