Tag Archives: President

Tin Pot Trump

tinpotI’m sure you have heard the term “tin pot dictator.” It refers to “an autocratic ruler with little political credibility, but with self-delusions of grandeur.” This pejorative was coined in the early days of the British Empire and it associates certain rulers with the cheap, disposable containers used before the creation of the modern tin can. Like the one on the right, these cheap cans boasted labels that portrayed the contents in a highly overblown and pretentious manner. But the common people were not all fooled. They knew full well that Dinner Time Brand coffee was not exactly the Royal experience promised on the label. Thus the term “tin pot dictator” spoke volumes to them.

Dictators are not uncommon and not limited to only a few flawed countries. The Ranker website has a list of over 100 infamous dictators (see here) from a broad spectrum of nations. Not all of these were true “tin pot” dictators, some were quite capable dictators. Many of these dictators came to power through fair elections riding tremendous popularity with their voters. But I think it is safe to say that few of those voters thought they were voting for a dictator when they voted for a dictator. In fact it is probably safe to say that few people in those nations thought a dictator could ever take power in their country.

Now, in America, we have also succumbed. Deny it at your peril, but we have elected a wanna-be strongman dictator. Donald Trump is unquestionably “an autocratic ruler with little political credibility, but with self-delusions of grandeur.” Even if it is not his conscious intention to become a strongman dictator, his personality and style of leadership will inevitably lead him there. Bury your head in the sand if you must, but we now have a dangerously unstable tin pot dictator in power.

Psychologists generally agree that most dictators suffer from a group of 6 major psychological disorders including sadistic, paranoid, antisocial, narcissistic, schizoid and schizotypal. While I’m not a psychologist, it seems clearly evident that Donald Trump also suffers from these disorders to at least a sufficient level to warrant deep concerns. He is disturbingly similar to Kim Jong-Il in his worldview, personality, and behaviors.

If Trump succeeds in his aspirations or even allowed to follow his natural inclinations, America will become another tin pot nation. Trump will continue to be driven by his personality disorders in more and more bizarre ways. He will continue to aggrandize and enrich himself to the exclusion of all other considerations. He will inevitably take us and the world down a path that we may not recover from for many generations, if ever.

Only one question remains, having  foolishly empowered this fledgling tin pot dictator, will we now accept his increasingly dictatorial rule? Will we allow our newly elected tin pot dictator, so disturbingly similar to other crazy strongmen like Kim Jong-Il, to turn our once great nation into yet another pathetic tin pot dictatorship?

That will not remain a rhetorical question for long. We will soon have our answer.

 

 

 

The Presidential Pendulum

Lots of people subscribe to the popular pendulum swing theory of Presidential elections. Although long-term election history does not support the theory of a pendulum swing between Democrat and Republican administrations, the anecdotal impression that we tend to recoil from the predominant characteristics of the last administration is compelling. It’s not a pendulum swing exactly, but more of an extreme overreaction to the last guy, in which the very strengths that attracted us to the last President become the very things we recoil against in our next President.

Let’s review, starting with Nixon.

Still traumatized by the shady, crooked, “Tricky Dick” characterization of the Nixon debacle, voters recoiled toward squeaky clean Jimmy Carter – a person whose integrity was as beyond reproach as the Pope. (Gerald Ford wasn’t really a choice.)

During the Carter years however, the public took his integrity for granted and instead focused on his “scholarly” nature. He communicated like a scientist – everything nuanced and complicated. He was well-known to dig into the details of original source material rather than rely solely upon executive summaries. He was viewed as an intellectual, and his successor, Ronald Reagan, was the perfect opposite extreme. Reagan played up Carter’s “egghead” perception, called facts thing that “get in the way,” offered simplistic, shallow quips as answers to complex questions, and consulted with psychic advisors. The public embraced Reagan because he was anti-intellectual and because he was anti-government while Carter still naively believed that government was good and should do good things.

In response to what was increasingly seen as a glib and even dangerously senile Reagan, the public gravitated toward the uncharismatic and uninspiring administrator, Bush Senior. But after being quickly bored to death by him, they flew into the arms of a youthful and inspiring Bill Clinton.

After his opponents finally made the Slick Willy impression stick, the public was next prime to reject our “smooth big city talker” and instead adopt a “good old boy,” a virtual country bumpkin, named Bush Junior. Electing Bush was essentially voting for Ned the farmer for Iowa City Mayor because we were just all taken in by that big-city fast-talking flimflam man that we finally booted out of town.

But after the inevitable embarrassment of an inept Barney Fife President that could barely speak proper English, threw up on foreign leaders, and seemed to laugh and dance in the most inappropriate ways, we were ready to recoil toward a far more dignified leader, and we found that in Barack Obama.

cousineddieNo one, even his worst critics, can do anything but praise and applaud the dignity and bearing with which Obama and his family have represented the office of President. Yet, it is that very characteristic that we now feel compelled as a people to reject. So what do we do? We elect Donald Trump – a man who is the antithesis of dignity. A trash-talking trailer-trash President who is about as refined as Cousin Eddie played by Randy Quaid in the Vacation movies. We love Eddie because he is NOT dignified. Likewise we see Trump as a refreshingly frank person who is a great natural businessman.

But after four humiliating years of Donald Trump as President, we will inevitably recoil again. After having eaten up all the food in our house and having trashed the carpets and furniture, we’ll finally push cousin Eddie our of our house, hitting the road again in his garish RV.

Who will we recoil to after Trump? I don’t have any idea, but I wouldn’t put it past many voters to decide that the problem with Trump was that he was just TOO dignified, TOO politically correct, TOO pro-government, and just TOO dang nice.

If there is a Presidential pendulum pattern, it seems to be more like a “nice guy – bad guy” cycle of dating. We are never satisfied in our relationships, so the things that attracted us to the last guy are the very things we explicitly reject in the next. We overcompensate like angst ridden teens and find ourselves making a lot of really, really stupid relationship decisions.

Will Trump be a troubled, deeply flawed bad boy with potential that we can fix, or just another supremely stupid relationship decision that we realize was a huge mistake five minutes after he moves in? I hope for the former but expect the latter.

 

 

Our Curious Public Mood Swings

PolicyMood

This is a fascinating and revealing chart illustrating our curious public mood swings. It was produced by Larry Bartels (see here) using data compiled by James Stimson (see here). It measures the “policy mood” of the country since 1950. The higher the score, the more conservative was public opinion at that particular point in time.

Stinson derived this policy mood index from responses to a wide range of public policy surveys. Since it does not rely upon self-identification as liberal or conservative, it is arguably a more nuanced and accurate measure of where public attitudes fall on the liberal-conservative spectrum.

The most obvious thing to note here are the dramatic swings. Clearly public attitudes about major issues are not as fixed as we might imagine. Over the past 65 years public opinion has swung up and down by almost 20 points. Clearly public sentiment can be swayed significantly.

The most interesting thing about these swings is revealed when you refer to the Administration timeline that Bartels added to the x-axis. If you study this a bit you’ll undoubtedly start to scratch your head in confusion. Under each Democrat administration the country became more conservative, and under each Conservative administration the country became more liberal. This is entirely counter-intuitive and immensely important.

The nation became dramatically more liberal during the Eisenhower years. Ike was moderately conservative overall but staunchly conservative on economic issues. It became slightly more conservative during the moderately liberal Kennedy/Johnson era but shifted far toward the conservative extreme during the very liberal Carter years. Similarly, during the extremely conservative Reagan era, public sentiment shot back down again toward the liberal end of the spectrum. Under Clinton, the public then became more conservative and after a year or two of George Bush became more liberal again. Finally, under the very liberal President Obama, we have become dramatically more conservative.

The next observation may or may not be significant, but the swing has been between 30 and 50 on this scale of conservatism. I can’t imagine what kind of views it would require to earn a 100% rating on this scale, but for what it’s worth public opinion has remained solidly on the liberal side of the spectrum. This seems to defy the popular meme that America is a “near Right” country. It suggests we are actually (still) a “near Left” country.

But that may not last if trends continue. Although this chart bounces up and down, there is still a clear upward best fit line. This supports the long-term trend toward conversativism reported independently by other sources. Essentially each President since Eisenhower has rated as more conservative. More specifically, each Republican President has been more conservative than the previous Republican President and each Democrat President has been more conservative than the previous Democrat President. This reinforces the observation that despite these swings, the Conservatives succeed year after year in moving the “center” ever farther toward the Right.

So what conclusions can we draw from these data? First, it isn’t true that we are intractably divided and cannot change. Clearly a very significant fraction of us can be moved a substantial amount in one direction or the other. Next, we are perhaps overall more liberal than the Right would like to have us believe. However, we are trending ever more conservative and that is never likely to reverse as long as liberals keep voting for the “lesser of two evils” who is still ever more conservative than his or her predecessor.

Finally, as Bartels pointed out in his article, Presidents do not actually succeed in shifting public opinion their direction. The data rather show that the public tends to recoil reliably away from the President in their attitudes. Paradoxically and counter-intuitively, these data suggest that the fastest way to shift public sentiment toward the liberal end would be to elect a highly conservative President. And the best way to reverse the long-term trend toward conservatism may be to allow our “lesser of two evils” Democratic candidates to lose.