Saturday, March 24, 2018

How important is the presidency, anyway?

One of the hot topics in the (internet) circles I run in is: is Trump the worst president? Which has replaced the hot topic of 2004, which was: is Bush the worst president?
At the time of the Bush is the worst fad, I was all: kinda, sorta, but with reservations.

This is what I wrote back then:
“It is easy to think that our present Bush is the worst Bush who has ever ruled over us. The citizens of Rome, whenever Nero committed some new jape, no doubt cast their eyes back longingly to the good old days of Caligula. Whenever we find out about Bush’s newest low – from the vacations of August, 2001, while the hijackers were asking directions to the nearest airport, to the Spring of 2002, when political intervention cut off the main American chance to deal a stunning military blow to Al Qaeda, to the mass thefts on behalf of the greediest and worst that are bankrupting the state, to, of course, the web of war crimes and lies that compose the entirety of his current foreign policy – we are tempted to sigh, as many liberals do, that this is the worst president of our lifetime.

Yesterday, we picked up a real crime book – Blue Thunder: how the mafia owned and finally murdered Cigarette boat king Donald Aronow, by Thomas Burdick. The book was written in the late eighties. There are amusing period touches – at one point, a DEA agent explains how they spot drug dealers at Julio Iglesias concerts: who else brings a portable phone to a concert? Indeed. Aronow was a Miami business and sportsman, famous in motorboat circles both for the designs of his boats and the records he set racing them. In 1984, he impressed his good friend, Vice President George Bush, by taking him around Miami bay in a prototype speedboat that Bush enjoyed so enormously that, in his (bizarre) position as head of a South Florida drug task force, he recommended ordering grosses of them for the DEA. The boats, named Blue Thunders, were produced by Aronow, apparently, and bought, given this recommendation, by the DEA.

Aronow was gunned down in a mob hit. Burdick, investigating the murder, was puzzled by rumors he heard about the Blue Thunders. The DEA had apparently failed to interdict even one drug craft with the boats. The design of the boats was so bad that the agents using them had to be more alert for engine explosions than for the chugging of speedy boats full of drug smugglers. The enigma was explained when he uncovered the fact that Aronow’s company was secretly owned by Jack and Ben Kramer. Jack and Ben were names in the boat industry – but they were more famous when they were hauled into court and charges with running the largest marijuana smuggling operation in the U.S.

Yes, this happened. The war on drugs had many farcical moments, but this has to be one of the funniest. Bush, it goes without saying, cut his ties of compassion to Widow Aronow, and went on, as President, to intensify the War against drugs to the point that the misery inflicted on one to two million Americans, imprisoned under his draconian regime, and the laws and procedures he introduced that were, with exemplary cowardice, left undisturbed by Clinton, do dwarf the misery inflicted by the current Bush whelp. Although to give him his fair share of abuse, the current Bush, ravening for Iraqi blood, is well on his way to surpassing his pa in terms of sheer feebleness.

Incidentally, Burdick includes a little aside that hints at how, well, lucky the Bushes are in Florida. When Ben Kramer was arrested, apparently original copies of the primary speeches given by Gary Hart were found in his safe. Kramer and Aronow belonged to a ‘swinging” club, Turnberry Isle. It was from Turnberry Isle that Gary Hart extracted his temporary honey, Donna Rice, who was photographed with him on a boat in the Miami harbor. How did the press find out about this? An apparently anonymous tip from another Turnberry hostess. This isn’t to say that the Bush organization, using its dirty connections in Florida, culled the Democratic field in order to organize the elevation of Bush to the presidency. To believe that would be to believe, well, that the Bushes would do anything to retain power, including corrupting an election…”

Back in 2004, to doubt that George W. Bush was the worst president was treated as some kind of treason in some liberal circles. The same thing is happening now for our current shit-for-brains prez. All of which makes for a nice parlor game, but… does it make for real politics?
The real political question should be: how much do presidents count? In other words, the whole point of electing a president is to implement certain policies that the electors want. But once the president is elected, the collected mass of the policies that have been implemented – that overwhelming concrete mass – means that mostly, presidents will try to operate on the trend, rather than revolutionizing the content. This means the experience of governing is always, for those who most favor massive change, an experience of mourning. One mourns the president one thought one was electing.

Certainly that was my experience of the Obama years from 2009-2012. In his second term, I didn’t have high hopes, and Obama was, I think, better in those four years – save for the love of the TPP.
One of the ways in which mourning is averted is to concentrate on those who are attacking the president one has voted for. This makes it easier to think that the president is revolutionizing content, since he is so completely seen as doing so by his opponents.

Yet trends do have an effect. Certain presidents, like Ronald Reagan, worked the trend in such a way that it became the dominant trend for his successors, even today. We are spending about 600 billion dollars to much for the military annually due to Ronald Reagan, and we are spending about a trillion less annually on social insurance – and the collective infrastructure – due to Ronald Reagan. But note that here: Reagan refers less to the man who was president than the collectivity of compromises and agreements by which D.C. was governed in his time. The trends I pick out of Reagan’s presidency were already present in Jimmy Carter’s.

What presidents can do more successfully is negate trends that grew stronger under their successors. For all his military spending and attempts to “shrink government”, Carter was strong about energy saving, ecology, and the environment. Reagan certainly destroyed these things, and they have never come back – hence the disaster we all know we are heading towards, and the hope we have that maybe random volcanic activity will be enough to preserve a livable earth for our children, or that at least these children won’t live in the large swathes of the world in which the water is going to dry up or the seasons are going to become Martian-like.

I suppose the reason that Trump – or any of the Republicans on offer in 2016 – was going to inevitably become the worst president is more because of larger trends that the U.S., and in general the capitalist system, simply is not designed to meet. From an inequality that has pretty much terminated a lot of what we used to have in terms of a democratic culture – one in which, for instance, we had an ideal of equality in the courtroom, now a distant dream – to a global environmental mess, we have deeper and deeper problems. Which is why the choice between Make America Great Again versus America is Already Great is such a farce.  

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