Day: August 15, 2016

The race isn’t over

Donald Trump delivered his much-ballyhooed Islamic State speech today. He began with a lengthy account of extremist attacks aimed at doing exactly what the Islamic State intends: scaring people. Beyond that, the speech was mostly a rehash of well-worn ideas:

  1. If you won’t call your enemy Islamic extremism, you can’t fight it.
  2. Guantanamo has to remain open.
  3. Immigration has to be restricted, and from some unspecified countries stopped.
  4. We should ship people home who don’t share “our” values.
  5. We should continue using drones and amp up intelligence but also capture a few more bad guys.
  6. We shouldn’t do nation-building, but
  7. We should somehow protect LGBTQ people and prevent honor killings abroad.
  8. We should have kept the US military in Iraq to hold on to its oil.
  9. Clinton and Obama are responsible for the rise of the Islamic State.
  10. We should convene an international conference to form a coalition to fight it, including NATO [sic] and Russia.

I suppose the relatively restrained tone of this hodge-podge and absence of any unfortunate adlibs will generate a new barrage of people saying he is now on track. But we are not likely more than 24 hours from one more outrageous remark intended to attract the media attention this speech is unlikely to get.

What Trump did not offer were any serious new ideas about how to deal with the Islamic State and other Islamist extremists. Nothing in this pale recitation comes even close to something anyone would call a new strategy.

I don’t really think there is one to be had. As Benjamin H. Friedman suggeststhere is more danger in overreacting to international terrorism than from the phenomenon itself. It might even be said that is the purpose of many terrorists. Despite his even tone today, Trump is clearly willing to take that risk, at least so far as domestic policy is concerned. But he did not suggest he would do anything different about the wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen than what Obama is already doing. Even his suggestion that we work with the Russians is nothing new. John Kerry has been pursuing that idea for months without much visible progress so far. 

The sad fact is that this guy is not ready to be a Congressman from Wyoming, much less president of the United States. The polling, as interpreted by 538, has him with an 11.1% chance of winning. There is even informed talk of a Clinton landslide

Trump didn’t do himself a lot of good today, even if he avoided any big mistakes. But these are early weeks in a long campaign. Frightening as it is to me, I suspect at least 40% of voters will vote for him. Clinton is winning because Trump is losing. She has not overcome the trust and likability deficits that have plagued her candidacy. No one should imagine the race is over.

Tags : , , , , ,

Good humored but determined

It’s Ferragosto 2016: that’s the Italian height of summer, when everyone who is anyone heads for the beaches and mountains.

I’m in my office in DC. I never did catch the Ferragosto bug, despite 10 years of living in Italy. I like the light traffic and slow pace this time of year. Anyone who happens to be in town is easy to see and there are lots of solid hours in which to read, write, and edit. Not to mention clear the desk.

This year Ferragosto is particularly entertaining. The Rio Olympics have provided their share of fantastic performances, especially by American swimmers and gymnasts:

Final Five


The natural talent, the physique, and the will to train to gold medal standard in any sport are all rare. So it is to be expected that larger countries will have more of these people. It is also likely that rich countries will have more of the resources required to find and train the gifted. When the Star-Spangled Banner plays, we should all remember that the US is advantaged in both size and wealth.

And we should remember smaller countries that produce extraordinary performances, like Kosovar Majlinda Kelmendi’s in judo:

Majlinda Kelmendi

There are a lot of competitors on the way to a triumph like this one. Many give spectacular performances, just not sufficiently spectacular to make it all the way to Rio, or at Rio to the medals. The difference in swimming is measured in hundreds of a second. Michael Phelps won the 200 meter butterfly in 4/100s:

Michael Phelps, 200 meter butterfly

Most of us are never going to enjoy even a moment in our lives when we perform at gold medal level in anything, but we should get joy from the triumphs we do have the good fortune to enjoy.

We can also get a good deal of pleasure from watching a performance like Usain Bolt’s:

It’s just extraordinarily boisterous and gorgeous. It defies reasonable expectations and makes us realize how limiting expectations can be. We do best to set high goals–there is no telling how close to them we may be able to come.

That’s clearly what Ibtihaj Muhammad did in winning bronze in saber:

Good humored, but determined!