Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Not half bad


Lauren Fox at TPM reports on Republican efforts to reassure voters that there’s no need to worry about President Trump’s authoritarian impulses, because he will be constrained by Congress and the courts. One of these comments includes an odd rhetorical slip. There is a family of expressions in English constructed in the form “If A is only half as X as they say, then Y.” The Y is some extreme outcome, the intended effect being to suggest that the reports are so uniformly extreme, that even if we discount half of it the result is still pretty strong — either positive or negative. If she’s only half as good as they say, she’ll beat everyone on our team. If the storm is only half as strong as the predictions suggest, this shack isn’t going to survive.

But Republican strategist John Feehery is quoted as saying

I am not of the opinion that the Republic would fail if the voters select somebody like Trump and if Trump turns out to be half as bad as some conservative pundits would have you believe, there are plenty of legal mechanisms to either contain his worse impulses (the Congress and the Supreme Court, for example) or remove him from office should his transgressions become too toxic.

It’s good to know that the Republic will survive if Trump turns out to be half as bad as some conservative pundits suggest. He’s not making any guarantees if Trump turns out to be three-quarters or even fully as bad as some conservative pundits suggest. And if he’s anything like what liberals expect, we’re doomed.

On a related matter, when I hear the Senate majority leader justifies his endorsement of a wannabe strongman by promising “No matter how unusual a personality may be who gets elected to office, there are constraints in this country”, I can’t help but be reminded of the famous comment of Franz von Papen, leader of the Centre Party in the Weimar Republic,

Wir haben ihn uns engagiert. … Was wollen sie denn? Ich habe das Vertrauen Hindenburgs. In zwei Monaten haben wir Hitler in die Ecke gedrückt, dass es quietscht…

We hired him to work for us. … What’s the problem? I’m the one who has [President] Hindenburg’s confidence. In these two months we have completely backed Hitler into a corner.

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