Blow and Kristof

March 23, 2017

In “Birth of the Biggest Lie” Mr. Blow says we are now experiencing the very thing Team Trump warned about: a compromised presidency and a possible constitutional crisis.  Mr. Kristof, in “‘There’s a Smell of Treason in the Air,'” has a question:  Did a traitor work with Russia to help Trump?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

A few things are clear after the congressional testimony of James Comey, the F.B.I. director, this week:

First, Donald Trump owes Barack Obama and the American people an apology for his vituperative lie that Obama committed a felony by wiretapping Trump Tower. It was specious, libelous and reckless, regardless of the weak revelations of “incidental collection” that the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and Trump transition team member Devin Nunes outrageously made public, briefing the president without first briefing his fellow committee members. Nunes’s announcement was a bombshell with no bomb, just enough mud in the water to obscure the blood in the water for those too willfully blind to discern the difference.

Second, Donald Trump will never apologize. Trump’s strategy for dealing with being caught in a lie is often to tell a bigger lie. He seems constitutionally incapable of registering what others would: shame, embarrassment, contrition. Something is broken in the man — definitely morally and possibly psychologically.

Third, and to me this is the biggest, Comey confirmed that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russians who tampered with our election is not “fake news” manufactured by Democrats stewing over a bitter loss but a legitimate investigation that has been underway for months and has no end in sight.

Individuals who were associated with the president of the United States’ winning campaign are under criminal investigation. That is an extraordinary sentence and one that no American can allow to be swallowed up by other news or dismissed by ideologues.

Depending on the outcome of this investigation, we could be facing a constitutional crisis. Oddly, it is likely that the reason Trump is even in the Oval Office is Comey’s original, extraordinarily inappropriate and unprecedented action. The Trump machinery then used that action to scare Americans about Clinton, in one of the most astonishing acts of deflection and hypocrisy in American history.

The timeline of how the lie of Clinton’s constitutional crisis was born and grew is full of Machiavellian-level misdirections.

On Friday, Oct. 28, a little over a week before Election Day, Comey sent his now infamous letter to Congress saying that “the F.B.I. has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent” to the Clinton email server investigation and that “the F.B.I. should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.”

Soon after the media reported the letter, Trump said at a crowded rally in New Hampshire:

“Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale we have never seen before. We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office. I have great respect for the fact that the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice are now willing to have the courage to right the horrible mistake that they made.”

That day, Fox News tweeted a quote from the Trump campaign manager Kellyanne “Alternative Facts” Conway, with an image of her appearing on “The O’Reilly Factor” and text that read: “@KellyannePolls on HRC: “If you’re under your 2nd FBI investigation in the same year then you do have a … corruption & an ethics problem.”

About an hour later, Conway retweeted the Fox News tweet, adding, “Most honest people I know are not under FBI investigation, let alone two.”

That night, as reported by The Des Moines Register, Trump said at a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, rally:

“The investigation is the biggest political scandal since Watergate, and it’s everybody’s hope that justice at last can be delivered.” He went on, “The F.B.I. would never have reopened this case at this time unless it were a most egregious criminal offense.”

Two days later, on Oct. 30, Doug Schoen, a pollster for former President Bill Clinton, said on Fox News that having a president under criminal investigation would pose a constitutional crisis, and the next day he wrote about that it in The Hill, saying:

“I am now convinced that we will be facing the very real possibility of a constitutional crisis with many dimensions and deleterious consequences should Secretary Clinton win the election.”

He continued:

“In the best case scenario, there will be at the very least a criminal investigation of President-elect Clinton. And there will be a criminal investigation of Huma Abedin, which is apparently ongoing. Furthermore, there will be potential investigations into the actions of the Justice Department and most of all the F.B.I. and its director, James Comey.

“After the past eight years wherein America has become progressively more and more divided and a campaign season that has magnified these divisions, I fear for that we will not be able to withstand this kind of continued scandal.”

The Monday that Schoen’s “constitutional crisis” column appeared in The Hill, Trump quoted it at a rally in Michigan. Trump added:

“She would be under protracted criminal investigation and probably a criminal trial, I would say. So we’d have a criminal trial of a sitting president.”

Then that night the Fox News host and Trump flunky Sean Hannity repeated the warning on his own show:

“Think about the magnitude of all of this for a second. Hillary Clinton could be sworn into office while still being under investigation from the F.B.I., which would then put this country into a major constitutional crisis.”

Hannity continued:

“Now Clinton says Donald Trump, oh, he’s not fit to serve in the Oval Office. But she, and she alone, has created a situation that could do severe damage to this country and the office of the presidency and prevent this country from solving problems.”

Three days later, on Nov. 3, the Trump campaign released a television ad called “Unfit” that said in part: “Hillary cannot lead a nation while crippled by a criminal investigation.”

On Sunday, Nov. 6, just two days before the election, Comey sent another letter to Congress saying that based on the bureau’s review, “we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton.” In other words, oops, false alarm, nothing there.

But the damage was done. The Trump campaign had already honed its “constitutional crisis, unfit for office” message, and it had sunk in with many Americans. What those Americans didn’t know — what we learned from Comey’s testimony this week — was that although there was no reason to continue investigating Clinton about her emails, the Trump campaign had been under investigation since July about possible contacts and collusion with Russia in its efforts to influence our election.

Now the very thing that Team Trump and its Fox News media arm warned about, Trump himself has delivered: A compromised presidency and a possible constitutional crisis.

As The New York Times reported after Comey’s testimony:

“Mr. Comey placed a criminal investigation at the doorstep of the White House and said officers would pursue it ‘no matter how long that takes.’ ”

The lie these people promoted about Clinton and shielded about Trump are two of the biggest lies ever told in this country in service of electoral advantage.

No act of this presidency — good or bad, beneficial or detrimental — can ever be considered without first contextualizing that this presidency itself was conceived in deception and is being incubated under an extraordinary lie.

The Trump presidency is a corruption that flows from corruption. It is damned by its own damned lies.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

The greatest political scandal in American history was not Aaron Burr’s shooting of Alexander Hamilton, and perhaps wasn’t even Watergate. Rather it may have been Richard Nixon’s secret efforts in 1968 to sabotage a U.S. diplomatic effort to end the Vietnam War.

Nixon’s initiative, long rumored but confirmed only a few months ago, was meant to improve his election chances that year. After Nixon won, the war dragged on and cost thousands of additional American and Vietnamese lives; it’s hard to see his behavior as anything but treason.

Now the F.B.I. confirms that we have had an investigation underway for eight months into whether another presidential campaign colluded with a foreign power so as to win an election. To me, that, too, would amount to treason.

I’ve been speaking to intelligence experts, Americans and foreigners alike, and they mostly (but not entirely) believe there was Trump-Russia cooperation of some kind. But this is uncertain; it’s prudent to note that James Clapper, the intelligence director under Barack Obama, said that as of January he had seen no evidence of collusion but that he favors an investigation to get to the bottom of it.

I’m also told (not by a Democrat!) that there’s a persuasive piece of intelligence on ties between Russia and a member of the Trump team that isn’t yet public.

The most likely scenario for collusion seems fuzzier and less transactional than many Democrats anticipate. A bit of conjecture:

The Russians for years had influence over Donald Trump because of their investments with him, and he was by nature inclined to admire Vladimir Putin as a strongman ruler. Meanwhile, Trump had in his orbit a number of people with Moscow ties, including Paul Manafort, who practically bleeds borscht.

The Associated Press reports that Manafort had secretly worked for a Russian billionaire close to Putin, signing a $10-million-a-year contract in 2006 to promote the interests of the Putin government. The arrangement lasted at least until 2009.

As The A.P. puts it, Manafort offered to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government.” (Manafort told The A.P. that his work was being falsely portrayed as nefarious.)

This is guesswork, but it might have seemed natural for Trump aides to try to milk Russian contacts for useful information about the Clinton campaign. Likewise, the Russians despised Hillary Clinton and would have been interested in milking American contacts for information about how best to damage her chances.

At some point, I suspect, members of the Trump team gained knowledge of Russian hacking into Clinton emails, which would explain why Trump friend Roger Stone tweeted things like “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

This kind of soft collusion, evolving over the course of the campaign without a clear quid pro quo, might also explain why there weren’t greater efforts to hide the Trump team’s ties to Russia, or to camouflage its softening of the Republican Party platform position toward Moscow.

One crucial unknown: Did Russia try to funnel money into Trump’s campaign coffers? In European elections, Russia has regularly tried to influence results by providing secret funds. I’m sure the F.B.I. is looking into whether there were suspicious financial transfers.

The contacts with Russia are by Trump’s aides, and the challenge will be to connect any collusion to the president himself. The White House is already distancing itself from Manafort, claiming that he played only a “very limited role” in the campaign — even though he was Trump’s campaign chairman!

Many Democrats are, I think, too focused on Jeff Sessions and have too transactional a view of what may have unfolded. Treason isn’t necessarily spelled out as a quid pro quo, and it wasn’t when Nixon tried to sink the Vietnam peace initiative in 1968.

In the past, as when foreign funds made their way into Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, Republicans showed intense interest in foreign interference in the political process. So it’s sad to see some Republicans (I mean you, Devin Nunes!) trying to hijack today’s House investigation to make it about leaks.

Really? Our country was attacked by Russia, and you’re obsessed with leaks? Do you honestly think that the culprit in Watergate wasn’t Nixon but the famed leaker Deep Throat? Republicans should replace Nunes as head of the House Intelligence Committee; he can’t simultaneously be Trump’s advocate and his investigator.

The fundamental question now isn’t about Trump’s lies, or intelligence leaks, or inadvertent collection of Trump communications. Rather, the crucial question is as monumental as it is simple: Was there treason?

We don’t know yet what unfolded, and raw intelligence is often wrong. But the issue cries out for a careful, public and bipartisan investigation by an independent commission.

“There’s a smell of treason in the air,” Douglas Brinkley, the historian, told The Washington Post. He’s right, and we must dispel that stench.

Krugman’s blog, 3/20/17

March 22, 2017

There was one post on Monday:  “Robot Geometry (Very Wonkish):”

And now for something completely different. Ryan Avent has a nice summary of the argument in his recent book, trying to explain how dramatic technological change can go along with stagnant real wages and slowish productivity growth. As I understand it, he’s arguing that the big tech changes are happening in a limited sector of the economy, and are driving workers into lower-wage and lower-productivity occupations.

But I have to admit that I was having a bit of a hard time wrapping my mind around exactly what he’s saying, or how to picture this in terms of standard economic frameworks. So I found myself wanting to see how much of his story could be captured in a small general equilibrium model — basically the kind of model I learned many years ago when studying the old trade theory.

Actually, my sense is that this kind of analysis is a bit of a lost art. There was a time when most of trade theory revolved around diagrams illustrating two-country, two-good, two-factor models; these days, not so much. And it’s true that little models can be misleading, and geometric reasoning can suck you in way too much. It’s also true, however, that this style of modeling can help a lot in thinking through how the pieces of an economy fit together, in ways that algebra or verbal storytelling can’t.

So, an exercise in either clarification or nostalgia — not sure which — using a framework that is basically the Lerner diagram, adapted to a different issue.

Imagine an economy that produces only one good, but can do so using two techniques, A and B, one capital-intensive, one labor-intensive. I represent these techniques in Figure 1 by showing their unit input coefficients:

Here AB is the economy’s unit isoquant, the various combinations of K and L it can use to produce one unit of output. E is the economy’s factor endowment; as long as the aggregate ratio of K to L is between the factor intensities of the two techniques, both will be used. In that case, the wage-rental ratio will be the slope of the line AB.

Wait, there’s more. Since any point on the line passing through A and B has the same value, the place where it hits the horizontal axis is the amount of labor it takes to buy one unit of output, the inverse of the real wage rate. And total output is the ratio of the distance along the ray to E divided by the distance to AB, so that distance is 1/GDP.

You can also derive the allocation of resources between A and B; not to clutter up the diagram even further, I show this in Figure 2, which uses the K/L ratios of the two techniques and the overall endowment E:

Now, Avent’s story. I think it can be represented as technical progress in A, perhaps also making A even more capital-intensive. So this would amount to a movement southwest to a point like A’ in Figure 3:

We can see right away that this will lead to a fall in the real wage, because 1/w must rise. GDP and hence productivity does rise, but maybe not by much if the economy was mostly using the labor-intensive technique.

And what about allocation of labor between sectors? We can see this in Figure 4, where capital-using technical progress in A actually leads to a higher share of the work force being employed in labor-intensive B:

So yes, it is possible for a simple general equilibrium analysis to capture a lot of what Avent is saying. That does not, of course, mean that he’s empirically right. And there are other things in his argument, such as hypothesized effects on the direction of innovation, that aren’t in here.

But I, at least, find this way of looking at it somewhat clarifying — which, to be honest, may say more about my weirdness and intellectual age than it does about the subject.

Friedman and Bruni

March 22, 2017

In “Calling On a Few Good Men” TMOW pens an open letter to the adults in the Trump administration with the most integrity.  Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…  What on earth has led you to believe that there are any adults with any integrity at all in the Mein Fubar administration?  One of your shining examples, SOS Tillerson, decided to snub NATO and swan off to Russia instead…  Mr. Bruni has a question in “Tweeting Toward Oblivion:”  Can Donald Trump ditch his imagined grievances and save his presidency?  No.  This has been another installment of SASQ.  Here’s TMOW:

Memo To: Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Dear Sirs, I am writing you today as the five adults with the most integrity in the Trump administration. Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, you all served our nation as generals in battle. Pompeo, you graduated first in your class at West Point and served as a cavalry officer. Tillerson, you ran one of America’s largest companies.

I am writing you directly because I believe you are the last “few good men” who can stand up and reverse the moral rot that has infected the Trump administration from the top.

The last time our country faced such a cancer on the presidency, the Republican Party’s leadership stood up and put country before party to get to the truth. But today’s G.O.P. is a pale imitation of that party. With a few exceptions, it has declared moral bankruptcy and abdicated its responsibility to draw any red lines for President Trump.

To begin, I ask those of you who honored our country as military officers how you would have reacted if your commanding officer had charged his predecessor with a high crime that violated his constitutional oath — and then a few weeks later this charge was exposed as false by the top military judge advocate?

And Secretary Tillerson, how would your former corporate board have reacted if a top executive at Exxon Mobil had accused a predecessor of a major act of malfeasance and the F.B.I. then told the board the claims were false?

Would you military men have simply said, “Sorry, I just do artillery” or “I’m just staying in my lane”? And Secretary Tillerson, would you only have said, “I just do diplomacy”?

Knowing some of you, I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that you would have taken so seriously your oath to preserve and protect the Constitution, or abide by the highest corporate standards, that you’d have felt impelled to say or do something.

Well, your boss has engaged in such a smear against his predecessor. But Trump’s party, his daughter, his sons, his son-in-law, his chief strategist, his spokespeople all want us to just move on, to give him a pass, and his attorney general is already so tainted that he’s had to recuse himself.

And that is why I’m coming to you few good men.

I’m not asking you to quit; I’m asking you to act — to collectively or individually sit the president down and make clear that you can’t effectively advance our national security unless he does the right thing and apologizes to President Obama, and unless he releases his tax returns to eliminate any questions regarding what we now know is already an eight-month-old F.B.I. investigation into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s campaign to hack our last election.

Surely none of you believes it’s O.K. for a president to smear his predecessor and then stand by the charge even when it is exposed as a lie.

I’m now in Paris, after almost a week in the United Arab Emirates. I have to tell you, the world is watching.

I had several young Arabs from around the region tell me that when America lets its own leader get away with lying, hiding information and smearing the press or a political opponent, it is taken as a license by all Middle Eastern leaders, or the leaders of Turkey or Russia, to do the exact same thing and say: “See, the American president does it, why shouldn’t we?”

There is a profound sense of loss in the world today that the optimistic, inclusive, generous, rule-of-law America that so many foreigners grew up admiring is disappearing. A poll by Germany’s ARD media group found that the percentage of Germans who think the U.S. is a “trustworthy ally” dropped from 59 percent in November to 22 percent last month.

Trump inherited a “daunting inbox” in foreign policy, but unfortunately “he is making it much worse,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a valuable new book, “A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.” Trump’s embrace of “protectionism and hostility to immigrants — when the real culprit is new technologies that are eliminating existing jobs and an educational system that is not preparing Americans for new ones — and his rhetoric and policies are increasing doubts overseas about American dependability.” Without an urgent course correction, added Haass, we could end up “not with America first, but with America alone.”

Preventing that is the job of you five good men. I’m certain that none of you would let your children behave with the kind of dishonesty Trump showed in his tweets about Obama — and then just walk away. If you did that you’d consider yourself a failure as a parent. The same is now at stake for you as public servants.

If you say and do nothing when the nation’s leader smears his predecessor — and then maintains his fantasy as fact — not only will he never have the credibility to call on any other country to uphold the highest standards for rule of law, democracy and human rights, but neither will all of you. We will become a lesser country and the world a more dangerous place.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Donald Trump faces a stark choice. He can tweet, or he can govern.

He can indulge his persecution complex, firing off missives that compare Barack Obama to Joseph McCarthy and American intelligence officers to Nazis, or he can recognize it as a gateway to disgrace and irrelevance.

He can make his presidency about his own viscera, or he can make it about the country’s welfare. He can do what feels cathartic in the moment, or he can do what’s constructive in the long run. He can dabble in bright colors and shiny objects, or he can deal in durable truths.

I’m focusing on Twitter because it teases out his worst traits. It’s the theater for vainglorious, vindictive, impulsive Trump, and it was the realm in which he made the wild accusations that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. On Monday, James Comey debunked those charges, certifying them as the gaseous fulminations we more or less knew they were.

And through much of Tuesday, Trump’s personal Twitter account essentially went dark. There was nothing from the hours around dawn, which is when he typically visits with his darkest vapors. There was only anodyne stuff later on: a shout-out to the scientists at NASA, a salute to American farmers.

Either someone in his orbit convinced him, at least briefly, of the damage he was doing and the miserable situation he’s in, or Trump himself summoned some wisdom and restraint. He must be capable of that. Can he continue it?

It could be argued that every presidency is a tug of war between private demons and the public interest, between the commander in chief’s indulgence of his own psychological needs and his attentiveness to the hard work of America. With Trump it’s a furiously pitched battle, and the demons are way out ahead.

One of them hasn’t received the attention it warrants. With all our condemnations of Trump the bully, we’ve overlooked Trump the bullied, which is the version more likely to bring him down. I mean the Trump who’s hellbent on believing that he’s up against ruthless enemies; the Trump who must amplify every stride by casting it as a triumph over formidable odds; the Trump who’s throwing a pity party for himself the likes of which few of his predecessors ever attempted.

His election somehow brought this Trump to the fore. In a paradox as strange as everything else about him, victory played handmaiden to a feeling of victimization: his own and the country’s.

It’s precisely that feeling — “a sense of persecution bordering on faith,” as Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman wrote in The Times on Monday — that brought about the wiretapping tweets.

But it has also brought about many other ill-advised tweets and ill-considered public statements, enveloping Trump in a foul air of grievance. If it’s not the Mexicans taking advantage of him and of us, it’s the Australians or the Germans or the Chinese. Take your pick.

The “deep state” is out to get him. The leaks are a plot against him.

Sometimes his mewling has an obvious prompt. When your approval ratings have sunk as low as his — a recent Gallup tracking poll showed that only 37 percent of Americans were pleased with his performance — you have an obvious investment in calling such surveys rigged and wrong, as Trump is still doing.

But other whimpering is absurdly conceived and needlessly divisive. During Angela Merkel’s visit to Washington last week, he ranted about an unjust trade imbalance between Germany and the United States, crediting Germany with smarter negotiators. But there are no such negotiators. We trade not specifically with Germany but with the European Union as a whole.

It’s possible that he doesn’t know that. It’s also possible that he chose to disregard a detail that would have complicated and maybe nullified his complaint. Why let the facts get in the way of a tantrum that he then transferred to Twitter, where he bellowed that Germany owed money for its defense to the United States and NATO?

It’s funny: Comey’s testimony on Monday made clear that someone does have a right to feel put upon. That someone is Hillary Clinton. He stressed how “hated” she was by Vladimir Putin. He also confirmed that before Election Day, intelligence officers were looking into whether Putin and the Russians were meddling in the election because of that hatred. At the time Comey said nothing about that, even as he announced that the F.B.I. was taking a fresh look at newly discovered Clinton emails.

Trump is no victim. He’s the luckiest man alive — or has been, until now.

But his allies “have begun to wonder if his need for self-expression, often on social media, will exceed his instinct for self-preservation,” Thrush and Haberman wrote. He can vent his emotions or exercise his responsibilities. The decision belongs to him, the consequences to all of us.

Bobo, solo

March 21, 2017

In “The Unifying American Story” Bobo gurgles about the Exodus tale as a national creed.  “Gemli” from Boston will have a few words in rebuttal.  Here’s Bobo:

One of the things we’ve lost in this country is our story. It is the narrative that unites us around a common multigenerational project, that gives an overarching sense of meaning and purpose to our history.

For most of the past 400 years, Americans did have an overarching story. It was the Exodus story. The Puritans came to this continent and felt they were escaping the bondage of their Egypt and building a new Jerusalem.

The Exodus story has six acts: first, a life of slavery and oppression, then the revolt against tyranny, then the difficult flight through the howling wilderness, then the infighting and misbehavior amid the stresses of that ordeal, then the handing down of a new covenant, a new law, and then finally the arrival into a new promised land and the project of building a new Jerusalem.

The Puritans could survive hardship because they knew what kind of cosmic drama they were involved in. Being a chosen people with a sacred mission didn’t make them arrogant, it gave their task dignity and consequence. It made them self-critical. When John Winthrop used the phrase “shining city on a hill” he didn’t mean it as self-congratulation. He meant that the whole world was watching and by their selfishness and failings the colonists were screwing it up.

As Philip Gorski writes in his new book, “American Covenant,” which is essential reading for this moment, the Puritans understood they were part of one covenant and had ferocious debates about what that covenant meant.

During the revolution, the founding fathers had that fierce urgency too and drew just as heavily on the Exodus story. Some wanted to depict Moses on the Great Seal of the United States. Like Moses, America too was rebinding itself with a new covenant and a new law.

Frederick Douglass embraced the Exodus too. African-Americans, he pointed out, have been part of this journey too. “We came when it was a wilderness …. We leveled your forests; our hands removed the stumps from the field …. We have been with you … in adversity, and by the help of God will be with you in prosperity.”

The successive immigrant groups saw themselves performing an exodus to a promised land. The waves of mobility — from east to west, from south to north — were also seen as Exodus journeys. These people could endure every hardship because they were serving in a spiritual drama and not just a financial one.

In the 20th century, Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders drew on Exodus more than any other source. Our 20th-century presidents made the story global. America would lead a global exodus toward democracy — God was a God of all peoples. Reinhold Niebuhr applied Puritan thinking to America’s mission and warned of the taint of national pride.

The Exodus story has many virtues as an organizing national myth. It welcomes in each new group and gives it a template for how it fits into the common move from oppression to dignity. The book of Exodus is full of social justice — care for the vulnerable, the equality of all souls. It emphasizes that the moral and material journeys are intertwined and that for a nation to succeed materially, there has to be an invisible moral constitution and a fervent effort toward character education.

It suggests that history is in the shape of an upward spiral. People who see their lives defined by Exodus move, innovate and organize their lives around a common eschatological destiny. As Langston Hughes famously put it, “America never was America to me / And yet I swear this oath — / America will be!”

The Exodus narrative has pretty much been dropped from our civic culture. Schools cast off the Puritans as a bunch of religious fundamentalists. Gorski shows how a social-science, technocratic mind-set has triumphed, treating politics as just a competition of self-interested utilitarians.

Today’s students get steeped in American tales of genocide, slavery, oppression and segregation. American history is taught less as a progressively realized grand narrative and more as a series of power conflicts between oppressor and oppressed.

The academic left pushed this reinterpretation, but as usual the extreme right ended up claiming the spoils. The people Gorski calls radical secularists expunged biblical categories and patriotic celebrations from schools. The voters revolted and elected the people Gorski calls the religious nationalists to the White House — the jingoistic chauvinists who measure Americanness by blood and want to create a Fortress America keeping the enemy out.

We have a lot of crises in this country, but maybe the foundational one is the Telos Crisis, a crisis of purpose. Many people don’t know what this country is here for, and what we are here for. If you don’t know what your goal is, then every setback sends you into cynicism and selfishness.

It should be possible to revive the Exodus template, to see Americans as a single people trekking through a landscape of broken institutions. What’s needed is an act of imagination, somebody who can tell us what our goal is, and offer an ideal vision of what the country and the world should be.

Well, Bobo, that somebody is pretty much goddamn guaranteed not to be a Republican.  Even you are cringing now.  Here’s what “gemli” from Boston had to say:

“We had someone who told us what our goal is, and who offered an ideal vision of what the country and the world should be. Barack Obama did just that. He offered a message of hope and change, and his vision was ridiculed and ultimately destroyed by the conservative scourge.

There are the people who promise to enslave the poor. They spit on the ground when they mention Obamacare. They sneer at the idea of welfare, or providing a livable minimum wage. They have denied reality for so long that denial and alternative facts are now part of our national ethos.

We’re wandering in a desert of ignorance. We routinely embarrass ourselves on a world stage when the president of our country, the man who represents the essence of who we are as a people, demonstrates that we are not trustworthy or intelligent enough to elect a moral, honest or competent leader. The travesty of his rise to power speaks to our collective lack of those qualities.

We don’t need to follow ancient religious myths to thrive as a country. We were on the ascendancy for nearly a hundred years following a secular path away from bigotry, slavery, ignorance, exploitation of the poor, misogyny and homophobia. Now the party that wallows in the swamp of those defunct ideas wants to lead us back into biblical ignorance.

If the voting booths are not boarded up in 2018, we will find our way back. And we will vow never to let this happen again.”

Krugman, solo

March 20, 2017

In “America’s Epidemic of Infallibility” Prof. Krugman says there have been no apologies, no regrets, no learning from experience.  Here he is:

Two weeks after President Trump claimed, bizarrely, that the Obama administration had wiretapped his campaign, his press secretary suggested that GCHQ — Britain’s counterpart to the National Security Agency — had done the imaginary bugging. British officials were outraged. And soon the British press was reporting that the Trump administration had apologized.

But no: Meeting with the chancellor of Germany, another ally he’s alienating, Mr. Trump insisted that there was nothing to apologize for. He said, “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind,” a commentator on (of course) Fox News.

Was anyone surprised? This administration operates under the doctrine of Trumpal infallibility: Nothing the president says is wrong, whether it’s his false claim that he won the popular vote or his assertion that the historically low murder rate is at a record high. No error is ever admitted. And there is never anything to apologize for.

O.K., at this point it’s not news that the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military is a man you wouldn’t trust to park your car or feed your cat. Thanks, Comey. But Mr. Trump’s pathological inability to accept responsibility is just the culmination of a trend. American politics — at least on one side of the aisle — is suffering from an epidemic of infallibility, of powerful people who never, ever admit to making a mistake.

More than a decade ago I wrote that the Bush administration was suffering from a “mensch gap.” (A mensch is an upstanding person who takes responsibility for his actions.) Nobody in that administration ever seemed willing to accept responsibility for policy failures, whether it was the bungled occupation of Iraq or the botched response to Hurricane Katrina.

Later, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, a similar inability to admit error was on display among many economic commentators.

Take, for example, the open letter a who’s who of conservatives sent to Ben Bernanke in 2010, warning that his policies could lead to “currency debasement and inflation.” They didn’t. But four years later, when Bloomberg News contacted many of the letter’s signatories, not one was willing to admit having been wrong.

By the way, press reports say that one of those signatories, Kevin Hassett — co-author of the 1999 book “Dow 36,000” — will be nominated as chairman of Mr. Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers. Another, David Malpass — the former chief economist at Bear Stearns, who declared on the eve of the financial crisis that “the economy is sturdy” — has been nominated as undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs. They should fit right in.

Just to be clear: Everyone makes mistakes. Some of these mistakes are in the “nobody could have known” category. But there’s also the temptation to engage in motivated reasoning, to let our emotions get the better of our critical faculties — and almost everyone succumbs to that temptation now and then (as I myself did on election night).

So nobody is perfect. The point, however, is to try to do better — which means owning up to your mistakes and learning from them. Yet that is something that the people now ruling America never, ever do.

What happened to us? Some of it surely has to do with ideology: When you’re committed to a fundamentally false narrative about government and the economy, as almost the whole Republican Party now is, facing up to facts becomes an act of political disloyalty. By contrast, members of the Obama administration, from the president on down, were in general far more willing to accept responsibility than their Bush-era predecessors.

But what’s going on with Mr. Trump and his inner circle seems to have less to do with ideology than with fragile egos. To admit having been wrong about anything, they seem to imagine, would brand them as losers and make them look small.

In reality, of course, inability to engage in reflection and self-criticism is the mark of a tiny, shriveled soul — but they’re not big enough to see that.

But why did so many Americans vote for Mr. Trump, whose character flaws should have been obvious long before the election?

Catastrophic media failure and F.B.I. malfeasance played crucial roles. But my sense is that there’s also something going on in our society: Many Americans no longer seem to understand what a leader is supposed to sound like, mistaking bombast and belligerence for real toughness.

Why? Is it celebrity culture? Is it working-class despair, channeled into a desire for people who spout easy slogans?

The truth is that I don’t know. But we can at least hope that watching Mr. Trump in action will be a learning experience — not for him, because he never learns anything, but for the body politic. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll eventually put a responsible adult back in the White House.

From your lips to God’s ear, Prof. Krugman.

Collins, solo

March 18, 2017

In “Trump Stays Buggy” Ms. Collins, taking the words from the mouth of Mein Fubar, says let’s blame British spies, Fox News and — oh, did you know he used to have a TV show?  Here she is:

Whatever Donald Trump has, it’s spreading.

We’ve got a president who makes things up, and won’t retract when he’s cornered. This week press secretary Sean Spicer followed the leader. He picked up Trump’s wiretap story and added a new exciting detail: Not only had Barack Obama bugged Trump Tower, he might have used British intelligence spies to do the dirty work.

The British, of course, went nuts, and national security adviser H. R. McMaster tried to smooth things over. McMaster is new to the job, having succeeded Mike Flynn, who had to resign for lying about his phone conversations. Flynn was not even around long enough for us to find out that he was also a lobbyist for Turkish interests and took $68,000 from various Russian connections.

This is how insane the Trump administration is: On his first day, the new secretary of the interior rode to work on a horse named Tonto, and nobody really even noticed.

The part of the gang that isn’t involved in active fiction-writing is still saying things that are … peculiar. When budget director Mick Mulvaney rolled out the new Trump budget plan, the nation discovered he’s Sean Spicer with a calculator.

Mulvaney’s most memorable comment was an apparent dis of Meals on Wheels. (“We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good.”) He also explained that tons of federal employees had to lose their jobs because “you can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it.”

Aid to public broadcasting had to go because Mulvaney couldn’t bear to tell “the coal mining family in West Virginia” that their taxes were going to the people who gave us “Sesame Street.”

Meanwhile, Tom Price, the health and human services secretary, was making the rounds attempting to explain the Republican health care bill. Including the part that lifts a $500,000 cap on health insurance company tax deductions for executive pay. (“That doesn’t sound like America to me.”)

Try to imagine, people, that you are the coal mining family in West Virginia. Which would you find more bothersome? Taxes going to help pay for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, or tax breaks for insurance companies that pay their C.E.O.s eight-figure salaries?

But budget and health care considerations faded in the glare of Donald Trump still insisting that Barack Obama had him wiretapped. The man is never going to admit he’s wrong about anything, is he?

All this began with twittering. You’d think at least he’d give that up, but no. “I think that maybe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Twitter, because I get such a fake press, such a dishonest press,” Trump told Tucker Carlson in a Fox interview. He then launched into an attack on NBC’s ingratitude. (“I made a fortune for NBC with ‘The Apprentice.’ I had a top show where they were doing horribly, and I had one of the most successful reality shows of all time.”)

Have we had a day of the Trump presidency without a mention of “The Apprentice”?

“I made — and I was on for 14 seasons. And you see what happened when I’m not on. You saw what happened to the show. It was a disaster,” said the head of the most powerful nation in the world, who appears to think about Arnold Schwarzenegger more than he thinks about North Korea.

Pity his poor press secretary. This week, clearly at the president’s urging, Spicer read aloud an endless series of news stories that would have supported Trump’s claim to be a wiretap victim except for the part in which none of them did. Then he quoted a Fox commentator posing the theory about British spies.

The ensuing uproar pretty much ate up a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who Trump seemed to relate to only as a potential fellow victim of Obama bugs. (“At least we have something in common perhaps.”) At first, when Merkel suggested they shake hands, Trump stared blankly ahead. But he did express a little sense of connection when the discussion turned to Germany’s programs for apprenticeships. (“That’s a name I like.”)

At a press conference, the president refused to even acknowledge that it was a bad idea for Spicer to bring up that British spy theory. “We said nothing,” he insisted, passing the buck. “You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”

Meanwhile, over in Congress, powerful Republicans were beginning to move toward flat-out admissions that their chief executive was … untruthing.

“We see no evidence of that,” said Speaker Paul Ryan, when asked about the wiretap story. Living with President Trump has made Ryan so pathetic you almost have to feel sorry for him, although not quite.

Imagine what would have happened if, at some point over the last two weeks, the president had just casually conceded that he had been misinformed about the wiretap thing. His health care plan wouldn’t look any better. His budget wouldn’t have been more defensible. But we’d feel slightly less terrified that the nation’s security is in the hands of a nut job.

Krugman’s blog, 3/14/17

March 17, 2017

There was one post on Tuesday, “Populism and the Politics of Health:”

What’s next on health care? Truly, I have no idea. The AHCA is a real stinker, and now everyone knows it; ordinarily, that should doom the legislation. But everyone also knows that starting off the Trump legislative era with the crashing and burning of Obamacare repeal would deeply damage Trump; nobody believes what he says, but if he can’t even ram bills through, people will stop being afraid. So they will pull out all the stops.

But why are Republicans having so much trouble? Health reform is hard; but why were the Dems able to pass the ACA in the first place? I’m seeing a lot of talk about Paul Ryan’s inadequacy and Republican lack of preparation as compared with Pelosi and the Dems in 2009, all of which is true. But there’s a more fundamental issue: who is being served?

Obamacare helped a large number of people at the expense of a small, affluent minority: basically, taxes on 2% of the population to cover a lot of people and assure coverage to many more. Trumpcare would reverse that, hurting a lot of people (many of whom voted Trump) so as to cut taxes for a handful of wealthy people. That’s a difference that goes beyond political strategy.

But one way to say this is that Obamacare was and is a truly populist law, while Trumpcare is anti-populist. That’s reflected in the legislative struggles.

And yet, and yet: Trump did in fact win over white working-class voters, who thought they were voting for a populist; Democrats, who did a lot for those voters, got no credit — rural whites, in particular, who were huge beneficiaries of the ACA, overwhelmingly supported the man who may destroy their healthcare.

This ties in with an important recent piece by Zack Beauchamp on the striking degree to which left-wing economics fails, in practice, to counter right-wing populism; basically, Sandersism has failed everywhere it has been tried. Why?

The answer, presumably, is that what we call populism is really in large degree white identity politics, which can’t be addressed by promising universal benefits. Among other things, these “populist” voters now live in a media bubble, getting their news from sources that play to their identity-politics desires, which means that even if you offer them a better deal, they won’t hear about it or believe it if told. For sure many if not most of those who gained health coverage thanks to Obamacare have no idea that’s what happened.

That said, taking the benefits away would probably get their attention, and maybe even open their eyes to the extent to which they are suffering to provide tax cuts to the rich.

In Europe, right-wing parties probably don’t face the same dilemma; they’re preaching herrenvolk social democracy, a welfare state but only for people who look like you. In America, however, Trumpism is faux populism that appeals to white identity but actually serves plutocrats. That fundamental contradiction is now out in the open.

Brooks and Krugman

March 17, 2017

Sorry for the hiatus — my computer was in the DOSpital.  As time permits I’ll try to get caught up on what was missed.

Today Bobo has decided to tell us to “Let Bannon Be Bannon!”  He contends that President Trump has abandoned Steve Bannon’s governing philosophy, and with it, the benefits the working class counted on.  I wonder how much Bobo really knows about Bannon…  He told The Daily Beast in 2014, “I’m a Leninist.” He elaborated: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  That’s a benefit for the working class?  “Gemli” from Boston will have a word or two.  Prof. Krugman considers “Conservative Fantasies, Colliding With Reality” and says government spending is full of pointless waste — until you try to cut it.  Here’s Bobo:

I continue to worry about Steve Bannon. I see him in the White House photos, but he never has that sprightly Prince of Darkness gleam in his eye anymore.

His governing philosophy is being completely gutted by the mice around him. He seems to have a big influence on Trump speeches but zero influence on recent Trump policies. I’m beginning to fear that he’s spending his days sitting along the wall in the Roosevelt Room morosely playing one of those Risk-style global empire video games on his smartphone.

Back in the good old days — like two months ago — it was fun to watch Bannon operate. He was the guy with a coherent governing philosophy. He seemed to have realized that the two major party establishments had abandoned the working class. He also seemed to have realized that the 21st-century political debate is not big versus small government, it’s open versus closed.

Bannon had the opportunity to realign American politics around the social, cultural and economic concerns of the working class. Erect barriers to keep out aliens from abroad, and shift money from the rich to the working class to create economic security at home.

It was easy to see the Trump agenda that would flow from this philosophy: Close off trade and immigration. Fund a jobs-creating infrastructure program. Reverse the Republican desire to reform and reduce entitlements. Increase funding on all sorts of programs that benefit working-class voters in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Many of us wouldn’t have liked that agenda — the trade and immigration parts — but at least it would have helped the people who are being pummeled by this economy.

But Bannonesque populism is being abandoned. The infrastructure and jobs plan is being put off until next year (which is to say never). Meanwhile, the Trump administration has agreed with Paul Ryan’s crazy plan to do health care first.

Moths show greater resistance to flame than American politicians do to health care reform. And sure enough it’s become a poisonous morass for the entire party, and a complete distraction from the populist project.

Worse, the Ryan health care plan punishes the very people Trump and Bannon had vowed to help. It would raise premiums by as much as 25 percent on people between 50 and 64, one core of the Trump voter base. It would completely hammer working-class voters whose incomes put them just above the Medicaid threshold.

The Trump budget is an even more devastating assault on Bannon-style populism. It eliminates or cuts organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that are important to people from Tennessee and West Virginia up through Ohio and Michigan. It cuts job-training and road-building programs. It does almost nothing to help expand opportunity for the working class and almost everything to serve defense contractors and the national security state.

Why is Bannonism being abandoned? One possibility is that there just aren’t enough Trumpians in the world to staff an administration, so Trump and Bannon have filled their apparatus with old guard Republicans who continue to go about their jobs in old guard pseudo-libertarian ways.

The second possibility, raised by Rich Lowry in Politico, is that the Republican sweep of 2016 was won on separate tracks. Trump won on populism, but congressional Republicans won on the standard cut-government script. The congressional Republicans are better prepared, and so their plans are crowding out anything Bannon might have contemplated.

The third possibility is that Donald Trump doesn’t really care about domestic policy; he mostly cares about testosterone.

He wants to cut any part of government that may seem soft and nurturing, like poverty programs. He wants to cut any program that might seem emotional and airy-fairy, like the National Endowment for the Arts. He wants to cut any program that might seem smart and nerdy, like the National Institutes of Health.

But he wants to increase funding for every program that seems manly, hard, muscular and ripped, like the military and armed antiterrorism programs.

Indeed, the Trump budget looks less like a political philosophy and more like a sexual fantasy. It lavishes attention on every aspect of hard power and slashes away at anything that isn’t.

The Trump health care and budget plans will be harsh on the poor, which we expected. But they’ll also be harsh on the working class, which we didn’t.

We’re ending up with the worst of the new guard Trumpian populists and the old guard Republican libertarians. We’re building walls to close off the world while also shifting wealth from the poor to the rich.

When these two plans fail, which seems very likely, there’s going to be a holy war between the White House and Capitol Hill. I don’t have high hopes for what’s going to emerge from that war, but it would be nice if the people who voted for Trump got economic support, not punishment.

For that, there’s one immediate recipe: Unleash Steve Bannon!

Now here’s what “gemli” has to say about that:

“The president and the swamp dwellers who slithered in when Americans opened the door for this experiment in mom-and-apple-pie fascism have no workable governing philosophy. Running a country means caring about the people who live in it, and not about whether Arnold Schwarzenegger was a flop or how big the inauguration crowds were. Staffing key positions with crypto-clansmen, racists, billionaire banksters, Russian puppets and garden-variety idiots is unlikely to form a coherent, user-friendly administration.

Bannon isn’t being restrained by the president. He, the president and the calcified Congressional Republicans are being exactly who they are: malevolent frauds, con men and grifters who have no idea how to run a country, and who care less than a fig that the downtrodden will be trodden upon even harder.

In fact, the downtrodden who voted for the president and his stupid ideas might deserve to reap the bitter harvest of their actions. They need to realize that there are consequences to giving morons and thugs the keys to the White House. Expecting help from Bannon, Paul Ryan and the other Rush Limbaugh Republicans is absurd. They don’t help the needy. The needy are there to be pandered to and exploited. Sometimes the needy are needy because they lack discernment, and don’t know who’s actually trying to help them.

Whatever happens, the current administration should not be unleashed. They should be caged.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

This week the Trump administration put out a budget blueprint — or more accurately, a “budget” blueprint. After all, real budgets detail where the money comes from and where it goes; this proclamation covers only around a third of federal spending, while saying nothing about revenues or projected deficits.

As the fiscal expert Stan Collender put it: “This is not a budget. It’s a Trump campaign press release masquerading as a government document.”

So what’s the point of the document? The administration presumably hopes that it will distract the public and the press from the ongoing debacle over health care. But it probably won’t. And in any case, this pseudo-budget embodies the same combination of meanspiritedness and fiscal fantasy that has turned the Republican effort to replace Obamacare into a train wreck.

Think for a minute about the vision of government and its role that the right has been peddling for decades.

In this vision, much if not most government spending is a complete waste, doing nobody any good. The same is true of government regulations. And to the extent to which spending does help anyone, it’s Those People — lazy, undeserving types who just so happen to be a bit, well, darker than Real Americans.

This was the kind of thinking — or, perhaps, “thinking” — that underlay President Trump’s promise to replace Obamacare with something “far less expensive and far better.” After all, it’s a government program, so he assumed that it must be full of waste that a tough leader like him could eliminate.

Strange to say, however, Republicans turn out to have no ideas about how to make the program cheaper other than eliminating health insurance for 24 million people (and making coverage worse, with higher out-of-pocket spending, for those who remain).

And basically the same story applies at a broader level. Consider federal spending as a whole: Outside defense it’s dominated by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — all programs that are crucial to tens of millions of Americans, many of them the white working-class voters who are the core of Trump support. Furthermore, most other government spending also serves purposes that are popular, important or (usually) both.

Given this reality, why are so many people opposed to “big government”?

Many have a distorted view of the numbers. For example, people have a vastly exaggerated view of how much we spend on foreign aid. Many also fail to connect their personal experience with public policy: Large numbers of Social Security and Medicare recipients believe that they make no use of any government social program.

Thanks to these misperceptions, carefully nurtured by right-wing media, politicians can often get away with running on promises of drastic spending cuts: Many, perhaps most voters don’t see how such cuts would affect their lives.

But what will happen if anti-big-government politicians find themselves in a position to put their agenda into practice? Voters will quickly get a lesson in what slashing spending really means — and they won’t be happy.

That’s basically the wall Obamacare repeal has just smashed into. And the same thing will happen if this Trump whatever-it-is turns into an actual budget.

Mr. Trump himself gives every indication of having no idea what the federal government does; his vaguely budget-like document isn’t much more than a roughly scribbled list of numbers, with no clear picture of what those numbers would mean. (In fairness, one could have said the same about Paul Ryan’s budgets in the past. In fact, I did.)

But the reality is that the proposed cuts would have ugly, highly visible effects. Zeroing out the Community Development Block Grant program may sound good if you have no idea what it does (which Mr. Trump surely doesn’t); eliminating Meals on Wheels, an immediate consequence, not so much. Nor would coal country, which voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump, like the consequences if he eliminates the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Wait, there’s more. Effectively disemboweling the Environmental Protection Agency may sound smart if you imagine that it’s just a bunch of meddling bureaucrats. But the public wants stronger, not weaker, environmental protection, and would not be pleased to see a sharp deterioration in air and water quality.

The point is that Mr. Trump’s attempt to change the subject away from his party’s health care quagmire isn’t going to work, and not just because this supposed budget literally isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. At a more fundamental level, it doesn’t even change the subject.

Republicans’ budget promises, like their health care promises, have been based on an essentially fraudulent picture of what’s really going on. And now the bill for these lies is coming due.

Krugman’s blog, 3/10/17

March 11, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Smart Republicans?”:

I claim no special expertise in the legislative process. But reading a couple of pieces about what looks like a health care debacle from the good folks at Vox, I have some thoughts about what’s going on — namely, don’t presume that Ryan and company have any idea what they’re doing.

Start with Ezra Klein, who speculates that Ryan has advanced this ludicrous plan in the hope and expectation that it won’t pass. His reasoning is that Ryan is too skilled an operator to get caught off-guard as he seems to have:

Paul Ryan isn’t an amateur. He is, arguably, the most skilled policy entrepreneur of his generation. He is known for winning support from political actors and policy validators who normally reject his brand of conservatism. The backing he’s built for past proposals comes from painstaking work talking to allies, working on plans with them, preparing them for what he’ll release, hearing out their concerns, constructing processes where they feel heard, and so on. He’s good at this kind of thing. But he didn’t put in the work here. And there are consequences to that.

But has Ryan ever put together major legislation with any real chance of passage? Yes, he made a name for himself with big budget proposals that received adoring press coverage. But these were never remotely operational — they were filled not just with magic asterisks — tax loophole closing to be determined later, cost savings to be achieved via means to be determined later — but with elements, like converting Medicare into a voucher system, that would have drawn immense flack if they got anywhere close to actually happening.

In other words, he has never offered real plans for overhauling social insurance, just things that sound like plans but are basically just advertisements for some imaginary plan that might eventually be produced. Actually pulling together a coalition to get stuff done? Has he ever managed that?

What I’d say is that Ryan is not, in fact, a policy entrepreneur. He’s just a self-promoter, someone who has successfully sold a credulous media on a character he plays: Paul Ryan, Serious, Honest Conservative Policy Wonk. This is really his first test at real policymaking, which is a very different process. There’s nothing strange about his inability to pull off the real thing, as opposed to the act.

Meanwhile, Sarah Kliff, in the new VoxCare newsletter, is puzzled by the apparent disagreement among Republicans about what CBO is likely to say:

The only people who have advance access to the CBO numbers are the Republican legislators who actually worked on the bill. They’ve been working with the budget agency for months now to create a score.

But have they really been working with CBO for months? They may have been talking, but was it about anything resembling Obamacare 0.5? Everything else about the AHCA looks slapdash, like something thrown together in a few days by people who hadn’t thought at all about what a flat tax credit and a widened age band would mean for, say, people in Alaska with its expensive insurance, or low-middle-income Trump voters in their 60s. I have no inside information, but this sure looks as if they were still dithering about the whole principle of their Obamacare replacement until at most a few weeks ago, and didn’t work with CBO because they had nothing to work with.

In other words, maybe this looks like amateur hour because it is. Ryan isn’t a skilled politician inexplicably losing his touch, he’s a con artist who started to believe his own con; Republicans didn’t hammer out a workable plan because there is no such plan, and anyway they have no idea what that would involve.

Or to put it another way, this could just be more malevolence tempered by incompetence.

Collins, solo

March 11, 2017

In “Glad Tidings About the Three Faces of Donald Trump” Ms. Collins gives us one congressman’s 50 days of peculiar presidential encounters.  Here she is:

Good news: the president seems pretty enthusiastic about bringing down drug prices. This is important both because drug prices are way too high and because positive reports out of Washington are so very, very rare.

Every day we get up and stagger forward through the great, barren desert that is the Trump administration, yearning for happy tidings. (Did you know the A.S.P.C.A. says pet adoptions are up?) If we never find an oasis, maybe at least there’ll be a shiny little rock.

So. This week the president took time out from the Trumpcare battles to meet with two Democratic lawmakers and talk about lowering the cost of drugs. “I want to get some things done. … I keep telling myself, four years is a long time. I could be dead in four years,” said one of the conferees, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

Cummings wants to give the government power to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on the price of drugs for Medicare patients. I know, it seems insane that they don’t do that already. But there’s actually a rule against it. Inserted at the behest of Big Pharma during the Bush administration.

And Trump seemed interested. “I do believe he heard me. And he was very enthusiastic,” Cummings told me.

he one worry here is which version of the president it was that Cummings, and his colleague, Representative Peter Welch of Vermont, were meeting with.

There are three basic variations. Reasonable Chatting Trump is pleasant but useless. Unscripted Trump is pretty close to nuts. And then there’s the Somewhat Normal Republican Trump, who we enjoy calling SNORT.

To be fair, all three faces have called for lower drug prices. SNORT even mentioned it in the much-praised speech he read to Congress. That performance was so highly regarded we’d still be hearing about it, had not Unscripted Trump gotten out of bed at dawn last weekend and tweeted that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

My theory is that Cummings saw Reasonable Chatting Trump — the guy who’s always sitting down and having rewarding talks with progressives, who emerge from the discussions convinced they’ve scored a coup. Unfortunately, by the time they hit the street he’s forgotten every word.

Here’s a hint: After the meeting with the two Democrats, Trump’s office issued a statement saying the president did indeed want to work “in a bipartisan fashion to ensure prescription drug prices are more affordable for all Americans.” But the idea of actual price negotiations wasn’t mentioned. Instead, it talked about “reducing the regulatory burdens on drug manufacturers so as to enhance competition.”

Cummings, on the other hand, is pretty sure he was dealing with an open-minded SNORT. “I had a follow-up call from the president this morning,” he reported.

This is pretty good evidence — the Chatter never follows up. And Cummings, who’s the top-ranking Democrat on the House oversight committee, has already had wide, varied and frequently weird interactions with the new administration. Right after the election, he warned Vice President Mike Pence about naming Michael Flynn national security adviser, pointing out that during the campaign, Flynn had been not only a Trump surrogate, but also a lobbyist for Turkish government interests.

Yes! Three weeks after the Republican presidential convention, Flynn signed a $500,000-plus contract to work for a powerful associate of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the thuggish ruler of Turkey. Then he was appointed national security adviser. Then he was fired for matters having nothing whatsoever to do with the Turkish connection. It wasn’t until this week that he got around to filing the appropriate disclosure forms for foreign agents.

How many variations do you think there are for Michael Flynn? Pence, who seemed to have forgotten the Cummings letter entirely, only admitted knowing Mike Without Turks. The administration apparently only recognized the Dotted Line version.

“There’s nothing nefarious about doing anything that’s legal as long as the proper paperwork is filed,” the legendary Sean Spicer told the media.

Holy moly.

But about Representative Cummings. He had a run-in with Unscripted Donald Trump a few weeks ago, when a reporter asked the president if he’d have any discussions with the Congressional Black Caucus on urban issues. The president responded by asking the reporter, who is African-American, whether she knew any black caucus members and wanted to set up a meeting. Then he claimed he had once had an appointment with Cummings, but that the lawmaker had backed down. Probably under pressure from Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Cummings heard it on a TV in the gym. “I was laying on the floor lifting some weights. I almost killed myself,” he recalled. “I was shocked.”

His version of events is, of course, different, but Cummings didn’t try to correct the record during his meeting with one of the other variations of the president. “I got bigger fish to fry,” he said.

We are so fucked…