Blow and Krugman

In “Learning Lessons From Outrage” Mr. Blow says the current political crisis shows that we must constantly struggle for what we choose to be as a country.  Prof. Krugman, in “On Invincible Ignorance,” says the Republican Party may be in for some soul-searching, but so far its leaders remain in denial.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There is so much we have learned from this painful election season and the rise of a demagogic real estate developer.

We have learned that a human branding machine who grew up in the shadows and spotlight of New York City’s cutthroat media knows intuitively how to exploit that media.

We have learned that too many in the media are ever so willing to be exploited if the exploitation is mutual and money is to be made.

We have learned what conditions make the prime environment for the rise of a demagogue: disaffection, demographic change, the demise of hope and opportunity and the dislocation of traditional power and privilege from automatic inheritance of prosperity.

We have seen that divisive, dangerous leaders don’t necessarily rise because of stirring oration or a clear and compelling vision. They can be quirky, disarming and idiosyncratic, with a vague, hollow message that says little even as it promises much.

We have learned the dangers of doubting the depravity and desperation of some who would follow such a man despite, or possibly even because of, his offensive rhetoric and outrageous policies.

We have learned just how much ugliness exists in this country, and what it looks like when it finds a voice, a leader and a reason to gather and unite.

We have learned that the Republican establishment has no clue who the Republican base is anymore, or if they do, they thought wrongly that they could control them by feeding them crumbs of obstruction and vague aspirationalism from their table of excess. In fact, that base has been gorging itself on fear and anger, vileness and the possibility of violence.

As Rolling Stone reported last week in the following exchange with the Republican pollster Frank Luntz:

“Republicans didn’t listen,” says Luntz. “They didn’t hear the anger because they spent too much time in Washington and not enough in the rest of America. The Republican finance people, the donor class, they didn’t see it and didn’t hear it, and by the time they did, it was too late.” Luntz compared it to a horror film: “You know something’s out there, but you don’t see it until you’re getting stabbed.”

When you compare your own base to the killer in a slasher flick, you know you have a problem.

We have learned what it looks like when a party eventually wakes up to itself being overtaken and undone and throws itself into convulsions to rescue itself from a creature of its own creation.

As The New York Times reported Saturday, Republican leaders adamantly opposed to their own front-runner’s candidacy “are preparing a 100-day campaign to deny him the presidential nomination” with a “delegate-by-delegate lobbying effort” that would cast him as “a calamitous choice for the general election.”

The article continued, saying that “an effort to block him would rely on an array of desperation measures, the political equivalent of guerrilla fighting.” It’s war.

But for all those looking on in horror and disbelief, I hope that we have learned something else, something great.

I hope that we learn to constantly center the ideal at that core of the current offense: enlightenment, equality and idealism.

I hope that we learn that progress is not an unfailingly upward, inexorably positive movement, but an awkward and clumsy dance in which we lurch forward three steps and stumble back two.

I hope we learn that citizenship and comfort in a free society is not free. It comes at a cost. You must work to grow and maintain our liberty, because there are forces that would undo and dismantle those liberties. We must stay awake and engaged, informed and involved if we are to continue to move out of darkness and into light.

I hope we learn that if one is not actively working to dismantle oppressive forces and inclinations in oneself and in society, one’s silence and inaction provide support for their continuation and prosperity.

Inertia is no respecter of ideology. It can move right just as easily as it can move left. It can move toward the better just as easily as toward the worse.

There is no moment in a republic when there is a lull in the fight. The battles always rage. The enemy stays busy. Nothing that is won stays won without vigilant protection. We, as a country, again find ourselves standing at the precipice, staring into the darkness of the void, and we must fight our way back from it.

And this is not just about being against the real estate developer. It’s more. It’s about being for something: nobility, honor and character, righteousness, civility and togetherness. We have to decide who we are as a country, not as an opposition force but as a positive, proactive force, and use all levers of power to which we have access to bring our vision of America into reality.

The rise of the real estate developer has drawn into sharp relief the idea that doing nothing and expecting to preserve or extend progress isn’t an option.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Remember Paul Ryan? The speaker of the House used to be a media darling, lionized as the epitome of the Serious, Honest Conservative — never mind those of us who actually looked at the numbers in his budgets and concluded that he was a con man. These days, of course, he is overshadowed by the looming Trumpocalypse.

But while Donald Trump could win the White House — or lose so badly that even our rotten-borough system of congressional districts, which heavily favors the G.O.P., delivers the House to the Democrats — the odds are that come January, Hillary Clinton will be president, and Mr. Ryan still speaker. So I was interested to read what Mr. Ryan said in a recent interview with John Harwood. What has he learned from recent events?

And the answer is, nothing.

Like just about everyone in the Republican establishment, Mr. Ryan is in denial about the roots of Trumpism, about the extent to which the party deliberately cultivated anger and racial backlash, only to lose control of the monster it created. But what I found especially striking were his comments on tax policy. I know, boring — but indulge me here. There’s a larger moral.

You might think that Republican thought leaders would be engaged in some soul-searching about their party’s obsession with cutting taxes on the wealthy. Why do candidates who inveigh against the evils of budget deficits and federal debt feel obliged to propose huge high-end tax cuts — much bigger than those of George W. Bush — that would eliminate trillions in revenue?

And economics aside, why such a commitment to a policy that has never had much support even from the party’s own base, and appears even more politically suspect in the face of a populist uprising?

But here’s what Mr. Ryan said about all those tax cuts for the top 1 percent: “I do not like the idea of buying into these distributional tables. What you’re talking about is what we call static distribution. It’s a ridiculous notion.”

Aha. The income mobility zombie strikes again.

Ever since income inequality began its sharp rise in the 1980s, one favorite conservative excuse has been that it doesn’t mean anything, because economic positions change all the time. People who are rich this year might not be rich next year, so the gap between the rich and the rest doesn’t matter, right?

Well, it’s true that people move up and down the economic ladder, and apologists for inequality love to cite statistics showing that many people who are in the top 1 percent in any given year are out of that category the next year.

But a closer look at the data shows that there is less to this observation than it seems. These days, it takes an income of around $400,000 a year to put you in the top 1 percent, and most of the fluctuation in incomes we see involves people going from, say, $350,000 to $450,000 or vice versa. As one comprehensive survey put it, “The majority of economic mobility occurs over fairly small spans of the distribution.” Average incomes over multiple years are almost as unequally distributed as incomes in any given year, which means that tax cuts that mainly benefit the rich are indeed targeted at a small group of people, not the public at large.

And here’s the thing: This isn’t a new observation. As it happens, I personally took on the very same argument Mr. Ryan is making — and showed that it was wrong — almost 25 years ago. Yet the man widely considered the G.O.P.’s intellectual leader is still making the same old claims.

O.K., maybe I’m just indulging a pet peeve by focusing on this particular subject. Yet the persistence of the income mobility zombie, like the tax-cuts-mean-growth zombie (which should have been killed, once and for all, by the debacles in Kansas and Louisiana), is part of a pattern.

Appalled Republicans may rail against Donald Trump’s arrogant ignorance. But how different, really, are the party’s mainstream leaders? Their blinkered view of the world has the veneer of respectability, may go along with an appearance of thoughtfulness, but in reality it’s just as impervious to evidence — maybe even more so, because it has the power of groupthink behind it.

This is why you shouldn’t grieve over Marco Rubio’s epic political failure. Had Mr. Rubio succeeded, he would simply have encouraged his party to believe that all it needs is a cosmetic makeover — a fresher, younger face to sell the same old defunct orthodoxy. Oh, and a last-minute turn to someone like John Kasich would, in its own way, have similar implications.

What we’re getting instead is at least the possibility of a cleansing shock — of a period in the political wilderness that will finally force the Republican establishment to rethink its premises. That’s a good thing — or it would be, if it didn’t also come with the risk of President Trump.

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One Response to “Blow and Krugman”

  1. Claudine Meigel Says:

    You could certainly see your enthusiasm within the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. Always go after your heart.

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