There was one post on Friday, and two yesterday. Friday’s post was “”Paul Ryan” and the Trump Fail:”
There has been a lot of navel-gazing in the news media about how everyone — well, *cough*, almost everyone — wrote off Donald Trump’s chance of getting the nomination. The thing is, the polls pointed to Trump strength right from the beginning, and it should have been clear by early fall at the latest that Trump wasn’t going to be a bubble story like the various not-Romneys of 2012. So why did most of the commentariat get it so wrong for so long?
The basic answer, surely — but one a lot of my media colleagues still won’t accept — is that Norm Ornstein was right all along, that the modern Republican party was no longer a normal political party, that it was an extremist sect that had fed its supporters’ rage, and in so doing had created a Frankenstein’s monster. And most pundits, in refusing to see this, also blinded themselves to the way the party had become ripe for Trumpism.
But let me get more specific: I think you can understand this media fail by considering the tale of “Paul Ryan.” Not the actual Paul Ryan, but the media-created mythical character.
Actually existing Ryan has always been a con man — someone playing the part of Serious, Honest Conservative, but never doing a very good job of it. His budgets were always fraudulent in obvious ways, full of trillion-dollar magic asterisks and spectacular evasions. But he has consistently been portrayed in news reports and analysis as an earnest policy wonk. Why?
The answer, surely, is that in the media narrative the two parties must, simply must, be symmetric; if there are serious policy wonks turning out responsible proposals on the Democratic side, there must be comparable people on the Republican side. So someone like “Paul Ryan”, the mythical creature, has to exist — and when Paul Ryan, the real politician, decided to play that character, nobody wanted to do the numbers and point out his obvious fakery.
So the Ryan phenomenon was part of the same willful blindness that caused most analysts to miss the Trump surge that was staring them in the faces.
And you know what has been really helpful for the few people who didn’t get it all wrong? Numbers. If you actually did the math on Ryan’s proposals, you saw that he was engaged in a con, which in turn told you a lot about the real state of the GOP — and that, combined with the polls and demographics, at least left you open to the possibility of a Trump nomination.
Of course, now everyone who got it all wrong is busy making up new narratives, equally ungrounded in evidence. Will nobody stop these heads from talking?
The first post yesterday was “Where Do Trump’s Bad Ideas Come From?”:
So everyone is having fun with Donald Trump’s suggestion that he’ll negotiate forgiveness on U.S. debt — making America great by running it like a failing Atlantic City casino. (By the way, I think I may have been one of the first to come up with that analogy, although probably many people did so independently.)
A number of people have also pointed out that willingness to trifle with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government didn’t start with Trump — it started with Republicans in the House, who casually tried to extort concessions by refusing to raise the debt limit.
But one thing I haven’t seen much discussion of is the question of why Trump imagines that we have a severe debt problem, requiring extraordinary measures. Here, after all, is what U.S. interest payments look like:
Congressional Budget Office
See the crisis? Neither do I.
But Trump, we can assume, doesn’t look at economic data, or for that matter employ anyone who can. Remember how unemployment is really 42 percent? What he does do is pick up stuff that everyone around him says.
And here’s the thing: claims that America is facing a debt crisis have been all over the political landscape for years, in defiance of both the actual debt service numbers and the verdict of the market, which wants to lend us money for almost nothing. Paul Ryan loved to talk about a “looming debt crisis“, requiring that we move immediately to privatize Medicare and, uh, cut taxes on the rich. Various heads of the Peterson hydra, like Fix the Debt, convinced much of the political elite that debt is the number one problem facing America.
So it’s not really surprising that Trump, who doesn’t know much about policy, would pick up on all this buzz, and not get the memo that it’s all really about finding excuses to slash social programs. And he knows, or thinks he knows, a lot about being overextended on credit; so let’s declare bankruptcy and make a deal!
The point is that this isn’t coming solely from the would-be ignoramus-in-chief; he’s channeling nonsense that took over a large part of supposedly serious policy discourse not long ago.
The second post yesterday was “Losing It (Personal and Trivial):”
Despite the political turmoil, Americans — or at least New York Times readers — are feeling pretty OK abut the state of the world. How can I tell? These days, our various digital metrics suggest that the articles readers care about most focus mainly on health and food, which is, let’s face it, the way things should be in normal times.
One particular flurry of very popular articles, here and elsewhere, has involved dieting/weight loss and the reasons it doesn’t work. Now, I have zero professional expertise in this area, nothing but personal experience. But for what it’s worth — which is very little — I wonder whether the despair here is overdone.
Again, this is just personal, and if you don’t want to know, well, nobody says you have to read this.
So yes, I’ve lost a lot of weight (which you can see comparing recent photos with a lot of the pictures around on the interwebs.) I’m not sure exactly how much I weighed when I started taking things in hand — I didn’t want to know — but I believe I’ve lost about 45 pounds, most of it in 2012-2013. And my Fitbit log says that my weight has been more or less flat since the beginning of 2014, with my waist shrinking further as I put on some muscle.
I did it with, surprise, a combination of diet and exercise: intermittent fasting, basically the 5-2 diet, working out almost every morning, and moving to New York, where it’s easy and natural to do a lot of walking. If my metabolism has declined, I can’t see it: on normal days I eat what I want and drink wine; I only do low-calorie days when my weight moves above target, and often that means something like once in two weeks.
Now, maybe it will all fall apart one of these days. And I can think of a couple of reasons I had it relatively easy: a flexible schedule that makes it easier to do workouts and lets me schedule fasting on days with less work pressure, not to mention urban living where I can walk most of the way to the office and do almost all my errands on foot.
Still, I’m really glad that I didn’t read a bunch of articles telling me to not even try, because the effort was doomed by biology.