Blow and Krugman

In “Pause This Presidency!” Mr. Blow says the question of Russian interference is existential.  Prof. Krugman, in “A Party Not Ready to Govern,” says the G.O.P. quagmire isn’t just about Trump.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The American people must immediately demand a cessation of all consequential actions by this “president” until we can be assured that Russian efforts to hack our election, in a way that was clearly meant to help him and damage his opponent, did not also include collusion with or coverup by anyone involved in the Trump campaign and now administration.

This may sound extreme, but if the gathering fog of suspicion should yield an actual connection, it would be one of the most egregious assaults on our democracy ever. It would not only be unprecedented, it would be a profound wound to faith in our sovereignty.

Viewed through the serious lens of those epic implications, no action to put this presidency on pause is extreme. Rather, it is exceedingly prudent.

Some things must be done and some positions filled simply to keep the government operational. Absolute abrogation of administrative authority is infeasible and ill advised. But a bare minimum standard must be applied until we know more about what the current raft of investigations yield. Indeed, it may be that the current investigative apparatuses are insufficient and a special commission or special counsel is in order.

In any event, we can’t keep cruising along as if the unanswered question isn’t existential.

Americans must demand at least a momentary respite from — my preference would be a permanent termination of — Trump’s aggressive agenda to dramatically alter the social, economic and political contours of this country.

America deserves to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our president is legitimate before he issues a single new disruptive executive order.

America deserves to know that he is legitimate before he pursues a program to dismantle Obamacare.

America deserves to know that he is legitimate before he pushes through a budget that obscenely expands military spending while making dramatic cuts in other areas.

America deserves to know that he is legitimate before the Senate moves forward with confirmation hearings for his Supreme Court nominee.

Republicans pitched a fit when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the seat made open by the death of Antonin Scalia, falsely arguing that a president should not be allowed to fill a vacancy during the last year of his term. Well, it is not at all clear to me that this will not be the last year of Donald Trump’s term, should these investigations reveal something untoward between his regime and Russia.

We have known for some time that the Russians interfered in our election in an effort to favor Trump. What we are learning in recent weeks are the number of Trump advisers and administrative officials who had contact with the Russian ambassador before the election, the frequency of those contacts, and the attempts, at least by some, to conceal those contacts.

But we now know, according to reporting by The Washington Post, that Attorney General Jeff Sessions also met at least twice with the ambassador during the campaign — once at the Republican National Convention — and then lied about those contacts under oath during his confirmation hearings.

Then this weekend in a series of tweets Trump made a scandalous and completely unsubstantiated allegation that President Obama had “my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” in October of 2016. He said of his baseless charge, “This is McCarthyism!” and “This is Nixon/Watergate” and called Obama a “Bad (or sick) guy!”

This is absolutely outrageous. One of three things is true here: Obama, during the waning months of an eight-year term free of personal scandal, decided to maliciously and illegally tap the phones of the candidate all the polls at the time predicted would lose; a law enforcement agency was able to present evidence and convince a federal judge that someone or some group of people in Trump Tower were engaged in illegal activity; or this “president,” who has proven himself a pathological liar, is once again chasing conspiratorial windmills and seeking to detract and deflect from legitimate scandal. Any of these scenarios has the profoundest of consequences.

There is a helluva lot of smoke here for there to be no fire. Maybe all of these contacts with the Russians have some benign and believable explanation that escapes me at the moment. Maybe this is just the culmination of an extraordinary series of coincidences. Maybe.

I actually hope that’s true. The alternative explanation is nearly unfathomable in its ability to injure our democracy.

Whatever the case, we need answers before we simply pretend that there is some sort of political inertia pulling us forward and that the Trump agenda is an inevitable consequence of a suspect election.

No!

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last month found that a majority of Americans believe “Congress should investigate whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had contact with the Russian government in 2016.”

That’s important, but not enough. Until that investigation is completed, that same majority of Americans must put elected officials on notice that there will be a price to pay if they aid and abet Trump’s agenda before the truth is known.

We must all demand without equivocation: Pause this presidency!

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

According to Politico, a Trump confidante says that the man in the Oval Office — or more often at Mar-a-Lago — is “tired of everyone thinking his presidency is screwed up.” Pro tip: The best way to combat perceptions that you’re screwing up is, you know, to stop screwing up.

But he can’t, of course. And it’s not just a personal problem.

It goes without saying that Donald Trump is the least qualified individual, temperamentally or intellectually, ever installed in the White House. As he veers from wild accusations against President Obama to snide remarks about Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s doing a very good imitation of someone experiencing a personal breakdown — even though he has yet to confront a crisis not of his own making. Thanks, Comey.

But the broader Republican quagmire — the party’s failure so far to make significant progress toward any of its policy promises — isn’t just about Mr. Trump’s inadequacies. The whole party, it turns out, has been faking it for years. Its leaders’ rhetoric was empty; they have no idea how to turn their slogans into actual legislation, because they’ve never bothered to understand how anything important works.

Take the two lead items in the congressional G.O.P.’s agenda: undoing the Affordable Care Act and reforming corporate taxes. In each case Republicans seem utterly shocked to find themselves facing reality.

The story of Obamacare repeal would be funny if the health care — and, in many cases, the lives — of millions of Americans weren’t at stake.

First we had seven — seven! — years during which Republicans kept promising to offer an alternative to Obamacare any day now, but never did. Then came the months after the election, with more promises of details just around the corner.

Now there’s apparently a plan hidden somewhere in the Capitol basement. Why the secrecy? Because the Republicans have belatedly discovered what some of us tried to tell them all along: The only way to maintain coverage for the 20 million people who gained insurance thanks to Obamacare is with a plan that, surprise, looks a lot like Obamacare.

Sure enough, the new plan reportedly does look like a sort of half-baked version of the Affordable Care Act. Politically, it seems to embody the worst of both worlds: It’s enough like Obamacare to infuriate hard-line conservatives, but it weakens key aspects of the law enough to deprive millions of Americans — many of them white working-class voters who backed Donald Trump — of essential health care.

The idea, apparently, is to deal with these problems by passing the plan before anyone gets a chance to really see or think about what’s in it. Good luck with that.

Then there’s corporate tax reform — an issue where the plan being advanced by Paul Ryan, the House speaker, is actually not too bad, at least in principle. Even some Democratic-leaning economists support a shift to a “destination-based cash flow tax,” which is best thought of as a sales tax plus a payroll subsidy. (Trust me.)

But Mr. Ryan has failed spectacularly to make his case either to colleagues or to powerful interest groups. Why? As best I can tell, it’s because he himself doesn’t understand the point of the reform.

The case for the cash flow tax is quite technical; among other things, it would remove the incentives the current tax system creates for corporations to load up on debt and to engage in certain kinds of tax avoidance. But that’s not the kind of thing Republicans talk about — if anything, they’re in favor of tax avoidance, hence the Trump proposal to slash funding for the I.R.S.

No, in G.O.P. world, tax ideas always have to be presented as ways to remove the shackles from oppressed job creators. So Mr. Ryan has framed his proposal, basically falsely, as a measure to make American industry more competitive, focusing on the “border tax adjustment” which is part of the sales-tax component of the reform.

This misrepresentation seems, however, to be backfiring: it sounds like a Trumpist tariff, and has both conservatives and retailers like WalMart up in arms.

At this point, then, major Republican initiatives are bogged down for reasons that have nothing to do with the personality flaws of the tweeter in chief, and everything to do with the broader, more fundamental fecklessness of his party.

Does this mean that nothing substantive will happen on the policy front? Not necessarily. Republicans may decide to ram through a health plan that causes mass suffering, and hope to blame it on Mr. Obama. They may give up on anything resembling a principled tax reform, and just throw a few trillion dollars at rich people instead.

But whatever the eventual outcome, what we’re witnessing is what happens when a party that gave up hard thinking in favor of empty sloganeering ends up in charge of actual policy. And it’s not a pretty sight.

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