Blow and Krugman

In “The Hijacked American Presidency” Mr. Blow says a madman and his legislative minions are holding America hostage.  Prof. Krugman, in “Oh! What a Lovely Trade War!,” says hey, let’s do something stupid to please the base.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Every now and then we are going to have to do this: Step back from the daily onslaughts of insanity emanating from Donald Trump’s parasitic presidency and remind ourselves of the obscenity of it all, registering its magnitude in its full, devastating truth.

There is something insidious and corrosive about trying to evaluate the severity of every offense, trying to give each an individual grade on the scale of absurdity. Trump himself is the offense. Everything that springs from him, every person who supports him, every staffer who shields him, every legislator who defends him, is an offense. Every partisan who uses him — against all he or she has ever claimed to champion — to advance a political agenda and, in so doing, places party over country, is an offense.

We must remind ourselves that Trump’s very presence in the White House defiles it and the institution of the presidency. Rather than rising to the honor of the office, Trump has lowered the office with his whiny, fragile, vindictive pettiness.

The presidency has been hijacked.

Last week, when Donald Trump attacked two MSNBC hosts, people were aghast. The condemnation came quickly and from all quarters.

But his words shouldn’t have shocked. His tweet was just another pebble on a mountain of vulgarities. This act of coarseness was in fact an act of continuity. Trump was being Trump: the grossest of the gross, a profanity against propriety.

This latest episode is simply part of a body of work demonstrating the man’s utter contempt for decency. We all know what it will add up to: nothing.

Republicans have bound themselves up with Trump. His fate is their fate. They have surrendered any moral authority to which they once laid claim — rightly or not. If Trump goes down, they all do.

It’s all quite odd, this moral impotence, this cowering before the belligerent, would-be king. A madman and his legislative minions are holding America hostage.

There are no new words to express it; there is no new and novel way to catalog it. It is what it is and has been from day one: The most extraordinary and profound electoral mistake America has made in our lifetimes and possibly ever.

We must say without ceasing, and without growing weary by the redundancy, that what we are witnessing is not normal and cannot go unchallenged. We must reaffirm our commitment to resistance. We must always remember that although individual Americans made the choice to vote affirmatively for him or actively withhold their support from his opponent, those decisions were influenced, in ways we cannot calculate, by Russian interference in our election, designed to privilege Trump.

We must remember that we now have a president exerting power to which he may only have access because a foreign power hostile to our interests wanted him installed. We must remember that he has not only praised that foreign power, he has proven mysteriously averse to condemning it or even acknowledging its meddling.

We must remember that there are multiple investigations ongoing about the degree of that interference in our election — including a criminal investigation — and that those investigations are not constrained to collusion and are far from fake news. These investigations are deadly serious, are about protecting the integrity of our elections and the sovereignty of our country and are about a genuine quest for truth and desire for justice.

Every action by this administration is an effort to push forward the appearance of normality, to squelch scrutiny, to diminish the authority and credibility of the ongoing investigations.

Last week, after a growing list of states publicly refused to hand over sensitive voter information to Trump’s ironic and quixotic election integrity commission, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasted the pushback as a “political stunt.”

But in fact the commission itself is the political stunt. The committee is searching for an illegal voting problem that doesn’t exist. Trump simply lied when he said that he would have won the popular vote were it not for millions of illegal votes. And then he established this bogus commission — using taxpayer money — to search for a truth that doesn’t exist, to try to prove right a lie that he should never have told.

This commission is classic Trump projection: There is a real problem with the integrity of our last election because the Russians helped power his win, but rather than deal with that very real attack on this country, he is instead tilting at windmills concerning in-person voter fraud.

Last week, CNN reported:

“The Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Multiple senior administration officials said there are few signs the president is devoting his time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.”

Donald Trump is depending on people’s fatigue. He is banking on your becoming overwhelmed by his never-ending antics. He is counting on his capacity to wear down the resistance by sheer force.

We must be adamant that that will never come to pass. Trump is an abomination, and a cancer on the country, and none of us can rest until he is no longer holding the reins of power.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Remember when Donald Trump declared that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated”? It was a rare moment of self-awareness for the tweeter-in-chief: He may, briefly, have realized that he had no idea what he was doing.

Actually, though, health care isn’t all that complicated. And Republican “reform” plans are brutally simple — with the emphasis on “brutally.”

Trump may be the only person in Washington who doesn’t grasp their essence: Take health insurance away from tens of millions so you can give the rich a tax cut.

Some policy subjects, on the other hand, really are complicated. One of these subjects is international trade. And the great danger here isn’t simply that Trump doesn’t understand the issues. Worse, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

According to the news site Axios, Trump, supported by his inner circle of America Firsters, is “hell-bent” on imposing punitive tariffs on imports of steel and possibly other products, despite opposition from most of his cabinet. After all, claims that other countries are taking advantage of America were a central theme of his campaign.

And Axios reports that the White House believes that Trump’s base “likes the idea” of a trade war, and “will love the fight.”

Yep, that’s a great way to make policy.

O.K., so what’s complicated about trade policy?

First, a lot of modern trade is in intermediate goods — stuff that is used to make other stuff. A tariff on steel helps steel producers, but it hurts downstream steel consumers like the auto industry. So even the direct impact of protectionism on jobs is unclear.

Then there are the indirect effects, which mean that any job gains in an industry protected by tariffs must be compared with job losses elsewhere. Normally, in fact, trade and trade policy have little if any effect on total employment. They affect what kinds of jobs we have; but the total number, not so much.

Suppose that Trump were to impose tariffs on a wide range of goods — say, the 10 percent across-the-board tariff that was floated before he took office. This would directly benefit industries that compete with imports, but that’s not the end of the story.

Even if we ignore the damage to industries that use imported inputs, any direct job creation from new tariffs would be offset by indirect job destruction. The Federal Reserve, fearing inflationary pressure, would raise interest rates. This would squeeze sectors like housing; it would also strengthen the dollar, hurting U.S. exports.

Claims that protectionism would inevitably cause a recession are overblown, but there’s every reason to believe that these indirect effects would eliminate any net job creation.

Then there’s the response of other countries. International trade is governed by rules — rules America helped put in place. If we start breaking those rules, others will too, both in retaliation and in simple emulation. That’s what people mean when they talk about a trade war.

And it’s foolish to imagine that America would “win” such a war. For one thing, we are far from being a dominant superpower in world trade — the European Union is just as big a player, and capable of effective retaliation (as the Bush administration learned when it put tariffs on steel back in 2002). Anyway, trade isn’t about winning and losing: it generally makes both sides of the deal richer, and a trade war usually hurts all the countries involved.

I’m not making a purist case for free trade here. Rapid growth in globalization has hurt some American workers, and an import surge after 2000 disrupted industries and communities. But a Trumpist trade war would only exacerbate the damage, for a couple of reasons.

One is that globalization has already happened, and U.S. industries are now embedded in a web of international transactions. So a trade war would disrupt communities the same way that rising trade did in the past. There’s an old joke about a motorist who runs over a pedestrian, then tries to fix the damage by backing up — running over the victim a second time. Trumpist trade policy would be like that.

Also, the tariffs now being proposed would boost capital-intensive industries that employ relatively few workers per dollar of sales; these tariffs would, if anything, further tilt the distribution of income against labor.

So will Trump actually go through with this? He might. After all, he posed as a populist during the campaign, but his entire economic agenda so far has been standard Republican fare, rewarding corporations and the rich while hurting workers.

So the base might indeed like to see something that sounds more like the guy they thought they were voting for.

But Trump’s promises on trade, while unorthodox, were just as fraudulent as his promises on health care. In this area, as in, well, everything, he has no idea what he’s talking about. And his ignorance-based policy won’t end well.

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