Blow and Krugman

In “Satan in a Sunday Hat” Mr. Blow says the White House is a jungle of wild accusations, out-of-control egos and slithering strivers.  Prof. Krugman has a question: “Who Ate Republicans’ Brains?”  He outlines four decades of intellectual and moral deterioration.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump’s foul-mouthed, preening, narcissistic flack, Anthony Scaramucci, made a string of jaw-dropping statements last week — including accusing chief strategist Steve Bannon of using the president for rapacious self-aggrandizement, comparing this impulse in Bannon to autofellatio — but perhaps none were more telling and important than this statement on White House leaks Scaramucci made last week on CNN:

“There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president.”

There are countless Americans — among them the nearly 74 million American voters who voted for someone other than Trump in November, and likely an increasing number of those who did vote for him — who have taken it as their mission to save America from Trump.

But the idea that, in addition to liberals, progressives, resisters, and, oh, I don’t know, anyone with an inkling of patriotism, this desire to protect the country may well exist among some rock-ribbed Republicans and may in fact extend all the way to the corridors of the White House offers some solace.

Acknowledging this is by no means an act of exaltation or absolution. Quite the contrary: It illustrates these Republicans’ absolute depravity and ideological ambition. They know well that this man is unfit and ruinous, and yet they remain his parasitic henchmen. They are willing to use Trump for gain, and leaks for leverage.

They may love the country, but not enough. They may be loyal to Trump, but not enough. They may relish their newfound power, but that power is also not enough.

This White House is now a jungle of wild accusations, out-of-control egos, lurking bigotry, and slithering strivers: The grass outside the Oval Office is full of snakes, and the person inside that office is no better, maybe even worse. Watching them turn on one another, devour one another, in what has become a grotesque, animalistic spectacle of dysfunctions, might for some bring a perverse pleasure because it exposes Trump and his supposed managerial acumen as an abject fraud.

I am not one of those people.

I take no joy in it; I am utterly embarrassed by it. But I also know that this war of West Wing rivals serves a beneficial purpose of distracting Trump from his disastrous agenda, undermining his efforts at obfuscation and outright lying, and casting sunlight on the scheming that Trump would like to keep hidden from the media truth-tellers he tries to defame and discredit.

These leakers — whether they are people who are angling to harm a White House adversary and thereby increase their positions on this totem of travesties, or actual moles animated by a sense of civic morality — have exposed this administration as a marauding band of incompetent, unprincipled, self-mutilating posers.

You can’t transform mountebanks into menschen. Character is like concrete: You can make an impression when it’s freshly poured, in its youth, one could say, but when it sets, it’s impervious to alteration. Trump has always been vile, dishonorable and dishonest. That hasn’t changed even when draped by the history, majesty and pageantry of the presidency.

The leakers continue to reveal this fact and Trump’s fraudulence, something that has sent mini-Trump Scaramucci into a fit of pique. This is why Scaramucci said in his profanity-laced interview with The New Yorker: “What I want to do is I want to fucking kill all the leakers and I want to get the president’s agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people.”

But there seemed to be one target in particular of Scaramucci’s bloodlust: Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

In that same New Yorker interview, Scaramucci said of Priebus, “Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.” The reporter, Ryan Lizza, also wrote that Scaramucci said that Priebus will “be asked to resign very shortly.”

On Thursday on CNN’s New Day,” Scaramucci compared his relationship with Priebus to that of infamous biblical brothers: “Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along. I don’t know if this is repairable or not. That will be up to the president.”

For the record, in the religious text Cain lures Abel into a field and kills him.

On Friday, as Scaramucci had foretold, Priebus was driven out as chief of staff. The accursed Cain wins again.

It is clear that Scaramucci is trying to create a work environment of terror and timidity in which no one will talk to reporters without fear of extreme retribution. Whatever little trust had survived among the White House staff has been trampled by Scaramucci’s arrival.

He is Trump’s mercenary, looking to pile up bodies on the White House funeral pyre. For Scaramucci, this is all about access, power and, oh yes, money. The only thing Scaramucci seems to care more about than what he makes is how people look — he oddly keeps making hair and makeup jokes, and he once asked, inappropriately and apropos of nothing, a female interviewer from New York magazine, “How old are you?” He continued: “You look good. No lines on your face. What are you, a Sagittarius?”

No, Mooch, she’s a professional, and the sign is “stop.” This man is what we used to call a “Satan in a Sunday hat.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

When the tweeter-in-chief castigated Senate Republicans as “total quitters” for failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, they showed zombie-like relentlessness in their determination to take health care away from millions of Americans, shambling forward despite devastating analyses by the Congressional Budget Office, denunciations of their plans by every major medical group, and overwhelming public disapproval.

Put it this way: Senator Lindsey Graham was entirely correct when he described the final effort at repeal as “terrible policy and horrible politics,” a “disaster” and a “fraud.” He voted for it anyway — and so did 48 of his colleagues.

So where did this zombie horde come from? Who ate Republicans’ brains?

As many people have pointed out, when it came to health care Republicans were basically caught in their own web of lies. They fought against the idea of universal coverage, then denounced the Affordable Care Act for failing to cover enough people; they made “skin in the game,” i.e., high out-of-pocket costs, the centerpiece of their health care ideology, then denounced the act for high deductibles. When they finally got their chance at repeal, the contrast between what they had promised and their actual proposals produced widespread and justified public revulsion.

But the stark dishonesty of the Republican jihad against Obamacare itself demands an explanation. For it went well beyond normal political spin: for seven years a whole party kept insisting that black was white and up was down.

And that kind of behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere. The Republican health care debacle was the culmination of a process of intellectual and moral deterioration that began four decades ago, at the very dawn of modern movement conservatism — that is, during the very era anti-Trump conservatives now point to as the golden age of conservative thought.

A key moment came in the 1970s, when Irving Kristol, the godfather of neoconservatism, embraced supply-side economics — the claim, refuted by all available evidence and experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting economic growth. Writing years later, he actually boasted about valuing political expediency over intellectual integrity: “I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities.” In another essay, he cheerfully conceded to having had a “cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit,” because it was all about creating a Republican majority — so “political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.”

The problem is that once you accept the principle that it’s O.K. to lie if it helps you win elections, it gets ever harder to limit the extent of the lying — or even to remember what it’s like to seek the truth.

The right’s intellectual and moral collapse didn’t happen all at once. For a while, conservatives still tried to grapple with real problems. In 1989, for example, The Heritage Foundation offered a health care plan strongly resembling Obamacare. That same year, George H. W. Bush proposed a cap-and-trade system to control acid rain, a proposal that eventually became law.

But looking back, it’s easy to see the rot spreading. Compared with Donald Trump, the elder Bush looks like a paragon — but his administration lied relentlessly about rising inequality. His son’s administration lied consistently about its tax cuts, pretending that they were targeted on the middle class, and — in case you’ve forgotten — took us to war on false pretenses.

And almost the entire G.O.P. either endorsed or refused to condemn the “death panels” slander against Obamacare.

Given this history, the Republican health care disaster was entirely predictable. You can’t expect good or even coherent policy proposals from a party that has spent decades embracing politically useful lies and denigrating expertise.

And let’s be clear: we’re talking about Republicans here, not the “political system.”

Democrats aren’t above cutting a few intellectual corners in pursuit of electoral advantage. But the Obama administration was, when all is said and done, remarkably clearheaded and honest about its policies. In particular, it was always clear what the A.C.A. was supposed to do and how it was supposed to do it — and it has, for the most part, worked as advertised.

Now what? Maybe, just maybe, Republicans will work with Democrats to make the health system work better — after all, polls suggest that voters will, rightly, blame them for any future problems. But it wouldn’t be easy for them to face reality even if their president wasn’t a bloviating bully.

And it’s hard to imagine anything good happening on other policy fronts, either. Republicans have spent decades losing their ability to think straight, and they’re not going to get it back anytime soon.


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