Sorry for the hiatus — my computer was in the DOSpital. As time permits I’ll try to get caught up on what was missed.
Today Bobo has decided to tell us to “Let Bannon Be Bannon!” He contends that President Trump has abandoned Steve Bannon’s governing philosophy, and with it, the benefits the working class counted on. I wonder how much Bobo really knows about Bannon… He told The Daily Beast in 2014, “I’m a Leninist.” He elaborated: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” That’s a benefit for the working class? “Gemli” from Boston will have a word or two. Prof. Krugman considers “Conservative Fantasies, Colliding With Reality” and says government spending is full of pointless waste — until you try to cut it. Here’s Bobo:
I continue to worry about Steve Bannon. I see him in the White House photos, but he never has that sprightly Prince of Darkness gleam in his eye anymore.
His governing philosophy is being completely gutted by the mice around him. He seems to have a big influence on Trump speeches but zero influence on recent Trump policies. I’m beginning to fear that he’s spending his days sitting along the wall in the Roosevelt Room morosely playing one of those Risk-style global empire video games on his smartphone.
Back in the good old days — like two months ago — it was fun to watch Bannon operate. He was the guy with a coherent governing philosophy. He seemed to have realized that the two major party establishments had abandoned the working class. He also seemed to have realized that the 21st-century political debate is not big versus small government, it’s open versus closed.
Bannon had the opportunity to realign American politics around the social, cultural and economic concerns of the working class. Erect barriers to keep out aliens from abroad, and shift money from the rich to the working class to create economic security at home.
It was easy to see the Trump agenda that would flow from this philosophy: Close off trade and immigration. Fund a jobs-creating infrastructure program. Reverse the Republican desire to reform and reduce entitlements. Increase funding on all sorts of programs that benefit working-class voters in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Many of us wouldn’t have liked that agenda — the trade and immigration parts — but at least it would have helped the people who are being pummeled by this economy.
But Bannonesque populism is being abandoned. The infrastructure and jobs plan is being put off until next year (which is to say never). Meanwhile, the Trump administration has agreed with Paul Ryan’s crazy plan to do health care first.
Moths show greater resistance to flame than American politicians do to health care reform. And sure enough it’s become a poisonous morass for the entire party, and a complete distraction from the populist project.
Worse, the Ryan health care plan punishes the very people Trump and Bannon had vowed to help. It would raise premiums by as much as 25 percent on people between 50 and 64, one core of the Trump voter base. It would completely hammer working-class voters whose incomes put them just above the Medicaid threshold.
The Trump budget is an even more devastating assault on Bannon-style populism. It eliminates or cuts organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that are important to people from Tennessee and West Virginia up through Ohio and Michigan. It cuts job-training and road-building programs. It does almost nothing to help expand opportunity for the working class and almost everything to serve defense contractors and the national security state.
Why is Bannonism being abandoned? One possibility is that there just aren’t enough Trumpians in the world to staff an administration, so Trump and Bannon have filled their apparatus with old guard Republicans who continue to go about their jobs in old guard pseudo-libertarian ways.
The second possibility, raised by Rich Lowry in Politico, is that the Republican sweep of 2016 was won on separate tracks. Trump won on populism, but congressional Republicans won on the standard cut-government script. The congressional Republicans are better prepared, and so their plans are crowding out anything Bannon might have contemplated.
The third possibility is that Donald Trump doesn’t really care about domestic policy; he mostly cares about testosterone.
He wants to cut any part of government that may seem soft and nurturing, like poverty programs. He wants to cut any program that might seem emotional and airy-fairy, like the National Endowment for the Arts. He wants to cut any program that might seem smart and nerdy, like the National Institutes of Health.
But he wants to increase funding for every program that seems manly, hard, muscular and ripped, like the military and armed antiterrorism programs.
Indeed, the Trump budget looks less like a political philosophy and more like a sexual fantasy. It lavishes attention on every aspect of hard power and slashes away at anything that isn’t.
The Trump health care and budget plans will be harsh on the poor, which we expected. But they’ll also be harsh on the working class, which we didn’t.
We’re ending up with the worst of the new guard Trumpian populists and the old guard Republican libertarians. We’re building walls to close off the world while also shifting wealth from the poor to the rich.
When these two plans fail, which seems very likely, there’s going to be a holy war between the White House and Capitol Hill. I don’t have high hopes for what’s going to emerge from that war, but it would be nice if the people who voted for Trump got economic support, not punishment.
For that, there’s one immediate recipe: Unleash Steve Bannon!
Now here’s what “gemli” has to say about that:
“The president and the swamp dwellers who slithered in when Americans opened the door for this experiment in mom-and-apple-pie fascism have no workable governing philosophy. Running a country means caring about the people who live in it, and not about whether Arnold Schwarzenegger was a flop or how big the inauguration crowds were. Staffing key positions with crypto-clansmen, racists, billionaire banksters, Russian puppets and garden-variety idiots is unlikely to form a coherent, user-friendly administration.
Bannon isn’t being restrained by the president. He, the president and the calcified Congressional Republicans are being exactly who they are: malevolent frauds, con men and grifters who have no idea how to run a country, and who care less than a fig that the downtrodden will be trodden upon even harder.
In fact, the downtrodden who voted for the president and his stupid ideas might deserve to reap the bitter harvest of their actions. They need to realize that there are consequences to giving morons and thugs the keys to the White House. Expecting help from Bannon, Paul Ryan and the other Rush Limbaugh Republicans is absurd. They don’t help the needy. The needy are there to be pandered to and exploited. Sometimes the needy are needy because they lack discernment, and don’t know who’s actually trying to help them.
Whatever happens, the current administration should not be unleashed. They should be caged.”
Now here’s Prof. Krugman:
This week the Trump administration put out a budget blueprint — or more accurately, a “budget” blueprint. After all, real budgets detail where the money comes from and where it goes; this proclamation covers only around a third of federal spending, while saying nothing about revenues or projected deficits.
As the fiscal expert Stan Collender put it: “This is not a budget. It’s a Trump campaign press release masquerading as a government document.”
So what’s the point of the document? The administration presumably hopes that it will distract the public and the press from the ongoing debacle over health care. But it probably won’t. And in any case, this pseudo-budget embodies the same combination of meanspiritedness and fiscal fantasy that has turned the Republican effort to replace Obamacare into a train wreck.
Think for a minute about the vision of government and its role that the right has been peddling for decades.
In this vision, much if not most government spending is a complete waste, doing nobody any good. The same is true of government regulations. And to the extent to which spending does help anyone, it’s Those People — lazy, undeserving types who just so happen to be a bit, well, darker than Real Americans.
This was the kind of thinking — or, perhaps, “thinking” — that underlay President Trump’s promise to replace Obamacare with something “far less expensive and far better.” After all, it’s a government program, so he assumed that it must be full of waste that a tough leader like him could eliminate.
Strange to say, however, Republicans turn out to have no ideas about how to make the program cheaper other than eliminating health insurance for 24 million people (and making coverage worse, with higher out-of-pocket spending, for those who remain).
And basically the same story applies at a broader level. Consider federal spending as a whole: Outside defense it’s dominated by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — all programs that are crucial to tens of millions of Americans, many of them the white working-class voters who are the core of Trump support. Furthermore, most other government spending also serves purposes that are popular, important or (usually) both.
Given this reality, why are so many people opposed to “big government”?
Many have a distorted view of the numbers. For example, people have a vastly exaggerated view of how much we spend on foreign aid. Many also fail to connect their personal experience with public policy: Large numbers of Social Security and Medicare recipients believe that they make no use of any government social program.
Thanks to these misperceptions, carefully nurtured by right-wing media, politicians can often get away with running on promises of drastic spending cuts: Many, perhaps most voters don’t see how such cuts would affect their lives.
But what will happen if anti-big-government politicians find themselves in a position to put their agenda into practice? Voters will quickly get a lesson in what slashing spending really means — and they won’t be happy.
That’s basically the wall Obamacare repeal has just smashed into. And the same thing will happen if this Trump whatever-it-is turns into an actual budget.
Mr. Trump himself gives every indication of having no idea what the federal government does; his vaguely budget-like document isn’t much more than a roughly scribbled list of numbers, with no clear picture of what those numbers would mean. (In fairness, one could have said the same about Paul Ryan’s budgets in the past. In fact, I did.)
But the reality is that the proposed cuts would have ugly, highly visible effects. Zeroing out the Community Development Block Grant program may sound good if you have no idea what it does (which Mr. Trump surely doesn’t); eliminating Meals on Wheels, an immediate consequence, not so much. Nor would coal country, which voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump, like the consequences if he eliminates the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Wait, there’s more. Effectively disemboweling the Environmental Protection Agency may sound smart if you imagine that it’s just a bunch of meddling bureaucrats. But the public wants stronger, not weaker, environmental protection, and would not be pleased to see a sharp deterioration in air and water quality.
The point is that Mr. Trump’s attempt to change the subject away from his party’s health care quagmire isn’t going to work, and not just because this supposed budget literally isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. At a more fundamental level, it doesn’t even change the subject.
Republicans’ budget promises, like their health care promises, have been based on an essentially fraudulent picture of what’s really going on. And now the bill for these lies is coming due.