Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Blow and Krugman

May 29, 2017

In “Donald Trump; The Gateway Degenerate” Mr. Blow says Republicans in the age of Trump have sadly moved away from morality as a viable concept.  Prof. Krugman, in “Trump’s Energy, Low and Dirty,” says the administration is risking the planet to keep a lie alive.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, when voters in Montana elected Greg Gianforte to fill the state’s lone seat in the House of Representatives, even after he was recorded in a physical altercation with a reporter, many Americans — like me — were left to look on in astonished bewilderment.

There was an audio recording of the altercation. The reporter, Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, says Gianforte body-slammed him while he was simply doing his job, asking questions on the eve of the election. Gianforte’s camp issued a bogus statement basically blaming Jacobs for the incident, but that statement was not at all backed up by the audio.

There were witnesses. A Fox News crew was there, and as Fox’s Alicia Acuna wrote of the altercation:

“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’ ”

She added: “To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”

In a statement, the local sheriff’s department “determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault.” Gianforte has to appear in court June 7 to answer the charge.

And yet, as The New York Times reported, “Voters here shrugged off the episode and handed Republicans a convincing victory.”

Three of the largest daily papers in Montana were aghast and withdrew their endorsements of Gianforte. But Republicans in Congress didn’t possess that courage of conviction. Their collective response essentially amounted to, “Eh.”

Other notably notorious Republicans went further. Babbling Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center wrote on Twitter:

“Jacobs is an obnoxious, dishonest first class jerk. I’m not surprised he got smacked.”

Interestingly enough, Bozell commented on Fox about Donald Trump’s hostile relationship to the media, saying: “What Donald Trump is saying is, ‘If you hit me unfairly, I’m going to knock your teeth out.’ And that’s what he’s been doing.”

This rhetoric is overheated, violent and dangerous.

The detestable radio host Laura Ingraham wrote in a couple of Twitter posts:

“Politicians always need to keep their cool. But what would most Montana men do if ‘body slammed’ for no reason by another man?”

And: “Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today and then run to tell the recess monitor?”

Outrageous. Assault is not a game. It’s not a joke. It’s criminal. Any moral person would know better than to treat it so cavalierly. A moral person wouldn’t make a joke; that person would take a stand.

But Republicans in the age of Trump have sadly moved away from morality as a viable concept.

Yes, Gianforte’s assault is a glaring display of toxic masculinity in an environment made particularly toxic by the man in the White House and his media bullying. But more telling and more ominous is the degree to which Republicans no longer seem to care, and their increasing ability to compartmentalize and justify.

This is all an outgrowth of Trump’s degradation of common decency. Trump was the gateway candidate. When Republicans allowed themselves to accept and support him in spite of his glaring flaws and his life lived in opposition to the values they once professed and insisted upon, they moved themselves into another moral realm in which literally nothing was beyond the pale.

It is a sort of by-any-means-necessary, no-sin-is-too-grave, all-facts-are-fungible space in the moral universe where the rules of basic human decency warp.

The moment that they allowed themselves to vote for a man who bragged on tape about assaulting women, appeared in at least two pornos, and once joked about dating his own daughter, they surrendered the mantle of morality.

When they allowed themselves to vote for a man who insulted Mexicans and Muslims, who mocked a disabled reporter, who called for executing the Central Park Five and who had “a long history of racial bias at his family’s properties, in New York and beyond,” according to an extensive report by The Times, Republicans surrendered the mantle of morality.

Republicans sold their souls to this devil and now are forced to defend as right what they know full well is wrong. They must defend his incessant lying, clear incompetence and dubious dealings. What was once sacrilege among Republicans is now sacrosanct.

It is in that context that Gianforte could be charged with assault and Republicans would pat him on the back instead of rapping him on the knuckles.

Republicans, blinded by fear and rage, thirsty for power, desperate for a reclamation and reassertion of racial power, have cast their lot with the great deceiver and all their previous deal-breakers are now negotiable.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump has two false beliefs about energy, one personal, one political. And the latter may send the world on a path to disaster.

On the personal side, Trump reportedly disdains exercise of any kind except golf. He believes that raising a sweat depletes the finite reserves of precious bodily fluids, I mean energy, that a person is born with, and should therefore be avoided.

Many years of acting on this belief may or may not explain the weird and embarrassing scene at the G-7 summit in Taormina, in which six of the advanced world’s leaders strolled together a few hundred yards through the historic city, but Trump followed behind, driven in an electric golf cart.

More consequential, however, is Trump’s false belief that lifting environmental restrictions — ending the supposed “war on coal” — will bring back the days when the coal-mining industry employed hundreds of thousands of blue-collar Americans.

How do we know that this belief is false? For one thing, coal employment began falling long before anyone was talking much about the environment, let alone global warming. In fact, coal jobs fell by two-thirds between 1948 and 1970, the year the Environmental Protection Agency was founded. This happened despite rising, not falling, coal production, mainly reflecting the replacement of old-fashioned pick-and-shovel mining with strip-mining and mountaintop removal, which require many fewer workers.

It’s true that in the past few years coal production has finally begun to fall, in part due to environmental rules. Mainly, however, coal is fading because of progress in other technologies. As one analyst put it last week, coal “doesn’t really make that much sense anymore as a feedstock,” given the rapidly falling costs of cleaner energy sources like natural gas, wind and solar power.

Who was that analyst? Gary Cohn, chairman of the National Economic Council — that is, Trump’s own chief economist. One wonders, however, whether he’s expressed those views — which pretty much represent the consensus among energy experts — to the president.

There was a time, not that long ago, when advocating clean energy was widely considered an impractical, counterculture sort of thing. Hippies on communes might talk about peace, love and solar energy; practical people knew that prosperity was all about digging stuff up and burning it. These days, however, those who take energy policy seriously see a future that belongs largely to renewables — and definitely not a future in which we keep burning lots of coal, let alone employ a lot of people digging it up.

Brooks and Krugman

May 26, 2017

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “The Four American Narratives.”  He moans that we’re suffering through a national identity crisis.  There will be a reply from “Dana” in Santa Monica.  In “It’s All About Trump’s Contempt” Prof. Krugman says his budget and health plan show he despises his voters. Will they notice?  Here’s Bobo:

America has always been a divided, sprawling country, but for most of its history it was held together by a unifying national story. As I noted a couple of months ago, it was an Exodus story. It was the story of leaving the oppressions of the Old World, venturing into a wilderness and creating a new promised land. In this story, America was the fulfillment of human history, the last best hope of earth.

That story rested upon an amazing level of national self-confidence. It was an explicitly Judeo-Christian story, built on a certain view of God’s providential plan.

But that civic mythology no longer unifies. American confidence is in tatters and we live in a secular culture. As a result, we’re suffering through a national identity crisis. Different groups see themselves living out different national stories and often feel they are living in different nations.

In a superbly clarifying speech to the think tank New America, the writer George Packer recently argued that there are four rival narratives in America today.

First, there is the libertarian narrative that dominates the G.O.P. America is a land of free individuals responsible for their own fate. This story celebrates the dynamism of the free market. Its prime value is freedom. Packer wrote that “the libertarian idea in its current shape regards Americans as consumers, entrepreneurs, workers, taxpayers — indeed everything except citizens.”

Second, there is the narrative of globalized America. This is the narrative dominant in Silicon Valley and beyond. “We’re all lifelong learners and work for the start-up of you, and a more open and connected world is always a better world.” This story “comes with an exhilarating ideology of flattening hierarchies, disrupting systems, discarding old elites and empowering individuals.”

But in real life when you disrupt old structures you end up concentrating power in fewer hands. This narrative works out well for people who went to Stanford, but not so well for most others.

Third, there is the story of multicultural America. “It sees Americans as members of groups, whose status is largely determined by the sins of the past and present,” Packer observed. “During the Obama years it became a largely unexamined dogma among cultural elites.”

The multicultural narrative dominates America’s classrooms, from elementary school through university: “It makes the products of these educations — the students — less able or less willing to think in terms larger than their own identity group — a kind of intellectual narcissism — which means they can’t find common ground or effective arguments that can reach people of different backgrounds and views.”

As Packer noted, it values inclusion but doesn’t answer the question, Included into what? What is the national identity all these subgroups add up into?

Finally, there is the narrative of America First, the narrative Donald Trump told last year, and which resonated with many voters. “America First is the conviction that the country has lost its traditional identity because of contamination and weakness — the contamination of others, foreigners, immigrants, Muslims; the weakness of elites who have no allegiance to the country because they’ve been globalized.”

This story is backward-looking and pessimistic. In practice, Packer concluded, “This narrative has contempt for democratic norms and liberal values, and it has an autocratic character. It personalizes power, routinizes corruption and destabilizes the very idea of objective truth.”

Personally, I don’t think any of these narratives is a viable basis for successful governance in the 21st century. I’ve just read Michael Lind’s fascinating essay “The New Class War” in American Affairs, and under its influence I’d say the future of American politics will be a competition between two other stories, which are sort of descended from the existing four.

The first is the mercantilist model, which sees America not as the culmination of history but as one major power in competition with rival powers, like China, Russia, Europe and so on. In this, to be American is to be a member of the tribe, and the ideal American is the burly protector of his tribe.

America’s government and corporations should work closely together to “protect our jobs” and beat back rival powers. Immigration and trade should be closely controlled and foreign entanglements reduced. America’s elites would have an incentive to share wealth with America’s workers because they need them to fight off their common foes.

The second is the talented community. This story sees America as history’s greatest laboratory for the cultivation of human abilities. This model welcomes diversity, meritocracy, immigration and open trade for all the dynamism these things unleash. But this model also invests massively in human capital, especially the young and those who suffer from the downsides of creative destruction.

In this community, the poor boy and girl are enmeshed in care and cultivation. Everything is designed to arouse energy and propel social mobility.

The mercantilist model sees America as a new Rome, a mighty fortress in a dangerous world. The talented community sees America as a new Athens, a creative crossroads leading an open and fundamentally harmonious world. It’s an Exodus story for an information age.

What a yoooge crock…  Here’s what “Dana” has to say:

“Our secular culture is to blame? What a dangerous and disingenuous joke. If our society is so secular why can women not go and get an abortion in whatever city they live? Why are there battles over access to contraception? And as for this bogus “elite” narrative. I didn’t go to Stanford, I am a member of an “identity group” and I assure you I can see past my own group’s interest. I want health care for all, a livable minimum wage, job security, free or sliding scale public university – and a whole host of things that benefit all Americans and not those just like me. I also am not religious and don’t quote scripture like the new congressman from Montana – and yet I know it’s wrong to punch journalists and even worse to lie about what you had done. Yet – how interesting that all the self proclaimed “Christians” are the ones excusing, rationalizing and justifying white thuggery these days. The real downfall of America will be the loss of civility of the masses – thanks to a weaponized and well funded campaign of ignorance and hatred that the Koch brothers and their minions have sold to America the past forty years.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

For journalists covering domestic policy, this past week poses some hard choices. Should we focus on the Trump budget’s fraudulence — not only does it invoke $2 trillion in phony savings, it counts them twice — or on its cruelty? Or should we talk instead about the Congressional Budget Office assessment of Trumpcare, which would be devastating for older, poorer and sicker Americans?

There is, however, a unifying theme to all these developments. And that theme is contempt — Donald Trump’s contempt for the voters who put him in office.

You may recall Trump’s remark during the campaign that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Well, he hasn’t done that, at least so far. He is, however, betting that he can break every promise he made to the working-class voters who put him over the top, and still keep their support. Can he win that bet?

When it comes to phony budget math — remember his claims that he would pay off the national debt? — he probably can. We’re not talking about anything subtle here; we’re talking about a budget that promises to “abolish the death tax,” then counts $330 billion in estate tax receipts in its rosy forecast. But even I don’t expect to see this kind of fraud get much political traction.

The bigger question is whether someone who ran as a populist, who promised not to cut Social Security or Medicaid, who assured voters that everyone would have health insurance, can keep his working-class support while pursuing an agenda so anti-populist it takes your breath away.

To make this concrete, let’s talk about West Virginia, which went Trump by more than 40 percentage points, topped only by Wyoming. What did West Virginians think they were voting for?

They are, after all, residents of a poor state that benefits immensely from federal programs: 29 percent of the population is on Medicaid, almost 19 percent on food stamps. The expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare is the main reason the percentage of West Virginians without health insurance has halved since 2013.

Beyond that, more than 4 percent of the population, the highest share in the nation, receives Social Security disability payments, partly because of the legacy of unhealthy working conditions, partly because a high fraction of the population consists of people who suffer from chronic diseases, like diabetics — whom Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, thinks we shouldn’t take care of because it’s their own fault for eating poorly.

And just to be clear, we’re talking about white people here: At 93 percent white, West Virginia is one of the most minority- and immigrant-free states in America.

So what did the state’s residents think they were voting for? Partly, presumably, they supported Trump because he promised — falsely, of course — that he could bring back the well-paying coal-mining jobs of yore.

But they also believed that he was a different kind of Republican. Maybe he would take benefits away from Those People, but he would protect the programs white working-class voters, in West Virginia and elsewhere, depend on.

What they got instead was the mother of all sucker punches.

Trumpcare, the budget office tells us, would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance, largely through cuts to Medicaid — remember, the program that benefits almost a third of West Virginians. It would also lead to soaring premiums — we’re talking increases on the order of 800 percent — for older Americans whose incomes are low but not low enough to qualify for Medicaid. That describes a lot of Trump voters. Then we need to add in the Trump budget, which calls for further drastic cuts in Medicaid, plus large cuts in food stamps and in disability payments.

What would happen to West Virginia if all these Trump policies went into effect? Basically, it would be apocalyptic: Hundreds of thousands would lose health insurance; medical debt and untreated conditions would surge; and there would be an explosion in extreme poverty, including a lot of outright hunger.

Oh, and it’s not just about crucial benefits, it’s also about jobs. Coal isn’t coming back; these days, West Virginia’s biggest source of employment is health care and social assistance. How many of those jobs would survive savage cuts in Medicaid and disability benefits?

Now, to be fair, the Trump budget would protect West Virginians from the ravages of the estate tax, which affects around 20 — that’s right, 20 — of the state’s residents each year.

So many of the people who voted for Donald Trump were the victims of an epic scam by a man who has built his life around scamming. In the case of West Virginians, this scam could end up pretty much destroying their state.

Will they ever realize this, and admit it to themselves? More important, will they be prepared to punish him the only way they can — by voting for Democrats?

But… but… but…  That wouldn’t piss off the libruls.

Blow and Krugman

May 22, 2017

In “Blood in the Water” Mr. Blow says it doesn’t seem possible that Mike Pence knew nothing.  In “The Unfreeing of the American Worker” Prof. Krugman says we are creeping along the real road to serfdom.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has left the country for his first foreign trip as president and what he has left behind is a brewing crisis that appears to deepen by the day, and even the hour.

There is a sense that blood is in the water, that Trump’s erratic, self-destructive behavior, aversion to honesty and authoritarian desire for absolute control may in some way, at some point, lead to his undoing and that the pace of that undoing is quickening.

Last week Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein took the extraordinary step of naming former F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

This was a significant ratcheting up. This is a criminal inquiry, by an independent operator who is well respected. The investigation is now largely insulated from politics. This investigation must now run its course, whether that takes months or years, and go wherever the facts may lead.

But that has not stopped Trump from whining in a tweet, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” and saying during a commencement address:

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Not only is this a laughable assertion that could only be uttered by someone who isn’t a student of history or a reader of books, but it also resurfaces one of Trump’s most vexatious qualities: perpetual wallowing in self-victimization and the shedding of his own tears for a spurious suffering that only exists in the muddle of his mind.

Grow up! Just correction is not jaundiced crucifixion. Any hell you’re in is a hell you made. You are the author of your own demise. You are not being unfairly targeted; instead your above-the-rules, beyond-the-law sense of privilege is being tested and found insufficient. It will not immunize you against truth and justice.

There are very serious questions here, ones that include but are not limited to collusion. They also now include the possibility of treason, obstruction of justice and making false statements.

It is increasingly clear that there is more to know than we now know.

There is more to know about former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn’s activities, and who knew what about those activities and when. There is more to know about the president’s interactions with James Comey and the reason for Comey’s firing. There is more to know about the true extent of contact between Trump associates and the Russians.

Did the president have inappropriate conversations with Comey, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in an effort to exculpate himself and mitigate inquiries about Flynn?

Trump’s and Comey’s accounts, at least as they are being reported, conflict on these counts. One of these men is lying. And while I am no fan of Comey — his buzzer-beating hijinks with Hillary’s email just before the election helped hand this country over to Trump and his cabal of corruption — I am more prone to believe him than Trump, a proven, pathological liar.

The crisis isn’t limited only to Trump.

Did Vice President Mike Pence not know that Flynn was under investigation by the F.B.I. for lobbying on behalf of Turkey until “March, upon first hearing the news”? How can that be when, as The New York Times reported last week, Flynn “told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.” Pence led the transition team.

How can Pence claim ignorance when Representative Elijah E. Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Pence a letter on Nov. 18, explicitly spelling out:

“Lt. Gen. Flynn’s General Counsel and Principal, Robert Kelley, confirmed that they were hired by a foreign company to lobby for Turkish interests, stating: ‘They want to keep posted on what we all want to be informed of: the present situation, the transition between President Obama and President-Elect Trump.’ When asked whether the firm had been hired because of Lt. Gen. Flynn’s close ties to President-elect Trump, Mr. Kelley responded, ‘I hope so.’ ”

It isn’t possible Pence knew nothing. I believe Pence is a liar like his boss.

We knew that Pence was a liar when during the vice-presidential debate he repeatedly claimed that Trump had not in fact said things that he was recorded on television saying.

The only difference between the two is delivery. Trump is bombastic and abrasive with his lies. Pence cleverly delivers his with earnestness and solemnity. But a lie is a lie.

The whole White House crew must be fully investigated and held to account. It is time for justice to be served and honor restored. The dishonest must be dislodged.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

American conservatives love to talk about freedom. Milton Friedman’s famous pro-capitalist book and TV series were titled “Free to Choose.” And the hard-liners in the House pushing for a complete dismantling of Obamacare call themselves the Freedom Caucus.

Well, why not? After all, America is an open society, in which everyone is free to make his or her own choices about where to work and how to live.

Everyone, that is, except the 30 million workers now covered by noncompete agreements, who may find themselves all but unemployable if they quit their current jobs; the 52 million Americans with pre-existing conditions who will be effectively unable to buy individual health insurance, and hence stuck with their current employers, if the Freedom Caucus gets its way; and the millions of Americans burdened down by heavy student and other debt.

The reality is that Americans, especially American workers, don’t feel all that free. The Gallup World Survey asks residents of many countries whether they feel that they have “freedom to make life choices”; the U.S. doesn’t come out looking too good, especially compared with the high freedom grades of European nations with strong social safety nets.

And you can make a strong case that we’re getting less free as time goes by.

Let’s talk first about those noncompete agreements, which were recently the subject of a stunning article in The Times (the latest in a series), plus a report from the Obama administration pushing for limits to the practice.

Noncompete agreements were originally supposed to be about protecting trade secrets, and therefore helping to promote innovation and investment in job training. Suppose that a company trying to build a better mousetrap hires a new mousetrap engineer. Her employment contract might very well include a clause preventing her from leaving a few months later for a job with a rival pest-control firm, since she could be taking crucial in-house information with her. And that’s perfectly reasonable.

At this point, however, almost one in five American employees is subject to some kind of noncompete clause. There can’t be that many workers in possession of valuable trade secrets, especially when many of these workers are in relatively low-paying jobs. For example, one prominent case involved Jimmy John’s, a sandwich chain, basically trying to ban its former franchisees from working for other sandwich makers.

Furthermore, the terms of the clauses are often defined ridiculously widely. It’s as if our hypothetical mousetrap engineer were prohibited from seeking employment with any other manufacturing firm, or in any occupation that makes use of her engineering skills.

At this point, in other words, noncompete clauses are in many cases less about protecting trade secrets than they are about tying workers to their current employers, unable to bargain for better wages or quit to take better jobs.

This shouldn’t be happening in America, and to be fair some politicians in both parties have been speaking up about the need for change (although few expect the Trump administration to follow up on the Obama administration’s reform push). But there’s another aspect of declining worker freedom that is very much a partisan issue: health care.

Until 2014, there was basically only one way Americans under 65 with pre-existing conditions could get health insurance: by finding an employer willing to offer coverage. Some employers were in fact willing to do so. Why? Because there were major tax advantages — premiums aren’t counted as taxable income — but to get those advantages employer plans must offer the same coverage to every employee, regardless of medical history.

But what if you wanted to change jobs, or start your own business? Too bad: you were basically stuck (and I knew quite a few people in that position).

Then Obamacare went into effect, guaranteeing affordable care even to those with pre-existing medical conditions. This was a hugely liberating change for millions. Even if you didn’t immediately take advantage of the new program to strike out on your own, the fact was that now you could.

But maybe not for much longer. Trumpcare — the American Health Care Act — would drastically reduce protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. And even if that bill never becomes law, the Trump administration is effectively sabotaging individual insurance markets, so that in many cases Americans who lose employer coverage will have no place to turn — which will in turn tie those who do have such coverage to their current employers.

You might say, with only a bit of hyperbole, that workers in America, supposedly the land of the free, are actually creeping along the road to serfdom, yoked to corporate employers the way Russian peasants were once tied to their masters’ land. And the people pushing them down that road are the very people who cry “freedom” the loudest.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

May 19, 2017

Bobo has a question in “The Trump Administration Talent Vacuum:”  Would you go to work for this president?  No, Bobo.  I might, however, go TO work on him if I could find my 9 iron.  Mr. Cohen, in “L’État C’est Trump!,” says many of the president’s actions have been right out of Despotism 101. But the law is catching up with him.  We can but pray, Roger.  Prof. Krugman asks “What’s the Matter With Republicans?” and says we need to understand what made Trump possible.  Here’s Bobo:

After an eruption, volcanoes sometimes collapse at the center. The magma chamber empties out and the volcano falls in on itself, leaving a caldera and a fractured ring of stone around the void, covered by deadening ash.

That’s about the shape of Washington after the last stunning fortnight. The White House at the center just collapsed in on itself and the nation’s policy apparatus is covered in ash.

I don’t say that because I think the Comey-Russia scandal will necessarily lead to impeachment. I have no idea where the investigations will go.

I say it because White Houses, like all organizations, run on talent, and the Trump White House has just become a Human Resources disaster area.

We have seen White Houses engulfed by scandal before. But we have never seen a White House implode before it had the time to staff up. The Nixon, Reagan and Clinton White Houses had hired quality teams by the time their scandals came. They could continue to function, sort of, even when engulfed.

The Trump administration, on the other hand, has hundreds of senior and midlevel positions to fill, and few people of quality or experience are going to want to take them.

Few people of any quality or experience are going to want to join a team that is already toxic. Nobody is going to want to become the next H. R. McMaster, a formerly respected figure who is now permanently tainted because he threw his lot in with Donald Trump. Nobody is going to want to join a self-cannibalizing piranha squad whose main activity is lawyering up.

That means even if the Trump presidency survives, it will be staffed by the sort of C- and D-List flora and fauna who will make more mistakes, commit more scandals and lead to more dysfunction.

Running a White House is insanely hard. It requires a few thousand extremely smart and savvy people who are willing to work crazy hours and strain their family lives because they fundamentally believe in the mission and because they truly admire the president.

Even on its best early days, the Trump White House never had that.

Trump was able to recruit some talented people, mostly on the foreign policy side, but organizational cultures are set from the top, and a culture of selfishness has always marked this administration.

Even before Inauguration Day, the level of leaking out of this White House was unprecedented, as officials sought to curry favor with the press corps and as factions vied with one another.

But over the past 10 days the atmosphere has become extraordinary. Senior members of the White House staff have trained their sights on the man they serve. Every day now there are stories in The Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere in which unnamed White House officials express disdain, exasperation, anger and disrespect for their boss.

As the British say, the staff is jumping ship so fast they are leaving the rats gaping and applauding.

Trump, for his part, is resentfully returning fire, blaming his underlings for his own mistakes, complaining that McMaster is a pain, speculating about firing and demoting people. This is a White House in which the internal nickname for the chief of staff is Rancid.

The organizational culture is about to get worse. People who have served in administrations under investigation speak eloquently about how miserable it is. You never know which of your friends is about to rat you out. No personal communication is really secure. You never know which of your colleagues is going to break ranks and write the tell-all memoir, and you think that maybe it should be you.

Even people not involved in the original scandal can find themselves caught up in the maelstrom and see their careers ruined. Legal costs soar. The investigations can veer off in wildly unexpected directions, so no White House nook or cranny is safe.

As current staff leaves or gets pushed out, look for Trump to try to fill the jobs with business colleagues who also have no experience in government. It’s striking that the only person who this week seems excited to take a Trump administration job is Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, who made his name as a TV performance artist calling the Black Lives Matter movement “black slime,” and who now claims he has been hired to serve in the Department of Homeland Security.

Congressional Republicans seem to think they can carry on and legislate despite the scandal, but since 1933 we have no record of significant legislation without strong presidential leadership. Members of this Congress are not going to be judged by where they set the corporate tax rate. They will be defined by where they stood on Donald Trump’s threat to civic integrity. That issue is bound to overshadow all else.

The implosion at the center is going to affect everything around it. The Trump administration may survive politically, but any hopes that it will become an effective governing organization are dashed.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Louis XIV of France summed up his view of power with the phrase “L’État, c’est moi,” or “I am the State.” Donald Trump became president four months ago with roughly the same idea. In the Trump universe, he had been judge, jury and executioner. He saw no reason why that would change.

Trump had no knowledge of, or interest in, the checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution. Circumscribed power was for losers, a category of humanity for which he reserves his greatest disdain. Just this week, after passing along classified information about the Islamic State to Russia, and so jeopardizing an ally’s intelligence asset, Trump tweeted that he had the “absolute right” to do so.

Absolutism is Trump’s thing. He’s installed his family in senior White House posts where influence and business intersect. His aides are terrified. His press secretary hides “among the bushes.” The family knows everything; nobody else knows anything. He demanded loyalty of the F.B.I. director he subsequently fired for lèse-majesté. All this is right out of Despotism 101.

Absolutism is not, however, America’s thing. In fact it is what the United States was created to escape from. The Declaration of Independence excoriates the “absolute Tyranny over these States,” exercised by King George III. Among the British king’s usurpations: “He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”

No wonder the Constitution ratified a dozen years later has this to say about the judicial branch: “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation, which shall not be diminished.”

But Trump came into office with what Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, described to me as “little regard for the law.” Nor would a man so ahistorical have had any notion that the Constitution diffuses power between three branches of government because it reflects the experience of dealing with a king. The clash between an autocratic president and the institutions of American freedom that intensified this week with the appointment of a special prosecutor, Robert S. Mueller III, was inevitable.

The president can declassify information if he wishes but that’s not an open invitation to recklessness. Giving sensitive intelligence to Russia, a rival power that of late has resembled an enemy, could raise legal issues. For Trump to then use the word “absolute” in his defense recalls Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Trump did not need much corrupting. He was already well schooled. He has poured scorn on an independent judiciary (dismissing as “so-called” a federal judge who ruled against him) and called the press “the enemy of the American people.”

The president’s contempt for the Constitution was signaled in his inaugural speech when he invoked his “oath of allegiance to all Americans.” No, the president’s oath is to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” His allegiance is to the law. We know where allegiance to the “volk” can lead.

In firing James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, Trump used a letter from Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, as justification, before finding other reasons. Rosenstein got played. He knows it. Trump’s contempt for the judiciary, in the person of this United States attorney with a 27-year career in the Justice Department, was evident.

Rosenstein has now done the right thing by appointing Mueller to look into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia. The former F.B.I. director is a man of undisputed integrity. He will give backbone to the post-Comey F.B.I.

Mueller’s investigation must be complemented by congressional inquiries into the Trump campaign’s Russian connections that are likely to move faster and more openly. The one must not preclude the other; they are complementary. It is past time for the Republican firewall of support for Trump to crumble. Mueller, whose work will take many months at least, is investigating violations of criminal law, but “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the grounds for impeachment, are not confined to that.

“Something that violates criminal law is likely to be a high crime and misdemeanor, but not necessarily vice-versa,” Burbank said.

It is against this confrontational domestic backdrop that Trump will be consorting with autocrats and democrats on his first foreign trip (to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Belgium, the Vatican and Italy), without the world knowing which he favors. He can only blame himself for the turmoil. Trump’s White House is a valueless place that has already neutered the American idea. That this shallow, shifting president now sees himself as a possible advocate of global religious tolerance is a measure of how far ego can induce blindness.

Richard Nixon once said that, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” But the state was not Nixon, as he learned, and nor is it Trump, whose education in the coming months will be harsh. Trump calls it a “witch hunt.” No, Mr. President, it’s called the law.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Wednesday, Paul Ryan held a press conference just after the revelation that Donald Trump had pushed James Comey to kill the investigation into Michael Flynn — you know, the guy Trump appointed as national security adviser even though his team knew that Flynn’s highly suspicious foreign ties were under investigation.

Faced with questions about the Flynn scandal and the Comey firing, Ryan waved them away: “I don’t worry about things that are outside my control.”

This might sound like a reasonable philosophy — unless you realize that Ryan is speaker of the House of Representatives, a legislative body with the power to issue subpoenas, compel testimony and, yes, impeach the president. In fact, under the Constitution, Ryan and his congressional colleagues are effectively the only check on a rogue chief executive.

It has become painfully clear, however, that Republicans have no intention of exercising any real oversight over a president who is obviously emotionally unstable, seems to have cognitive issues and is doing a very good imitation of being an agent of a hostile foreign power.

They may make a few gestures toward accountability in the face of bad poll numbers, but there is not a hint that any important figures in the party care enough about the Constitution or the national interest to take a stand.

And the big question we should be asking is how that happened. At this point we know who and what Trump is, and have a pretty good idea of what he has been doing. If we had two patriotic parties in the country, impeachment proceedings would already be underway. But we don’t. What’s the matter with Republicans?

Obviously I can’t offer a full theory here, but there’s a lot we do know about the larger picture.

First, Republicans are professional politicians. Yes, so are most Democrats. But the parties are not the same.

The Democratic Party is a coalition of interest groups, with some shared views but also a lot of conflicts, and politicians get ahead through their success in striking compromises and finding acceptable solutions.

The G.O.P., by contrast, is one branch of a monolithic structure, movement conservatism, with a rigid ideology — tax cuts for the rich above all else. Other branches of the structure include a captive media that parrots the party line every step of the way. Compare the coverage of recent political developments on Fox News with almost everywhere else; we’re talking North Korea levels of alternative reality.

And this monolithic structure — lavishly supported by a small number of very, very wealthy families — rewards, indeed insists on, absolute fealty. Furthermore, the structure has been in place for a long time: It has been 36 years since Reagan was elected, 22 years since the Gingrich takeover of Congress. What this means is that nearly all Republicans in today’s Congress are apparatchiks, political creatures with no higher principle beyond party loyalty.

The fact that the G.O.P. is a party of apparatchiks was one crucial factor in last year’s election. Why did Marine Le Pen, often portrayed as the French equivalent of Trump, lose by a huge margin? Because France’s conservatives were only willing to go so far; they simply would not support a candidate whose motives and qualifications they distrusted. Republicans, however, went all in behind Trump, knowing full well that he was totally unqualified, strongly suspecting that he was corrupt and even speculating that he might be in Russian pay, simply because there was an “R” after his name on the ballot.

And even now, with the Trump/Flynn/Comey story getting worse by the hour, there has been no significant breaking of ranks. If you’re waiting to find the modern version of Howard Baker, the Republican senator who asked “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” you’re wasting your time. Men like that left the G.O.P. a long time ago.

Does this mean that Trump will be able to hold on despite his multiple scandals and abuses of power? Actually, yes, he might. The answer probably hinges on the next few special elections: Republicans won’t turn on Trump unless he has become such a political liability that he must be dumped.

And even if Trump goes, one way or another, the threat to the Republic will be far from over.

In a perverse way, we should count ourselves lucky that Trump is as terrible as he is. Think of what it has taken to get us to this point — his Twitter addiction, his bizarre loyalty to Flynn and affection for Putin, the raw exploitation of his office to enrich his family, the business dealings, whatever they were, he’s evidently trying to cover up by refusing to release his taxes.

The point is that given the character of the Republican Party, we’d be well on the way to autocracy if the man in the White House had even slightly more self-control. Trump may have done himself in; but it can still happen here.

And yet again I thank God that I’m as old as I am and won’t have to live to see much more of what the Republicans have in store for our country.

Blow and Krugman

May 15, 2017

Mr. Blow says “Trump’s Madness Invites Mutiny,” and that we may have reached an inflection point at which even partisans grow weary of the barrage of lies.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Priming of Mr. Donald Trump,” says he’s not the only one with fiscal fantasies.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

When people behave as if they have something to hide, it is often because they do. For me, this is a basic law of human behavior.

That’s why President Trump’s baffling, outrageous, unfathomable and just plain bizarre behavior last week strengthened my already strong suspicions that there is something that Trump knows about the investigations into his campaign’s contacts with Russia that he doesn’t want us to know.

That is the only way that I can make sense of what happened: These are either the machinations of concealment, expressions of a burgeoning insanity, or both.

The details of the most recent episode in the Trump madness are now well known and yet every new detail that helps add texture to the story also renders it more horrifyingly egregious.

According to news reports (some of which the White House disputes, I hasten to add), after former F.B.I. Director James Comey refused to pledge loyalty to Trump, publicly rebuked some of Trump’s lies, and sought to intensify the bureau’s investigation into the Russia connections, Trump unceremoniously dismissed him. He then let his surrogates go out — or possibly sent them out — to lie about why Comey was fired. And then Trump tweeted a threat at Comey that seemed like an attempt to bully him into remaining quiet.

Who does that?

Legal and ethical questions abound about the impropriety and even legality of attempting to strong-arm, and then dismissing and threatening, the law enforcement official leading an investigation into your circle of associates.

Many of those questions rise not from clandestine sources, but rather from Trump himself. He is talking and tweeting himself into legal jeopardy. He can’t seem to help himself. Something in the man is broken.

He is insecure, paranoid and brittle, jostling between egomania and narcissism, intoxicated with a power beyond his meager comprehension and indulging in it beyond the point of abuse.

Some people are ebulliently optimistic that the abomination is coming undone and may soon be at an end.

But I would caution that this is a moment pregnant with calamity.

The man we see unraveling before our eyes still retains the power of the presidency until such time as he doesn’t, and that time of termination is by no means assured.

Trump is now a wounded animal, desperate and dangerous. Survival is an overwhelming, instinctual impulse, and one should put nothing beyond a being who is bent on ensuring it.

Banking on an easy impeachment or resignation or a shiny set of handcuffs is incredibly tempting for those drained and depressed by Trump’s unabated absurdities, perversions of truth and facts and assaults on custom, normalcy and civility.

But banking on this is, at this point, premature. I share the yearning. A case for removal can most definitely be made and has merit. But there remain untold steps between plausibility and probability. Expectations must be managed so that hopes aren’t dashed if the mark isn’t immediately met.

There are incredibly encouraging signs that the Comey debacle has crystallized sentiment about the severity of Trump’s abnormality and the urgent need for an independent investigation into the Russia connection.

Last week after Comey was fired, 20 attorneys general sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging it to immediately appoint an independent special counsel to oversee the investigation. The letter read in part:

“As the chief law enforcement officers of our respective states, we view the President’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey in the middle of his investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election as a violation of the public trust. As prosecutors committed to the rule of law, we urge you to consider the damage to our democratic system of any attempts by the administration to derail and delegitimize the investigation.

Furthermore, according to a poll released on Thursday: “A majority of Americans — 54 percent — think that President Donald Trump’s abrupt dismissal of F.B.I. Director James Comey was not appropriate, while 46 percent think that Comey was fired due to the Russia investigation, according to results from a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll.”

This followed a Quinnipiac Poll taken before the Comey firing that found: “American voters, who gave President Donald Trump a slight approval bump after the missile strike in Syria, today give him a near-record negative 36-58 percent job approval rating.”

The report continued: “Critical are big losses among white voters with no college degree, white men and independent voters.”

The army of righteous truth-seekers is gathering; the hordes of sycophants are faltering. The challenge now is to keep the media’s microscope trained on this issue and to keep applying sufficient pressure to elected officials.

We may have reached an inflection point at which even partisans grow weary of the barrage of lies and the indefensible behavior, and Republican representatives finally realize that they are constitutional officers who must defend the country even if it damages their party.

Something is happening. It’s in the air. It is an awakening, it is an adjustment, it is a growing up.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump has said many strange things in recent interviews. One can only imagine, for example, what America’s military leaders thought about his rambling, word-salad musings about how to improve our aircraft carriers.

Over here in Econoland, however, the buzz was all about Trump’s expressed willingness, in an interview with the Economist magazine, to pursue tax cuts even if they increase deficits, because “we have to prime the pump” — an expression he claimed to have invented. “I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good.”

Actually, the expression goes back generations — F.D.R. used it in a 1937 speech — and has been used many times since, including several times by Trump himself. What’s more, it’s a bad metaphor for modern times. Twenty years ago, in a paper warning that Japanese-style problems might eventually come to America, I urged that the phrase be withdrawn from circulation: “Since hardly anybody in the thoroughly urbanized societies of modern America and Japan has any idea what it means to prime a pump, I hereby suggest that we rename this the jump-start strategy.”

But why should anyone besides pedants care?

First, a mind is a terrible thing to lose. Senior moments, when you can’t remember a name or phrase, or misremember where it came from, happen to many of us. But that Economist interview was basically one long senior moment — and it wasn’t very different from other recent interviews with the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military.

Second, we’re talking about some really bad economics here. There are times when temporary deficit spending can help the economy. In the first few years after the 2008 financial crisis, for example, unemployment was very high, and the Federal Reserve — normally our first line of defense against recessions — had limited ability to act, because the interest rates it controls were already very close to zero. That was a time for serious pump-priming; unfortunately, we never got enough of it, thanks to scorched-earth Republican opposition.

Now, however, unemployment is near historic lows; quit rates, which show how confident workers are in their ability to find new jobs, are back to pre-crisis levels: wage rates are finally rising; and the Fed has begun raising interest rates.

America may not be all the way back to full employment — there’s a lively debate among economists over that issue. But the economic engine no longer needs a fiscal jump-start. This is exactly the wrong time to be talking about the desirability of bigger budget deficits.

True, it would make sense to borrow to finance public investment. We desperately need to expand and repair our roads, bridges, water systems, and more. Meanwhile, the federal government can borrow incredibly cheaply: Long-term bonds protected from inflation are paying only about 0.5 percent interest. So deficit spending on infrastructure would be defensible.

But that’s not what Trump is talking about. He’s calling for exploding the deficit so he can cut taxes on the wealthy. And that makes no economic sense at all.

Then again, he may not understand his own proposals; he may be living in an economic and political fantasy world. If so, he’s not alone. Which brings me to my third point: Trump’s fiscal delusions are arguably no worse than those of many, perhaps most professional observers of the Washington political scene.

If you’re a heavy news consumer, think about how many articles you’ve seen in the past few weeks with headlines along the lines of “Trump’s budget may create conflict with G.O.P. fiscal conservatives.” The premise of all such articles is that there is a powerful faction among Republican members of Congress who worry deeply about budget deficits and will oppose proposals that create lots of red ink.

But there is no such faction, and never was.

There were and are poseurs like Paul Ryan, who claim to be big deficit hawks. But there’s a simple way to test such people’s sincerity: when they propose sacrifices in the name of fiscal responsibility, do those sacrifices ever involve their own political priorities? And they never do. That is, when you see a politician claim that deficit concerns require that we slash Medicaid, privatize Medicare, and/or raise the retirement age — but somehow never require raising taxes on the wealthy, which in fact they propose to cut — you know that it’s just an act.

Yet somehow much of the news media keeps believing, or pretending to believe, that those imaginary deficit hawks are real, which is a delusion of truly Trumpian proportions.

So I’m worried. Trump may be not just ignorant but deeply out of it, and his economic proposals are terrible and irresponsible, but they may get implemented all the same.

But maybe I worry too much; maybe the only thing to fear is fear itself. Do you like that line? I just came up with it the other day.

Krugman, solo

May 12, 2017

In “Judas, Tax Cuts and the Great Betrayal” Prof. Krugman says the Republican response to Trump’s cover-up will live in infamy forever.  Here he is:

The denarius, ancient Rome’s silver coin, was supposedly the daily wage of a manual worker. If so, the tax cuts that the richest 1 percent of Americans will receive if the Affordable Care Act is repealed — tax cuts that are, obviously, the real reason for repeal — would amount to the equivalent of around 500 pieces of silver each year.

What inspired this calculation? The spectacle of Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, defending Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey.

Everyone understands that Mr. Comey was fired not because of his misdeeds during the campaign — misdeeds that helped put Trump in the White House — but because his probe of Russian connections with the Trump campaign was accelerating and, presumably, getting too close to home. So this looks very much like the use of presidential power to cover up possible foreign subversion of the U.S. government.

And the two leading Republicans in Congress are apparently O.K. with that cover-up, because the Trump ascendancy is giving them the chance to do what they always wanted, namely, take health insurance away from millions of Americans while slashing taxes on the wealthy.

So you can see why I find myself thinking of Judas.

For generations, Republicans have impugned their opponents’ patriotism. During the Cold War, they claimed that Democrats were soft on Communism; after 9/11, that they were soft on terrorism.

But now we have what may be the real thing: circumstantial evidence that a hostile foreign power may have colluded with a U.S. presidential campaign, and may retain undue influence at the highest levels of our government. And all those self-proclaimed patriots have gone silent, or worse.

Just to be clear, we don’t know for sure that top Trump officials, and maybe even Trump himself, are Russian puppets. But the evidence is obviously enough to take seriously — just think about the fact that Michael Flynn stayed on as national security adviser for weeks after Justice Department officials warned that he was compromised, and was fired only when the story broke in the press.

And we know how to resolve the remaining uncertainty: independent investigations conducted by officials with strong legal powers, insulated from partisan political influence.

So here’s where we stood as of Thursday evening: 138 Democrats and independents had called for the appointment of a special prosecutor; just one Republican had joined that call. Another 84 Democrats had called for an independent investigation, joined by only six Republicans.

At this point, in other words, almost an entire party appears to have decided that potential treason in the cause of tax cuts for the wealthy is no vice. And that’s barely hyperbole.

How did a whole party become so, well, un-American? For this story now goes far beyond Trump.

In some ways conservatism is returning to its roots. Much has been made of Trump’s revival of the term “America First,” the name of a movement opposed to U.S. intervention in World War II. What isn’t often mentioned is that many of the most prominent America-firsters weren’t just isolationists, they were actively sympathetic to foreign dictators; there’s a more or less straight line from Charles Lindbergh proudly wearing the medal he received from Hermann Göring to Trump’s cordial relations with Rodrigo Duterte, the literally murderous president of the Philippines.

But the more proximate issue is the transformation of the Republican Party, which bears little if any resemblance to the institution it used to be, say during the Watergate hearings of the 1970s. Back then, Republican members of Congress were citizens first, partisans second. But today’s G.O.P. is more like a radical, anti-democratic insurgency than a conventional political party.

The political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have been trying to explain this transformation for years, fighting an uphill battle against the false equivalence that still dominates punditry. As they note, the G.O.P. hasn’t just become “ideologically extreme”; it is “dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

So it’s naïve to expect Republicans to join forces with Democrats to get to the bottom of the Russia scandal — even if that scandal may strike at the very roots of our national security. Today’s Republicans just don’t cooperate with Democrats, period. They’d rather work with Vladimir Putin.

In fact, some of them probably did.

Now, maybe I’m being too pessimistic. Maybe there are enough Republicans with a conscience — or, failing that, sufficiently frightened of an electoral backlash — that the attempt to kill the Russia probe will fail. One can only hope so.

But it’s time to face up to the scary reality here. Most people now realize, I think, that Donald Trump holds basic American political values in contempt. What we need to realize is that much of his party shares that contempt.

Blow, Cohen, and Krugman

May 8, 2017

In “Republican Death Wish” Mr. Blow says the health care bill poses a threat to many Americans and is a death wish from the politicians who passed it.  Only if people get their asses off the couch and vote in 2018, Charles.  Fingers crossed…  Mr. Cohen, in “Macron and the Revival of Europe,” says hold the Marseillaise! Time for the “Ode to Joy.”  Amen to that!  Prof. Krugman says that “Republicans Party Like It’s 1984” and are making policy by lying about everything.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The obscene spectacle of House Republicans gathering last week in the Rose Garden to celebrate the House’s passage of a bill that would likely strip insurance coverage from tens of millions of Americans, while simultaneously serving as a massive tax break for the wealthy, had the callous feel of the well-heeled dancing on the poor’s graves.

Republicans had painted themselves into a corner. For seven years they had incessantly defamed the Affordable Care Act as nothing short of a dispatch from the devil. They told their constituents that they had a better plan, one that provided everything people liked about the A.C.A. and eliminated everything they didn’t.

As Donald Trump claimed in January, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” He continued, “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

That, like so much else coming from these folks’ mouths, was a lie..

The bill passed by the House eliminates popular features like guaranteed price protections for people with pre-existing conditions, by allowing states to apply for waivers to remove these protections. Instead of universal insurance coverage, regardless of whether one could “pay for it” as Trump promised, the bill would move in the opposite direction, pricing millions out of coverage.

The A.C.A. had made a basic societal deal: The young, healthy and rich would subsidize access to insurance for the older, sicker and poorer. But this demanded that the former gave a damn about the latter, that people genuinely believed that saving lives was more important than saving money, that we weren’t living some Darwinian Hunger Games of health care where health and wealth march in lockstep.

Once again, the party that is vehemently “pro-life” for “persons” in the womb demonstrates a staggering lack of empathy for those very same lives when they are in the world. What is the moral logic here? It is beyond me.

Let’s cut to the quick: Access to affordable health care keeps people alive and healthy and keeps families solvent. Take that away, and people get sick, run up enormous, crippling debt and in the worst cases, die. It is really that simple.

People may conveniently disassociate a vote cast in marbled halls from the body stretched out in a wooden box, but make no mistake: They are linked.

In House Speaker Paul Ryan’s feckless attempt to defend this moral abomination of a bill during his floor speech last week, he said, “Let’s give people more choices and more control over their care.”

But this so-called restoration of choice would be in practice, for many, a sentence to death.

Republicans like the Idaho congressman and House Freedom Caucus member Representative Raúl R. Labrador deny this most basic of truths. Labrador said last week at a town hall, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” It was a stunning expression of idiocy.

According to a 2009 study conducted by Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance, “nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance,” and “uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts.”

An analysis last month by the Center for American Progress estimates removing price protections for pre-existing conditions would mean that “individuals with even relatively mild pre-existing conditions would pay thousands of dollars above standard rates to obtain coverage.”

Republicans are likely to pay dearly for this outrage. Nate Silver expressed his thoughts in a piece headlined: “The Health Care Bill Could Be A Job-Killer For G.O.P. Incumbents,” pointing out that the Republican bill is even more unpopular than the Affordable Care Act was when it was being debated, and if Republicans face the same electoral backlash that Democrats faced, “it could put dozens of G.O.P.-held seats in play.” Silver acknowledges that there are “mitigating factors” that could soften the blow for Republicans, but conversely adds, “There’s even a chance that Republicans could suffer a bigger penalty than Democrats did.”

On Friday, The Cook Political Report changed its ratings in 20 districts “all reflecting enhanced opportunities for Democrats” and pointed out:

“House Republicans’ willingness to spend political capital on a proposal that garnered the support of just 17 percent of the public in a March Quinnipiac poll is consistent with past scenarios that have generated a midterm wave.”

Not only is the bill unpopular among voters, it’s also unpopular in the medical establishment. As The New York Times reported on Thursday: “It is a rare unifying moment. Hospitals, doctors, health insurers and some consumer groups, with few exceptions, are speaking with one voice and urging significant changes to the Republican health care legislation that passed the House on Thursday.”

Whatever eventually comes of the bill, the death threat it poses for many Americans may well be a death wish Republicans have just issued for their own careers. As House Democrats sang as their Republican colleagues made their self-immolating votes: “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”

And now here’s Mr. Cohen:

It’s not just that Emmanuel Macron won and will become, at the age of 39, France’s youngest president. It’s not merely that he defeated, in Marine Le Pen, the forces of xenophobic nationalism exploited by President Donald Trump. It’s that he won with a bold stand for the much-maligned European Union, and so reaffirmed the European idea and Europe’s place in a world that needs its strength and values.

This, after Britain’s dismal decision last year to leave the European Union, and in the face of Trump’s woeful anti-European ignorance, was critical. Macron underlined his message by coming out to address his supporters in Paris accompanied by the European anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” rather than the Marseillaise — a powerful gesture of openness.

A Le Pen-led lurch into a Europe of nationalism and racism has been averted. President Vladimir Putin of Russian backed Le Pen for a reason: He wants to break down European unity and sever the European bond with the United States. Instead, the center held and, with it, civilization.

A federalizing Europe is the foundation of European postwar stability and prosperity. It offers the best chance for young Europeans to fulfill their promise. It is Europeans’ “common destiny,” as Macron put it in his acceptance speech, standing before the French and European Union flags. To think otherwise is to forget history. No wonder Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, through her spokesman, immediately proclaimed a victory “for a strong and united Europe.”

That will require reform. Europe, complacent, has lost traction. Macron recognized this. He declared, “I want to re-weave the bond between citizens and Europe.” More transparency, more accountability and more creativity are required. No miracle ever marketed itself more miserably than the European Union.

Macron, who came from nowhere in the space of a year at the head of a new political movement, did not make facile promises or make up stories. He stood by refugees; he stood by Europe’s shared currency, the euro; and he was prepared to tell the French that they cannot turn their back on modernity and prosper.

Through rational argument he increased a lead over Le Pen that polls put at 20 percent after the first round two weeks ago to 30 percent, winning with 65 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 35 percent. This, in the age of Trump’s fake news, fake claims, and overall fakeness, was an important demonstration that reason and coherence still matter in politics.

Now the hard part begins. For the first time in France, the far right took more than a third of the vote, a reflection of the anger in the country at lost jobs, failed immigrant integration and economic stagnation. Macron, who said he was aware of “the anger, the anxiety, the doubts” needs to address this social unease head-on by reviving a sense of possibility in France. Without change, Le Pen will continue to gain support.

Change is notoriously hard to fashion in France. It is a country fiercely attached to the “acquis,” or acquired rights, enshrined in its comprehensive welfare state. Many have tried. Many have failed.

It is especially hard without strong parliamentary backing, and Macron will need that. Parliamentary elections will be held next month. His En Marche! (Onward!) movement must organize fast to build on his victory. It has extraordinary momentum. The traditional political landscape of the Fifth Republic — the alternation of center-left Socialists and center-right Republicans — has been blown apart.

Perhaps this very feat, without parallel in recent European political history, and Macron’s status as a centrist independent give him unique latitude to persuade the French, at last, that they can — like the Germans and the Dutch and the Swedes and the Danes — preserve the essence of their welfare state while forging a more flexible labor market that gives hope to the young. With 25 percent of its youth unemployed, France undoes itself.

If France grows again, Europe will grow with it. This would constitute a powerful rebuke to the autocratic-nationalist school — Le Pen with her sham of a political makeover, the xenophobic buffoon Nigel Farage in Britain (friend of Trump), Putin in Moscow, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and of course the American president himself, whose irresponsibility on the subject of America’s European allies has been appalling.

Macron’s is a victory for many things. He has demonstrated that France is not a country where racism and anti-European jingoism can win an election. He has reasserted the European idea and raised the possibility that France and Germany will conjure a revival of European idealism. He has rebuked the little Englanders who voted to take Britain out the Union (and made a tough negotiation on that exit inevitable).

Above all, through his intelligence and civility, his culture and his openness, Macron has erected a much-needed barrier to the crassness and incivility, the ignorance and the closed-mindedness that seeps from Trump’s Oval Office and threatens to corrupt the conduct of world affairs.

Vive la France! Vive l’Europe! Now more than ever.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There have been many bad laws in U.S. history. Some bills were poorly conceived; some were cruel and unjust; some were sold on false pretenses. Some were all of the above.

But has there ever been anything like Trumpcare, the health legislation Republicans rammed through the House last week? It’s a miserably designed law, full of unintended consequences. It’s a moral disaster, snatching health care from tens of millions mainly to give the very wealthy a near-trillion-dollar tax cut.

What really stands out, however, is the Orwell-level dishonesty of the whole effort. As far as I can tell, every word Republicans, from Trump on down, have said about their bill — about why they want to replace Obamacare, about what their replacement would do, and about how it would work — is a lie, including “a,” “and” and “the.”

And what does it say about the state of American politics that a majority of the representatives of one of our major political parties have gone along with this nightmarish process?

Before taking back the White House, Republicans attacked Obamacare for many things. For one thing, they claimed that it was rushed through without proper debate.

They also claimed that Americans were getting a raw deal. Deductibles were too high, they claimed; so were premiums. They promised to bring these costs down, to provide, as Donald Trump insisted he would, coverage that was “much less expensive and much better.”

And meanwhile, they promised to keep the things people liked about Obamacare (whether or not voters knew they were getting those good things because of Obamacare). Nobody would be thrown off Medicaid; nobody would be denied affordable coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Then came the reality of Republican legislation. Obamacare was debated and analyzed for many months; Trumpcare was thrown together so fast it’s hard to believe any significant number of those voting for it even had time to read it. And it was, of course, pushed through the House without giving the Congressional Budget Office a chance to estimate its costs, its effects on coverage, or anything else.

Even without a proper analysis, however, it’s clear that Trumpcare breaks every promise Republicans ever made about health. Deductibles will rise, not fall, as insurers are set free to offer lower-quality coverage. Premiums may fall for a handful of young, healthy, affluent people, but will rise and in many cases soar for those who are older (because age spreads will rise), sicker (because protection against discrimination based on medical history will be taken away), and poorer (because subsidies will go down).

Many people with pre-existing conditions will find insurance either completely unavailable or totally out of their financial reach.

And Medicaid will be cut back, with the damage worsening over time.

The really important thing, however, is not just to realize that Republicans are breaking their promises, but to realize that they are doing so with intent. This isn’t one of those cases where people try to do what they said they would, but fall short in the execution. This is an act of deliberate betrayal: Everything about Trumpcare is specifically designed to do exactly the opposite of what Trump, Paul Ryan and other Republicans said it would.

Which raises two questions: Why are they doing this, and why do they think they can get away with it?

Part of the answer to the first question is, presumably, simple greed. Tens of millions would lose access to health coverage, but — according to independent estimates of an earlier version of Trumpcare — people with incomes over $1 million would save an average of more than $50,000 a year.

And there is a powerful faction within the G.O.P. for whom cutting taxes on the rich is more or less the only thing that matters.

And on a more subjective note, don’t you get the impression that Donald Trump gets some positive pleasure out of taking people who make the mistake of trusting him for a ride?

As for why they think they can get away with it: Well, isn’t recent history on their side? The general shape of what the G.O.P. would do to health care, for the white working class in particular, has long been obvious, yet many people who were sure to lose, bigly, voted Trump anyway.

Why shouldn’t Republicans believe they can convince those same voters that the terrible things that will happen if Trumpcare becomes law are somehow liberals’ fault?

And for that matter, how confident are you that mainstream media will resist the temptation of both-sides-ism, the urge to produce “balanced” reporting that blurs the awful reality of what Trumpcare will do if enacted?

In any case, let’s be clear: What just happened on health care shouldn’t be treated as just another case of cynical political deal making. This was a Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength moment. And it may be the shape of things to come.

Cohen and Krugman

May 5, 2017

In “Macron and the Defense of the Republic” Mr. Cohen says Le Pen would usher France into the mire. Her rebranding is a sham and the National Front still a racist party.  Prof. Krugman asks “What’s the Matter With Europe?” He says Le Pen must be beaten, but then what?  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

After a French police officer, Xavier Jugelé, was killed in Paris last month, a service was held at Paris police headquarters. His grief-stricken civil partner, Etienne Cardiles, described their love and, addressing the murderer, said, “You will not have my hatred.”

It was a statement consistent with the resolute, dignified response of France to the terrorism that has struck it in recent years. The Republic, tested more than the United States of late, has not succumbed to fear or fanaticism. It has held the line and so has reinforced, in a time of indignities, the dignity of the French state.

France faces a choice between many things Sunday as it votes to elect either the rightist Marine Le Pen or the centrist Emmanuel Macron as president, but the most fundamental issue is whether to uphold or abandon the values of the Republic, whether to hold the high ground or descend into the mire.

The French state is the most animate of inanimate things. It breathes. Absent religion in any official form, absent the monarchy, the state is what the French have to represent the high ideals and aspirations that, as descendants of the Revolution, they must somehow embody. The question before the French now is whether to stain or sustain that body.

If Le Pen were elected, a shadow would fall across France and Europe.

Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, forged the National Front in a racist, anti-Semitic image befitting the descendants of Vichy, the lap-dog French government that did the Nazis’ bidding. He dismissed the Holocaust as a “detail” of history and called the Nazi occupation “not particularly inhumane.” Immigrants from North Africa were no better than scum. She has worked hard to excise, or camouflage, all that.

Election posters refer to her only as “Marine”; there’s no mention of the party; and she’s attempted to supplant xenophobic fanaticism with a nationalism that argues against immigration — particularly Muslim immigration — on security and economic grounds.

The makeover, combined with Le Pen’s political agility and down-to-earth affability, has been effective. Whereas her father got 18 percent of the vote in the 2002 runoff, she will almost certainly get more than double that. She could even, if the blow-up-the-system far left becomes her enabler through massive abstention, edge out Macron.

That is unlikely. Polls show Macron, the young upstart of this election, with a clear lead. But it is not impossible. Marine Le Pen’s National Front has joined the mainstream.

The factors that have contributed to her rise will be familiar to Americans who thought Donald Trump was a joke, then an unlikely contender, and at last discovered he had become their president. They include rage against the establishment; a conviction that globalization is a rigged system for the wealthy; exasperation at impunity for the financial engineers of the 2008 meltdown and the euro crisis; the cultural and economic chasm between wired metropolis and dystopian periphery; growing inequality; and hollowed-out industrial heartlands.

Something is happening. We don’t know what it is. Le Pen is the voice of that something.

She is also the mouthpiece, still, of a racist and Muslim-hating party; a fierce opponent of the European Union that ushered the continent from its darkest hours; a fully fledged member of the rising nationalist-autocratic club with its branches in Moscow, Ankara and Washington; and a proponent of a France-first nationalism whose endpoint, as former President François Mitterrand observed, is war.

Her party makeover is a sham. She still denies French responsibility for sending 76,000 Jews to their deaths during World War II; she still does business with Holocaust deniers; she and her entourage still traffic in the vilification of Islam; and she still strains for some whiff of Gaullism that would dispel the stench of Vichy.

In short, the choice Sunday is clear. Emmanuel Todd, a prominent left-wing intellectual, has said he will abstain “with joy.” Some leftist supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who received almost 20 percent of the vote in the first round, have attempted to equate Macron the capitalist and ex-banker with Le Pen the racist xenophobe as equal examples of iniquity. That does not fly. It is a form of moral and intellectual dishonesty.

The French left should examine its conscience carefully before any decision to abstain, or risk abetting the descendants of the rightists and Fascists who opposed the Popular Front of Léon Blum. In 1936, Blum became the first Jew and the first Socialist to be French prime minister but, indicted by the Vichy government, he was later imprisoned at Buchenwald.

Macron is an unknown quantity. Nobody is sure what he has in his gut. But he has shown courage, especially in his support of the European Union and his resistance to disparaging caricatures of refugees, and he is determined to revitalize a stagnant France. In this moment, he is the best hope for France, for Europe and for civility.

What French voters can say on Sunday is: “You will not have my hatred.” I believe they will. And if they do, the world should thank them.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Sunday France will hold its presidential runoff. Most observers expect Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, to defeat Marine Le Pen, the white nationalist — please, let’s stop dignifying this stuff by calling it “populism.” And I’m pretty sure that Times rules allow me to state directly that I very much hope the conventional wisdom is right. A Le Pen victory would be a disaster for Europe and the world.

Yet I also think it’s fair to ask a couple of questions about what’s going on. First, how did things get to this point? Second, would a Le Pen defeat be anything more than a temporary reprieve from the ongoing European crisis?

Some background: Like everyone on this side of the Atlantic, I can’t help seeing France in part through Trump-colored glasses. But it’s important to realize that the parallels between French and American politics exist despite big differences in underlying economic and social trends.

To begin, while France gets an amazing amount of bad press — much of it coming from ideologues who insist that generous welfare states must have disastrous effects — it’s actually a fairly successful economy. Believe it or not, French adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) are substantially more likely than their U.S. counterparts to be gainfully employed.

They’re also just about equally productive. It’s true that the French over all produce about a quarter less per person then we do — but that’s mainly because they take more vacations and retire younger, which are not obviously terrible things.

And while France, like almost everyone, has seen a gradual decline in manufacturing jobs, it never experienced anything quite like the “China shock” that sent U.S. manufacturing employment off a cliff in the early 2000s.

Meanwhile, against the background of this not-great-but-not-terrible economy, France offers a social safety net beyond the wildest dreams of U.S. progressives: guaranteed high-quality health care for all, generous paid leave for new parents, universal pre-K, and much more.

Last but not least, France — perhaps because of these policy differences, perhaps for other reasons — isn’t experiencing anything comparable to the social collapse that seems to be afflicting much of white America. Yes, France has big social problems; who doesn’t? But it shows little sign of the surge in “deaths of despair” — mortality from drugs, alcohol and suicide — that Anne Case and Angus Deaton have shown to be taking place in the U.S. white working class.

In short, France is hardly a utopia, but by most standards it is offering its citizens a fairly decent life. So why are so many willing to vote for — again, let’s not use euphemisms — a racist extremist?

There are, no doubt, multiple reasons, especially cultural anxiety over Islamic immigrants. But it seems clear that votes for Le Pen will in part be votes of protest against what are perceived as the highhanded, out-of-touch officials running the European Union. And that perception unfortunately has an element of truth.

Those of us who watched European institutions deal with the debt crisis that began in Greece and spread across much of Europe were shocked at the combination of callousness and arrogance that prevailed throughout.

Even though Brussels and Berlin were wrong again and again about the economics — even though the austerity they imposed was every bit as economically disastrous as critics warned — they continued to act as if they knew all the answers, that any suffering along the way was, in effect, necessary punishment for past sins.

Politically, Eurocrats got away with this behavior because small nations were easy to bully, too terrified of being cut off from euro financing to stand up to unreasonable demands. But Europe’s elite will be making a terrible mistake if it believes it can behave the same way to bigger players.

Indeed, there are already intimations of disaster in the negotiations now taking place between the European Union and Britain.

I wish Britons hadn’t voted for Brexit, which will make Europe weaker and their own country poorer. But E.U. officials are sounding more and more like a jilted spouse determined to extract maximum damages in a divorce settlement. And this is just plain insane. Like it or not, Europe will have to live with post-Brexit Britain, and Greece-style bullying just isn’t going to work on a nation as big, rich and proud as the U.K.

Which brings me back to the French election. We should be terrified at the possibility of a Le Pen victory. But we should also be worried that a Macron victory will be taken by Brussels and Berlin to mean that Brexit was an aberration, that European voters can always be intimidated into going along with what their betters say is necessary.

So let’s be clear: Even if the worst is avoided this Sunday, all the European elite will get is a time-limited chance to mend its ways.

Blow and Krugman

May 1, 2017

In “Trump’s Degradation of the Language” Mr. Blow says in Trump world, facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, language doesn’t matter.  Prof. Krugman, in “On the Power of Being Awful,” says Trump supporters will never admit they were wrong.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the more pernicious and insidious effects of the Donald Trump regime may well be the damage he does to language itself.

Trumpian language is a thing unto itself: some manner of sophistry peppered with superlatives. It is a way of speech that defies the Reed-Kellogg sentence diagram. It is a jumble of incomplete thoughts stitched together with arrogance and ignorance.

America is suffering under the tyranny of gibberish spouted by the lord of his faithful 46 percent.

As researchers at Carnegie Mellon pointed out last spring, presidential candidates in general use “words and grammar typical of students in grades 6-8, though Donald Trump tends to lag behind the others.” Indeed, among the presidents in the university’s analysis, Trump’s vocabulary usage was the lowest and his grammatical usage was only better than one president: George W. Bush.

Trump’s employment of reduced rhetoric is not without precedent and is in fact a well-documented tool of history’s strongmen.

As New York Times C.E.O. Mark Thompson noted about one of Trump’s speeches in his 2016 book, “Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics?”: “The super-short sentences emphasize certainty and determination, build up layer upon layer, like bricks in a wall themselves, toward a conclusion and an emotional climax. It’s a style that students of rhetoric call parataxis. This is the way generals and dictators have always spoken to distinguish themselves from the caviling civilians they mean to sweep aside.”

Thompson also notes that “Trump’s appeal as a presidential candidate depends significantly on the belief that he is a truth-teller who will have nothing to do with the conventional language of politics,” warning that:

“We shouldn’t confuse anti-rhetorical ‘truth telling’ with actually telling the truth. One of the advantages of this positioning is that once listeners are convinced that you’re not trying to deceive them in the manner of a regular politician, they may switch off the critical faculties they usually apply to political speech and forgive you any amount of exaggeration, contradiction, or offensiveness. And if establishment rivals or the media criticize you, your supporters may dismiss that as spin.”

Here is the great danger: Many people expect a political lie to sound slick, to be delivered by intellectual elites spouting $5 words. A clumsy, folksy lie delivered by a shyster using broken English reads as truth.

It is an upside-down world in which easy lies sound more true than hard facts.

But this is what comes from a man who is more watcher than reader, a man more driven by the limelight than by literature.

In January, Vanity Fair attempted to answer the question: “Exactly How Much TV Does Donald Trump Watch in a Day?” They did so by producing this utterly frightening roundup:

“Early on in the campaign, Trump told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that he gets military advice from TV pundits. He couldn’t get through a 50-minute Washington Post interview without repeatedly looking at the TV and commenting about what was on it. In November, during the transition, The Post noted that, based on his biography, ‘He watches enormous amounts of television all through the night.’ And just this week, a source told Politico that Trump’s aides are being forced to try and curb some of his ‘worst impulses’ — including TV-watching, apparently: ‘He gets bored and likes to watch TV … so it is important to minimize that.’”

A piece in The New York Times in the first week of Trump’s presidency noted: “Still, Mr. Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television.”

Trump has the intellectual depth of a coat of paint.

At no time is this more devastatingly obvious than when he grants interviews to print reporters, when he is not protected by the comfort of a script and is not animated by the dazzling glare of television lights. In these moments, all he has is language, and his absolute ineptitude and possibly even lack of comprehension is enormously obvious.

In the last month, Trump has given interviews to print reporters at The Times, The Associated Press, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. Read together, the transcripts paint a terrifying portrait of a man who is simultaneously unintelligible in his delivery, self-assured in his ignorance and consciously bathing in his narcissism.

In Trump world, facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, language doesn’t matter. Passionate performance is the only ideal. A lie forcefully told and often repeated is better than truth — it is accepted as an act of faith, which is better than a point of fact.

This is one of the most heinous acts of this man: the mugging of the meaning, the disassembling of rhetoric until certainty is stripped away from truth like flesh from a carcass.

Degradation of the language is one of Trump’s most grievous sins.

Bigly.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The 100-day reviews are in, and they’re terrible. The health care faceplants just keep coming; the administration’s tax “plan” offers less detail than most supermarket receipts; Trump has wimped out on his promises to get aggressive on foreign trade. The gap between big boasts and tiny achievements has never been wider.

Yet there have, by my count, been seven thousand news articles — O.K., it’s a rough estimate — about how Trump supporters are standing by their man, are angry at those meanies in the news media, and would gladly vote for him all over again. What’s going on?

The answer, I’d suggest, lies buried in the details of the latest report on gross domestic product. No, really.

For the past few months, economists who track short-term developments have been noting a peculiar divergence between “soft” and “hard” data. Soft data are things like surveys of consumer and business confidence; hard data are things like actual retail sales. Normally these data tell similar stories (which is why the soft data are useful as a sort of early warning system for the coming hard data.) Since the 2016 election, however, the two kinds of data have diverged, with reported confidence surging — and, yes, a bump in stocks — but no real sign of a pickup in economic activity.

The funny thing about that confidence surge, however, was that it was very much along partisan lines — a sharp decline among Democrats, but a huge rise among Republicans. This raises the obvious question: Were those reporting a huge increase in optimism really feeling that much better about their economic prospects, or were they simply using the survey as an opportunity to affirm the rightness of their vote?

Well, if consumers really are feeling super-confident, they’re not acting on those feelings. The first-quarter G.D.P. report, showing growth slowing to a crawl, wasn’t as bad as it looks: Technical issues involving inventories and seasonal adjustment (you don’t want to know) mean that underlying growth was probably O.K., though not great. But consumer spending was definitely sluggish.

The evidence, in other words, suggests that when Trump voters say they’re highly confident, it’s more a declaration of their political identity than an indication of what they’re going to do, or even, maybe, what they really believe.

May I suggest that focus groups and polls of Trump voters are picking up something similar?

One basic principle I’ve learned in my years at The Times is that almost nobody ever admits being wrong about anything — and the wronger they were, the less willing they are to concede error. For example, when Bloomberg surveyed a group of economists who had predicted that Ben Bernanke’s policies would cause runaway inflation, they literally couldn’t find a single person willing to admit, after years of low inflation, having been mistaken.

Now think about what it means to have voted for Trump. The news media spent much of the campaign indulging in an orgy of false equivalence; nonetheless, most voters probably got the message that the political/media establishment considered Trump ignorant and temperamentally unqualified to be president. So the Trump vote had a strong element of: “Ha! You elites think you’re so smart? We’ll show you!”

Now, sure enough, it turns out that Trump is ignorant and temperamentally unqualified to be president. But if you think his supporters will accept this reality any time soon, you must not know much about human nature. In a perverse way, Trump’s sheer awfulness offers him some political protection: His supporters aren’t ready, at least so far, to admit that they made that big a mistake.

Also, to be fair, so far Trumpism hasn’t had much effect on daily life. In fact, Trump’s biggest fails have involved what hasn’t happened, not what has. So it’s still fairly easy for those so inclined to dismiss the bad reports as media bias.

Sooner or later, however, this levee is going to break.

I chose that metaphor advisedly. I’m old enough to remember when George W. Bush was wildly popular — and while his numbers gradually deflated from their post 9/11 high, it was a slow process. What really pushed his former supporters to reconsider, as I perceived it — and this perception is borne out by polling — was the Katrina debacle, in which everyone could see the Bush administration’s callousness and incompetence playing out live on TV.

What will Trump’s Katrina moment look like? Will it be the collapse of health insurance due to administration sabotage? A recession this White House has no idea how to handle? A natural disaster or public health crisis? One way or another, it’s coming.

Oh, and one more note: By 2006, a majority of those polled claimed to have voted for John Kerry in 2004. It will be interesting, a couple of years from now, to see how many people say they voted for Donald Trump.

Brooks and Krugman”

April 28, 2017

In “The Pond-Skater Presidency” Bobo tries to convince us that Trump is like one of those creatures that skim on the surface, having little effect.  “Gemli” from Boston will have words about that.  Prof. Krugman, in “Living in the Trump Zone,” says we’re in a place and time where childish petulance drives policy.  Here’s Bobo:

You’ve got to give him credit — Donald Trump is a lot more adaptable than many of his critics.

Many of them reacted to Trump’s shocking election victory in the fall with the view, which was justified at the time, that Trump represented a unique and unprecedented threat to the republic. He was a populist ethnic nationalist aiming to drag this country to a very ugly place. He was a crypto fascist, aiming to undermine every norm and institution of our democracy.

Many of us Trump critics set our outrage level at 11. The Trump threat was virulent, and therefore the response had to be virulent as well.

The side benefit was we got to luxuriate in that rarest of political circumstance: a pure contest between right versus wrong. Everything seemed to be in such stark polarities: pluralism versus bigotry, democracy versus fascism, love trumps hate.

Trump’s totalistic menace allowed us to stand deliciously on the side of pure righteousness.

The problem is that Trump has now changed and many of his critics refuse to recognize the change. He’s not gotten brighter or humbler, but he’s gotten smaller and more conventional. Many of his critics still react to him every single day at Outrage Level 11, but the Trump threat is at Level 3 or 4.

These days a lot of the criticism seems over the top and credibility destroying. The “resistance movement” still reacts as if atavistic fascism were just at the door, when the real danger is everyday ineptitude. These critics hyperventilate at every whiff of scandal in a way that only arouses skepticism.

If you are losing a gravitas battle to Donald Trump, you are really in trouble.

The Trump threat has become smaller in three ways.

First, it is increasingly clear that everything about Trump is less substantial than it appears. Trump will be the last president who grew up entirely in the TV age, post-print but pre-internet. In the Trump mental framework, everything exists in segments and episodes. Ratings are the ultimate criteria of value.

This means he is the master of the pseudo-event, the artificial happening that exists to generate TV coverage but leaves no lasting mark. This means that everything can change in an instant. Nothing is more weighty or complicated than can be covered in a three-minute news summary. Every policy initiative is actually just pastillage, those brittle sugar sculptures that you see atop fancy desserts that crumble and dissolve at first contact with reality.

Trump’s tax plan is being treated as an actual plan, but it is just a sugar sculpture — 100 off-the-top-of-the-head words on a piece of paper, grappling with no hard issues and with no chance of passing in anything like the current form.

Second, Trump’s competency level has risen from catastrophic to merely inadequate. In the first few weeks, Trump was shooting himself in the foot on an hourly basis. But as time has gone by, he has hired better people and has shifted power within the White House to those who are trying to at least build a normal decision-making process.

His foreign policy moves have been, if anything, kind of normal. His administration has committed to NATO, backed off his China bashing, confirmed Iran’s compliance with its nuclear agreement obligations and exercised some restraint on North Korea.

Third, Trump has detached himself from the only truly revolutionary movement of our time. If the current world order is going to really be disrupted, it will be because a U.S. president taps into the anger seething among the globe’s rural working classes. It will be because the U.S. leads a coalition of the global populist strongmen.

Trump seemed inclined to do that a few months ago, but not today. Sure, he’ll send out a pro-Le Pen tweet, but Trump has mostly switched from being a subversive populist to being a conventional corporatist. His administration-defining motif now is being pro-business — lightening regulations, embracing the Export-Import Bank and offering to lower corporate taxes.

Parts of the Trump economic policy agenda are pretty good — corporate tax rates are indeed too high. Parts are pretty bad — threatening the Paris accords on global warming. But there’s nothing unusual. It looks like any Republican administration that is staffed by people whose prejudices were formed in 1984 and who haven’t had a new thought since.

Far from being a fighter, Trump tends to back off when his plans face resistance, like during this week’s budget showdown. He is the ultimate protean man. He’ll never be deep, because of his TV-shaped attention span, but the style of his superficiality is likely to change radically over the next few years.

Don’t get me wrong. I wish we had a president who had actual convictions and knowledge, and who was interested in delivering real good to real Americans. But it’s hard to maintain outrage at a man who is a political pond skater — one of those little creatures that flit across the surface, sort of fascinating to watch, but have little effect as they go.

And he still has the nuclear football…  Let’s see what kind of effect he will have when somebody really pisses him off.  Here’s what “gemli” in Boston has to say:

“We’re drowning in water metaphors. First he was draining the swamp, and now he’s skating on a pond. But the country is in the toilet, and we can’t flush until 2020.

So let’s not downplay the importance of outrage. The only reason the so-called president is not getting more of his fever dreams turned into reality is because the Republican majority in Congress is getting an earful from outraged constituents.

Young people are not having any of it. The unfair future-destroying plans of conservative speakers are not being given a fair hearing on college campuses, and conservatives are outraged. They want to tell the young folks that deporting families is good, abortion is murder and their gay friends are defective. Surprisingly, young people would rather demonstrate their outrage than send the message that those views are worth hearing.

Even the people who voted for this boob of a president are starting to squirm and squint when roving reporters visit the heartland ask them how they’re doing. Well, not great, as it turns out. He promised a bunch of things that aren’t materializing. He was going to pull Obamacare out from under many of them, but general outrage at Paul Ryan’s “plan” put an end to that.

We have a right to expect that our presidents are smart, capable and decent human beings. Mr. Brooks thinks that we should be content because the president’s competency level has gone from catastrophic to merely inadequate.

That’s outrageous.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Fans of old TV series may remember a classic “Twilight Zone” episode titled “It’s a Good Life.” It featured a small town terrorized by a 6-year-old who for some reason had monstrous superpowers, coupled with complete emotional immaturity. Everyone lived in constant fear, made worse by the need to pretend that everything was fine. After all, any hint of discontent could bring terrible retribution.

And now you know what it must be like working in the Trump administration. Actually, it feels a bit like that just living in Trump’s America.

What set me off on this chain of association? The answer may surprise you; it was the tax “plan” the administration released on Wednesday.

The reason I use scare quotes here is that the single-page document the White House circulated this week bore no resemblance to what people normally mean when they talk about a tax plan. True, a few tax rates were mentioned — but nothing was said about the income thresholds at which these rates apply.

Meanwhile, the document said something about eliminating tax breaks, but didn’t say which. For example, would the tax exemption for 401(k) retirement accounts be preserved? The answer, according to the White House, was yes, or maybe no, or then again yes, depending on whom you asked and when you asked.

So if you were looking for a document that you could use to estimate, even roughly, how much a given individual would end up paying, sorry.

It’s clear the White House is proposing huge tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, with the breaks especially big for people who can bypass regular personal taxes by channeling their income into tax-privileged businesses — people, for example, named Donald Trump. So Trump plans to blow up the deficit bigly, largely to his own personal benefit; but that’s about all we know.

So why would the White House release such an embarrassing document? Why would the Treasury Department go along with this clown show?

Unfortunately, we know the answer. Every report from inside the White House conveys the impression that Trump is like a temperamental child, bored by details and easily frustrated when things don’t go his way; being an effective staffer seems to involve finding ways to make him feel good and take his mind off news that he feels makes him look bad.

If he says he wants something, no matter how ridiculous, you say, “Yes, Mr. President!”; at most, you try to minimize the damage.

Right now, by all accounts, the child-man in chief is in a snit over the prospect of news stories that review his first 100 days and conclude that he hasn’t achieved much if anything (because he hasn’t). So last week he announced the imminent release of something he could call a tax plan.

According to The Times, this left Treasury staff — who were nowhere near having a plan ready to go — “speechless.” But nobody dared tell him it couldn’t be done. Instead, they released … something, with nobody sure what it means.

And the absence of a real tax plan isn’t the only thing the inner circle apparently doesn’t dare tell him.

Obviously, nobody has yet dared to tell Trump that he did something both ludicrous and vile by accusing President Barack Obama of wiretapping his campaign; instead, administration officials spent weeks trying to come up with something, anything, that would lend substance to the charge.

Or consider health care. The attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare failed ignominiously, for very good reasons: After all that huffing and puffing, Republicans couldn’t come up with a better idea. On the contrary, all their proposals would lead to mass loss of coverage and soaring costs for the most vulnerable.

Clearly, Trump and company should just let it go and move on to something else. But that would require a certain level of maturity — which is a quality nowhere to be found in this White House. So they just keep at it, with proposals everyone I know calls zombie Trumpcare 2.0, 3.0, and so on.

And I don’t even want to think about foreign policy. On the domestic front, soothing the president’s fragile ego with forceful-sounding but incoherent proclamations can do only so much damage; on the international front it’s a good way to stumble into a diplomatic crisis, or even a war.

In any case, I’d like to make a plea to my colleagues in the news media: Don’t pretend that this is normal. Let’s not act as if that thing released on Wednesday, whatever it was, was something like, say, the 2001 Bush tax cut; I strongly disapproved of that cut, but at least it was comprehensible. Let’s not pretend that we’re having a real discussion of, say, the growth effects of changes in business tax rates.

No, what we’re looking at here isn’t policy; it’s pieces of paper whose goal is to soothe the big man’s temper tantrums. Unfortunately, we may all pay the price of his therapy.