Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Krugman, solo

March 20, 2017

In “America’s Epidemic of Infallibility” Prof. Krugman says there have been no apologies, no regrets, no learning from experience.  Here he is:

Two weeks after President Trump claimed, bizarrely, that the Obama administration had wiretapped his campaign, his press secretary suggested that GCHQ — Britain’s counterpart to the National Security Agency — had done the imaginary bugging. British officials were outraged. And soon the British press was reporting that the Trump administration had apologized.

But no: Meeting with the chancellor of Germany, another ally he’s alienating, Mr. Trump insisted that there was nothing to apologize for. He said, “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind,” a commentator on (of course) Fox News.

Was anyone surprised? This administration operates under the doctrine of Trumpal infallibility: Nothing the president says is wrong, whether it’s his false claim that he won the popular vote or his assertion that the historically low murder rate is at a record high. No error is ever admitted. And there is never anything to apologize for.

O.K., at this point it’s not news that the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military is a man you wouldn’t trust to park your car or feed your cat. Thanks, Comey. But Mr. Trump’s pathological inability to accept responsibility is just the culmination of a trend. American politics — at least on one side of the aisle — is suffering from an epidemic of infallibility, of powerful people who never, ever admit to making a mistake.

More than a decade ago I wrote that the Bush administration was suffering from a “mensch gap.” (A mensch is an upstanding person who takes responsibility for his actions.) Nobody in that administration ever seemed willing to accept responsibility for policy failures, whether it was the bungled occupation of Iraq or the botched response to Hurricane Katrina.

Later, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, a similar inability to admit error was on display among many economic commentators.

Take, for example, the open letter a who’s who of conservatives sent to Ben Bernanke in 2010, warning that his policies could lead to “currency debasement and inflation.” They didn’t. But four years later, when Bloomberg News contacted many of the letter’s signatories, not one was willing to admit having been wrong.

By the way, press reports say that one of those signatories, Kevin Hassett — co-author of the 1999 book “Dow 36,000” — will be nominated as chairman of Mr. Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers. Another, David Malpass — the former chief economist at Bear Stearns, who declared on the eve of the financial crisis that “the economy is sturdy” — has been nominated as undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs. They should fit right in.

Just to be clear: Everyone makes mistakes. Some of these mistakes are in the “nobody could have known” category. But there’s also the temptation to engage in motivated reasoning, to let our emotions get the better of our critical faculties — and almost everyone succumbs to that temptation now and then (as I myself did on election night).

So nobody is perfect. The point, however, is to try to do better — which means owning up to your mistakes and learning from them. Yet that is something that the people now ruling America never, ever do.

What happened to us? Some of it surely has to do with ideology: When you’re committed to a fundamentally false narrative about government and the economy, as almost the whole Republican Party now is, facing up to facts becomes an act of political disloyalty. By contrast, members of the Obama administration, from the president on down, were in general far more willing to accept responsibility than their Bush-era predecessors.

But what’s going on with Mr. Trump and his inner circle seems to have less to do with ideology than with fragile egos. To admit having been wrong about anything, they seem to imagine, would brand them as losers and make them look small.

In reality, of course, inability to engage in reflection and self-criticism is the mark of a tiny, shriveled soul — but they’re not big enough to see that.

But why did so many Americans vote for Mr. Trump, whose character flaws should have been obvious long before the election?

Catastrophic media failure and F.B.I. malfeasance played crucial roles. But my sense is that there’s also something going on in our society: Many Americans no longer seem to understand what a leader is supposed to sound like, mistaking bombast and belligerence for real toughness.

Why? Is it celebrity culture? Is it working-class despair, channeled into a desire for people who spout easy slogans?

The truth is that I don’t know. But we can at least hope that watching Mr. Trump in action will be a learning experience — not for him, because he never learns anything, but for the body politic. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll eventually put a responsible adult back in the White House.

From your lips to God’s ear, Prof. Krugman.

Brooks and Krugman

March 17, 2017

Sorry for the hiatus — my computer was in the DOSpital.  As time permits I’ll try to get caught up on what was missed.

Today Bobo has decided to tell us to “Let Bannon Be Bannon!”  He contends that President Trump has abandoned Steve Bannon’s governing philosophy, and with it, the benefits the working class counted on.  I wonder how much Bobo really knows about Bannon…  He told The Daily Beast in 2014, “I’m a Leninist.” He elaborated: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  That’s a benefit for the working class?  “Gemli” from Boston will have a word or two.  Prof. Krugman considers “Conservative Fantasies, Colliding With Reality” and says government spending is full of pointless waste — until you try to cut it.  Here’s Bobo:

I continue to worry about Steve Bannon. I see him in the White House photos, but he never has that sprightly Prince of Darkness gleam in his eye anymore.

His governing philosophy is being completely gutted by the mice around him. He seems to have a big influence on Trump speeches but zero influence on recent Trump policies. I’m beginning to fear that he’s spending his days sitting along the wall in the Roosevelt Room morosely playing one of those Risk-style global empire video games on his smartphone.

Back in the good old days — like two months ago — it was fun to watch Bannon operate. He was the guy with a coherent governing philosophy. He seemed to have realized that the two major party establishments had abandoned the working class. He also seemed to have realized that the 21st-century political debate is not big versus small government, it’s open versus closed.

Bannon had the opportunity to realign American politics around the social, cultural and economic concerns of the working class. Erect barriers to keep out aliens from abroad, and shift money from the rich to the working class to create economic security at home.

It was easy to see the Trump agenda that would flow from this philosophy: Close off trade and immigration. Fund a jobs-creating infrastructure program. Reverse the Republican desire to reform and reduce entitlements. Increase funding on all sorts of programs that benefit working-class voters in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Many of us wouldn’t have liked that agenda — the trade and immigration parts — but at least it would have helped the people who are being pummeled by this economy.

But Bannonesque populism is being abandoned. The infrastructure and jobs plan is being put off until next year (which is to say never). Meanwhile, the Trump administration has agreed with Paul Ryan’s crazy plan to do health care first.

Moths show greater resistance to flame than American politicians do to health care reform. And sure enough it’s become a poisonous morass for the entire party, and a complete distraction from the populist project.

Worse, the Ryan health care plan punishes the very people Trump and Bannon had vowed to help. It would raise premiums by as much as 25 percent on people between 50 and 64, one core of the Trump voter base. It would completely hammer working-class voters whose incomes put them just above the Medicaid threshold.

The Trump budget is an even more devastating assault on Bannon-style populism. It eliminates or cuts organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that are important to people from Tennessee and West Virginia up through Ohio and Michigan. It cuts job-training and road-building programs. It does almost nothing to help expand opportunity for the working class and almost everything to serve defense contractors and the national security state.

Why is Bannonism being abandoned? One possibility is that there just aren’t enough Trumpians in the world to staff an administration, so Trump and Bannon have filled their apparatus with old guard Republicans who continue to go about their jobs in old guard pseudo-libertarian ways.

The second possibility, raised by Rich Lowry in Politico, is that the Republican sweep of 2016 was won on separate tracks. Trump won on populism, but congressional Republicans won on the standard cut-government script. The congressional Republicans are better prepared, and so their plans are crowding out anything Bannon might have contemplated.

The third possibility is that Donald Trump doesn’t really care about domestic policy; he mostly cares about testosterone.

He wants to cut any part of government that may seem soft and nurturing, like poverty programs. He wants to cut any program that might seem emotional and airy-fairy, like the National Endowment for the Arts. He wants to cut any program that might seem smart and nerdy, like the National Institutes of Health.

But he wants to increase funding for every program that seems manly, hard, muscular and ripped, like the military and armed antiterrorism programs.

Indeed, the Trump budget looks less like a political philosophy and more like a sexual fantasy. It lavishes attention on every aspect of hard power and slashes away at anything that isn’t.

The Trump health care and budget plans will be harsh on the poor, which we expected. But they’ll also be harsh on the working class, which we didn’t.

We’re ending up with the worst of the new guard Trumpian populists and the old guard Republican libertarians. We’re building walls to close off the world while also shifting wealth from the poor to the rich.

When these two plans fail, which seems very likely, there’s going to be a holy war between the White House and Capitol Hill. I don’t have high hopes for what’s going to emerge from that war, but it would be nice if the people who voted for Trump got economic support, not punishment.

For that, there’s one immediate recipe: Unleash Steve Bannon!

Now here’s what “gemli” has to say about that:

“The president and the swamp dwellers who slithered in when Americans opened the door for this experiment in mom-and-apple-pie fascism have no workable governing philosophy. Running a country means caring about the people who live in it, and not about whether Arnold Schwarzenegger was a flop or how big the inauguration crowds were. Staffing key positions with crypto-clansmen, racists, billionaire banksters, Russian puppets and garden-variety idiots is unlikely to form a coherent, user-friendly administration.

Bannon isn’t being restrained by the president. He, the president and the calcified Congressional Republicans are being exactly who they are: malevolent frauds, con men and grifters who have no idea how to run a country, and who care less than a fig that the downtrodden will be trodden upon even harder.

In fact, the downtrodden who voted for the president and his stupid ideas might deserve to reap the bitter harvest of their actions. They need to realize that there are consequences to giving morons and thugs the keys to the White House. Expecting help from Bannon, Paul Ryan and the other Rush Limbaugh Republicans is absurd. They don’t help the needy. The needy are there to be pandered to and exploited. Sometimes the needy are needy because they lack discernment, and don’t know who’s actually trying to help them.

Whatever happens, the current administration should not be unleashed. They should be caged.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

This week the Trump administration put out a budget blueprint — or more accurately, a “budget” blueprint. After all, real budgets detail where the money comes from and where it goes; this proclamation covers only around a third of federal spending, while saying nothing about revenues or projected deficits.

As the fiscal expert Stan Collender put it: “This is not a budget. It’s a Trump campaign press release masquerading as a government document.”

So what’s the point of the document? The administration presumably hopes that it will distract the public and the press from the ongoing debacle over health care. But it probably won’t. And in any case, this pseudo-budget embodies the same combination of meanspiritedness and fiscal fantasy that has turned the Republican effort to replace Obamacare into a train wreck.

Think for a minute about the vision of government and its role that the right has been peddling for decades.

In this vision, much if not most government spending is a complete waste, doing nobody any good. The same is true of government regulations. And to the extent to which spending does help anyone, it’s Those People — lazy, undeserving types who just so happen to be a bit, well, darker than Real Americans.

This was the kind of thinking — or, perhaps, “thinking” — that underlay President Trump’s promise to replace Obamacare with something “far less expensive and far better.” After all, it’s a government program, so he assumed that it must be full of waste that a tough leader like him could eliminate.

Strange to say, however, Republicans turn out to have no ideas about how to make the program cheaper other than eliminating health insurance for 24 million people (and making coverage worse, with higher out-of-pocket spending, for those who remain).

And basically the same story applies at a broader level. Consider federal spending as a whole: Outside defense it’s dominated by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — all programs that are crucial to tens of millions of Americans, many of them the white working-class voters who are the core of Trump support. Furthermore, most other government spending also serves purposes that are popular, important or (usually) both.

Given this reality, why are so many people opposed to “big government”?

Many have a distorted view of the numbers. For example, people have a vastly exaggerated view of how much we spend on foreign aid. Many also fail to connect their personal experience with public policy: Large numbers of Social Security and Medicare recipients believe that they make no use of any government social program.

Thanks to these misperceptions, carefully nurtured by right-wing media, politicians can often get away with running on promises of drastic spending cuts: Many, perhaps most voters don’t see how such cuts would affect their lives.

But what will happen if anti-big-government politicians find themselves in a position to put their agenda into practice? Voters will quickly get a lesson in what slashing spending really means — and they won’t be happy.

That’s basically the wall Obamacare repeal has just smashed into. And the same thing will happen if this Trump whatever-it-is turns into an actual budget.

Mr. Trump himself gives every indication of having no idea what the federal government does; his vaguely budget-like document isn’t much more than a roughly scribbled list of numbers, with no clear picture of what those numbers would mean. (In fairness, one could have said the same about Paul Ryan’s budgets in the past. In fact, I did.)

But the reality is that the proposed cuts would have ugly, highly visible effects. Zeroing out the Community Development Block Grant program may sound good if you have no idea what it does (which Mr. Trump surely doesn’t); eliminating Meals on Wheels, an immediate consequence, not so much. Nor would coal country, which voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump, like the consequences if he eliminates the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Wait, there’s more. Effectively disemboweling the Environmental Protection Agency may sound smart if you imagine that it’s just a bunch of meddling bureaucrats. But the public wants stronger, not weaker, environmental protection, and would not be pleased to see a sharp deterioration in air and water quality.

The point is that Mr. Trump’s attempt to change the subject away from his party’s health care quagmire isn’t going to work, and not just because this supposed budget literally isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. At a more fundamental level, it doesn’t even change the subject.

Republicans’ budget promises, like their health care promises, have been based on an essentially fraudulent picture of what’s really going on. And now the bill for these lies is coming due.

Brooks and Krugman

March 10, 2017

In “The Republican Health Care Crackup” Bobo says it’s not just a bill, it’s the end of an era in American politics.  “Larry Hedrick” from DC will have something to say to Bobo.  Prof. Krugman has questions in “A Bill So Bad It’s Awesome:”  What were Republicans thinking? Were they even thinking?  Here’s Bobo:

The Republican health care bill could represent the moment when the old order of American politics completely cracks up, the end of a certain era in American politics.

That era began around 1974, when Ted Kennedy introduced a bill to supplement America’s employer-based insurance system with a government program. The Democratic dream of universal coverage continued through Hillary Clinton’s time as first lady and reached a partial culmination with the passage of Obamacare.

Combating government health care was a central Republican preoccupation through all that time, and the passage of Obamacare provoked the Tea Party reaction and final arrival of Goldwaterite populist conservatism.

By 2010, however, both the Obama administration and the Tea Party opposition were out of step with the times. They both still thought the big political issues in American life were universal health care and the size of government.

In fact, another set of problems had magnified and come to overshadow the old set. This new set included:

First, the crisis of opportunity. People with fewer skills were seeing their wages stagnate, the labor markets evaporate. Second, the crisis of solidarity. The social fabric, especially for those without a college degree, was disintegrating — marriage rates plummeting, opiate abuse rates rising. Third, the crisis of authority. Distrust in major institutions crossed some sort of threshold. People had so lost trust in government, the media, the leadership class in general, that they were willing to abandon truth and decorum and embrace authoritarian thuggery to blow it all up.

If President Obama had made these crises the center of his administration, instead of the A.C.A., Democrats wouldn’t have lost Congress and the White House. If the Tea Party had understood the first two of these crises, there would have been no opening for Donald Trump.

Trump came along and exploited these crises. But if his administration’s health care approach teaches us anything, it is that he has no positive agenda for addressing them. He can tap into working class anxiety negatively, by harnessing hostility toward immigrants, foreigners and the poor. But he can’t come up with a positive agenda to make working class life more secure.

So we have a group of Freedom Caucus Republicans who still think the major problems in the country today can be cured with tax and spending cuts. We have a Trump administration that has populist impulses but no actual populist safety net policies. And we’ve got a Republican leadership in Congress mired in Reagan-era thinking and trying to pay lip service to every obsolete prejudice in the various wings of the party.

You end up with this hodgepodge legislation that pleases nobody and takes the big crises afflicting our country and makes them all worse.

The Republican health plan would make America’s economic chasm worse. It would cut health subsidies that go to the poor while eliminating the net investment income tax, which benefits only the top 1 percent.

The Republican plan would further destabilize the social fabric for those at the bottom. Throwing perhaps 10 million people off the insurance rolls will increase fear, isolation, social tension, chronic illness, suicide and bankruptcy.

The Republican plan will fuel cynicism. It’s being pushed through in an elitist, anti-democratic, middle of the night rush. It seems purposely designed to fail. The penalties for those who don’t purchase insurance are so low they seem sure to guarantee Republican-caused death spirals in the weaker markets.

This thing probably won’t pass, but even if it passes it will probably lead to immense pain and disruption. That will discredit market-based social reform, cost the Republicans their congressional majorities and end what’s left of the Reagan-era party.

It will also point the way to a new era.

The central debate in the old era was big government versus small government, the market versus the state. But now you’ve got millions of people growing up in social and cultural chaos and not getting the skills they need to thrive in a technological society. This is not a problem you can solve with tax cuts.

And if you don’t solve this problem, voters around the world have demonstrated that they’re quite willing to destroy market mechanisms to get the security they crave. They will trash free trade, cut legal skilled immigration, attack modern finance and choose state-run corporatism over dynamic free market capitalism.

The core of the new era is this: If you want to preserve the market, you have to have a strong state that enables people to thrive in it. If you are pro-market, you have to be pro-state. You can come up with innovative ways to deliver state services, like affordable health care, but you can’t just leave people on their own. The social fabric, the safety net and the human capital sources just aren’t strong enough.

New social crises transform party philosophies. We’re in the middle of a transformation. But to get there we’ve got to live through this final health care debacle first.

Now here’s what “Larry Hedrick” from DC had to say about that:

“Mr. Brooks thinks it’s necessary to write that the Republican destruction of Obamacare will ‘fuel cynicism.’ As though it shouldn’t?

As for the Republican alternative (I use the word loosely) being ‘purposely designed to fail,’ I can’t see that it’s ‘purposely designed’ to either succeed or fail.

The only thing it’s designed to do is to shift more wealth from poorer people to richer people.

Beyond that, Republicans don’t care–which is why they’ve done such a sloppy job of creating this new self-contradictory jumble of words that they’re pleased to call a law.

I suppose it’s needful to review the basics just one more time.

David, the GOP to which you’ve devoted so much of your life has long been nothing more than an open conspiracy of the rich against the poor. That’s its sole purpose, beyond existing to feed its own bureaucracy.

Republican politicians are nothing more or less than hacks who are paid to keep the money flowing uphill while they clutter up the minds of the people with empty promises of perfecting the American commonwealth.

In Trump they’ve found their true champion, because he’s put them on the royal road to authoritarianism. It is in this darkness, which the pr*sident deepens with every lying tweet, that democracy dies.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

It has long been obvious to anyone following health policy that Republicans would never devise a workable replacement for Obamacare. But the bill unveiled this week is worse than even the cynics expected; its awfulness is almost surreal. And the process by which it came to be tells you a lot about the state of the G.O.P.

Given the rhetoric Republicans have used over the past seven years to attack health reform, you might have expected them to do away with the whole structure of the Affordable Care Act — deregulate, de-subsidize and let the magic of the free market do its thing. This would have been devastating for the 20 million Americans who gained coverage thanks to the act, but at least it would have been ideologically consistent.

But Republican leaders weren’t willing to bite that bullet. What they came up with instead was a dog’s breakfast that conservatives are, with some justice, calling Obamacare 2.0. But a better designation would be Obamacare 0.5, because it’s a half-baked plan that accepts the logic and broad outline of the Affordable Care Act while catastrophically weakening key provisions. If enacted, the bill would almost surely lead to a death spiral of soaring premiums and collapsing coverage. Which makes you wonder, what’s the point?

Obamacare rests on three main pillars. Insurance companies are regulated, prevented from denying coverage or charging higher prices to Americans with pre-existing conditions. Families receive subsidies linked to both income and premiums, to help them buy insurance. And there is a penalty for those who don’t buy insurance, to induce people to sign up even if they’re currently healthy.

Trumpcare — the White House insists that we not call it that, which means that we must — preserves some version of all three elements, but in drastically, probably fatally weakened form.

Insurers are still barred from excluding the sick, but they’re allowed to charge older Americans — who need insurance the most — much higher premiums.

Subsidies are still there, in the form of tax credits, but they’re no longer linked to either income (as long as it’s below $75,000) or the cost of insurance.

And the tax on those who don’t sign up becomes a small surcharge — paid to insurance companies, not the public — on people who sign up after previously letting coverage lapse.

Affluent young people might end up saving some money as a result of these changes. But the effect on those who are older and less affluent would be devastating. AARP has done the math: a 55-year-old making $25,000 a year would end up paying $3,600 a year more for coverage; that rises to $8,400 for a 64-year-old making $15,000 a year. And that’s before the death spiral.

For the combination of price hikes and weakened penalties would lead many healthy Americans to forego insurance. This would worsen the risk pool, causing premiums to rise sharply — and remember, subsidies would no longer adjust to offset this rise. The result would be even more people dropping out. Republicans have been claiming that Obamacare is collapsing, which isn’t true. But Trumpcare, if implemented, would collapse in a Mar-a-Lago minute.

How could House Republicans under the leadership of Paul Ryan, who the media keeps assuring us is a smart, serious policy wonk, have produced such a monstrosity? Two reasons.

First, the G.O.P.’s policy-making and policy analysis capacity has been downgraded to the point of worthlessness. There are real conservative policy experts, but the party doesn’t want them, perhaps because their very competence makes them ideologically unreliable — a proposition illustrated by the rush to enact this bill before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office can estimate either its costs or its effects. Basically, facts and serious analysis are the modern right’s enemies; policy is left to hacks who can’t get even the simplest things right.

Second, Republicans seem to have been undone by their reverse-Robin-Hood urges. You can’t make something like Obamacare work without giving lower-income families enough support that insurance becomes affordable. But the modern G.O.P. always wants to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted; so the bill ends up throwing away the taxes on the rich that help pay for subsidies, and redirects the subsidies themselves away from those who need them to those who don’t.

Given the sick joke of a health plan, you might ask what happened to all those proclamations that Obamacare was a terrible, no good system that Republicans would immediately replace with something far better — not to mention Donald Trump’s promises of “insurance for everybody” and “great health care.”

But the answer, of course, is that they were all lying, all along — and they still are. On this, at least, Republican unity remains impressively intact.

Blow and Krugman

March 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No!

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

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

We must all demand without equivocation: Pause this presidency!

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Krugman

March 3, 2017

In “Trumpism at Its Best, Straight Up” Bobo tells us that the president’s speech to Congress offered a view of his movement without his distracting clownish behavior.  Bobo, they probably shot him with a tranquilizer dart before he went on…  Prof. Krugman, in “Goodbye Spin, Hello Raw Dishonesty,” says the first casualty of Trump is truth.  Here’s Bobo:

Donald Trump gave us Trumpism at its best on Tuesday night. And that was useful because it gave us a view of the political movement he represents, without the clownish behavior.

The first thing we learned was that Trumpism is an utter repudiation of modern conservatism. For the last 40 years, the Republican Party has been a coalition of three tendencies. On Tuesday, Trump rejected or ignored all of them.

There used to be Republican foreign policy hawks, people who believed that it was in America’s interest to serve as a global policeman, actively preserving a democratic world order. Trump explicitly repudiated this worldview, drawing instead a sharp distinction between what’s good for America and what’s good for the rest of the world.

There used to be social conservatives, who believed that the moral fabric of the country had been weakened by secularism and the breakdown of the family. On Tuesday, Trump acted as if this group didn’t exist. He didn’t mention a single social issue — abortion, religious liberty, marriage, anything.

Finally, there used to be fiscal hawks who worried about the national debt. Trump demolished these people, too, vowing a long list of spending programs and preservation of entitlement programs.

The Republicans who applauded Trump on Tuesday were applauding their own repudiation. They did it because partisanship is stronger than philosophy, but also because Reagan conservatism no longer applies to current reality.

The second thing we saw was how Trump’s ethnic nationalism emerges from the wreckage of the old G.O.P. Healthy American political philosophies balance individualism and collectivism, personal freedom and communal cohesion.

The old Reagan conservatism was economic individualism restrained by social and religious traditionalism. Conservatives could embrace the creative destruction of the free market because they believed that the communal order could be held together by traditional morals and the collective attachments of family, church and local organizations.

But in the 1990s conservatism devolved from a flexible balance to a crude anti-government philosophy, the Leave Us Alone coalition. Republicans talked as if Americans’ problem was they were burdened by too many restraints and the solution was to get government off their backs.

That may have been true of the businessmen who make up the G.O.P. donor class, but regular voters felt adrift and uprooted, untethered and exposed. Regular Republicans didn’t want more freedom and more risk in their lives. They wanted more protection and security. They wanted a father figure government that would protect them from the disruptions of technological change and globalization.

Donald Trump came along and offered them exactly that kind of strong government. He is not offering compassionate government, the way a Democrat might, but he is offering forceful government.

Trump would use big government to crack down on enemies foreign and domestic. He’d use government to create millions of jobs for infrastructure projects. He’d use government to force or bribe corporations to locate plants here — the guarded order of national corporatism over the wide-open riskiness of free-market capitalism.

The third thing we learned is that much of Trump’s policy agenda contradicts his core philosophy. Trumpism is all about protection, security and order. But many of Trump’s policies would introduce more risk into people’s lives, not less.

Trump’s health care plan — tax credits and health saving accounts — would increase choice, instability and risk for individual health care consumers. His school-choice ideas might make for more competitive education markets, but they would also increase risk and insecurity for individual consumers.

It’s likely that Republican voters will simply reject these proposals. They’ve got enough risk in their lives. It’s quite likely that large elements of the Trump agenda will go down in flames because they go against what the country wants and even against his own core brand.

Fourth, Trump’s speech on Tuesday offered those of us who want to replace him an occasion to ask the big question: How in the 21st century should government unleash initiative and dynamism while also preserving order? Trump’s answer: Nationalize intimidation but privatize compassion. Don’t look to government to offer a warm hand; look to it to confront your enemies with a hard fist.

Human development research offers a different formula: All of life is a series of daring adventures from a secure base. If government can create a framework in which people grow up amid healthy families, nurturing schools, thick communities and a secure safety net, then they will have the resources and audacity to thrive in a free global economy and a diversifying skills economy.

This is a response that is open to welfare state policies from the left and trade and macroeconomic policies from the free-market right — a single-payer health care system married to the flat tax.

The last thing Trump showed was this: We’re in a state of radical flux. Political parties can turn on a dime. At least that means it’s a time to think anew.

Buyer’s remorse much, Bobo?  Here’s what “zb” from BC had to say:

“In harking back to Reagan as time of legitimate conservativism you seem to have conveniently forgotten that he ran on a policy of pandering to southern hate; destroying government as the problem and not the solution; hyper phony patriotism; and nonsense economics.

What we have today is the natural result of Reagan and not a departure from it. Time to wake up to the fact that whatever you think you have been fighting for these decades is what helped get us to where we are.

That should have you feeling pretty sick right now.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The latest big buzz is about Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. It turns out that he lied during his confirmation hearings, denying that he had met with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. In fact, he met twice with the Russian ambassador, who is widely reported to also be a key spymaster.

Not incidentally, if this news hadn’t come to light, forcing Mr. Sessions to recuse himself, he would have supervised the investigation into Russian election meddling, possibly in collusion with the Trump campaign.

But let’s not focus too much on Mr. Sessions. After all, he is joined in the cabinet by Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who lied to Congress about his use of a private email account; Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, who lied about a sweetheart deal to purchase stock in a biotechnology company at a discount; and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who falsely told Congress that his financial firm didn’t engage in “robo-signing” of foreclosure documents, seizing homes without proper consideration.

And they would have served with Michael Flynn as national security adviser, but for the fact that Mr. Flynn was forced out after the press discovered that, like Mr. Sessions, he had lied about contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Critics of our political culture used to complain, with justification, about politicians’ addiction to spin — their inveterate habit of downplaying awkward facts and presenting their actions in a much better light than they deserved. But all indications are that the age of spin is over. It has been replaced by an era of raw, shameless dishonesty.

In part, of course, the pervasiveness of lies reflects the character of the man at the top: No president, or for that matter major U.S. political figure of any kind, has ever lied as freely and frequently as Donald Trump. But this isn’t just a Trump story. His ability to get away with it, at least so far, requires the support of many enablers: almost all of his party’s elected officials, a large bloc of voters and, all too often, much of the news media.

It’s important not to indulge in an easy cynicism, to say that politicians have always lied and always will. What we’re getting from Mr. Trump is simply on a different plane from anything we’ve seen before.

For one thing, politicians used to limit their outright lies to matters not easily checked — hidden affairs, under the table deals, and so on. But now we have the man who ran the Miss Universe competition in Moscow three years ago, and who declared just last year that “I know Russia well,” then last month said, “I haven’t called Russia in 10 years.”

On matters of policy, politicians used to limit their misrepresentations of facts and impacts to relatively hard-to-verify assertions. When George W. Bush insisted that his tax cuts mainly went to the middle class, this wasn’t true, but it took some number-crunching to show that. Mr. Trump, however, makes claims like his assertion that the murder rate — which ticked up in 2015 but is still barely half what it was in 1990 — is at a 45-year high. Furthermore, he just keeps repeating such claims after they’ve been debunked.

And the question is, who’s going to stop him?

The moral vacuity of Republicans in Congress, and the unlikelihood that they’ll act as any check on the president, becomes clearer with each passing day. Even the real possibility that we’re facing subversion by agents of a foreign power, and that top officials are part of the story, doesn’t seem to faze them as long as they can get tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor.

Meanwhile, Republican primary election voters, who are the real arbiters when polarized and/or gerrymandered districts make the general election irrelevant for many politicians, live in a Fox News bubble into which awkward truths never penetrate.

And what about the Fourth Estate? Will it let us down, too?

To be fair, the first weeks of the Trump administration have in important ways been glory days for journalism; one must honor the professionalism and courage of the reporters who have been ferreting out the secrets this authoritarian-minded clique is so determined to keep.

But then you watch something like the way much of the news media responded to Mr. Trump’s congressional address, and you feel despair. It was a speech filled with falsehoods and vile policy proposals, but read calmly off the teleprompter — and suddenly everyone was declaring the liar in chief “presidential.”

The point is that if that’s all it takes to exonerate the most dishonest man ever to hold high office in America, we’re doomed. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again.

It will.

Blow and Krugman

February 27, 2017

In “Trump, Archenemy of Truth” Mr. Blow says the press is the light that makes the roaches scatter.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Uses of Outrage,” says civil society needs to take a stand.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump’s unrelenting assault on the media is in fact an assault on the implacability of truth, the notion of accountability and the power of free speech. It is also a bit of a bow to the conspiracy theorizing that Trump is wont to do.

Last week at CPAC, the politically crippled Reince Priebus delivered a soliloquy lamenting Trump’s negative media coverage, saying, “We’re hoping that the media would catch up eventually.”

Trump’s “boss,” Steve Bannon, immediately blasted the notion the way a shotgun blasts a quail rising from the brush:

“The reason Reince and I are good partners is that we can disagree. It’s not only not going to get better. It’s going to get worse every day.”

Bannon continued:

“And here’s why. By the way, the internal logic makes sense. They’re corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed — adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has.”

He later added:

“And as economic conditions get better, as more jobs get better, they’re going to continue to fight. If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day — every day, it is going to be a fight.”

The conspiracy theory Bannon posits here is perfectly shaped for the xenophobe: America’s media has economic interests that extend well beyond this country’s borders, and therefore Trump’s “America first” message and policies pose a very real, bottom-line threat to the media’s global prosperity. The threat is so urgent that the American media is willfully damaging the only real asset it has — credibility — by inventing falsehoods designed to damage Trump and insulate its own profitability.

As far-fetched as this may sound to any reasonable person, one must always remember that Trump isn’t a reasonable person or even a particularly smart one, which makes him the perfect vessel for Bannon’s pseudo-intellectual vanities.

The day after Bannon spoke, Trump himself came to CPAC and reaffirmed his commitment to this anti-media crusade, parroting Bannon’s language.

First Trump said: “A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people.”

He continued in a barely coherent diatribe of sentence fragments, incongruous ideas and broken logic. But if you listened closely, you could hear echoes of Bannon. At one point, Trump said: “We have to fight it, folks, we have to fight it. They’re very smart, they’re very cunning and they’re very dishonest.” At another he said of the media: “Many of these groups are part of the large media corporations that have their own agenda and it’s not your agenda and it’s not the country’s agenda, it’s their own agenda.”

Trump is Bannon’s puppet, whose one sustaining parlor trick is to deliver incoherence with confidence. Strangely enough, people find comfort in this kind of imperfect parlance.

Maundering is the rhetoric of the middlebrow.

Demagogic language is reductionist language. It draws its power from its lack of proximity to soaring oratory. It can be quaint and even clumsy, all of which can give idiocy, incomprehensibility and untruth a false air of authenticity.

So Trump and Bannon spin their folksy tale of media corruption to give Trump a needed enemy in his perpetual campaign and a needed diversion from the enormity of his disasters. This fits Trump perfectly because not only does he have a gnawing insecurity, he also views the confrontational nature of news as maleficently targeted.

Trump doesn’t seem to register that lying — all the time! — is not allowed. He doesn’t seem to understand that news, by its very nature, is the publishing of that which those in power would prefer to conceal. He doesn’t seem to realize that fawning promotion of politicians’ positions is not the exercise of journalism but the promotion of propaganda. Or maybe he does and is enraged at the absence of propaganda.

So Trump lashes out with mindless twaddle, insinuating that the media has fully abandoned the pillars and principles of journalism to join the opposition.

The fact is that Trump simply wants the truth not to be true, so he assaults its quality. He wants the purveyors of truth not to pursue it, so he questions their motives.

And yet, truth stands, rigid and sharp, unforgiving and unafraid. It is our only guard against tyranny and the brave men and women who labor away in its service are nothing short of patriots and heroes.

The press won’t pat Trump on his head and give him a gold star for the few things he gets right, and then turn a blind eye to the overwhelming majority of things he gets wrong.

That’s not how it works. That’s not how it has ever worked. Trump wants to brand the press as the enemy of the American people when the exact opposite is true: A free, fearless, adversarial, in-your-face press is the best friend a democracy can have.

The press is the light that makes the roaches scatter.

Remember this every time you hear Trump attack the press: Only people with something to hide need be afraid of those whose mission is to seek.

Brooks and Krugman

February 24, 2017

In “The National Death Wish” Bobo tells us all about two senators with a recipe for American stagnation.  I’m slammed today and didn’t have time to read the comments, but I’ll bet they’re choice…  Prof. Krugman, in “Death and Tax Cuts,” explains what Republicans mean when they talk about freedom.  Here’s Bobo:

A few weeks ago, Tom Cotton and David Perdue, Republican senators from Arkansas and Georgia, introduced an immigration bill that would cut the number of legal immigrants to this country each year in half, from about a million to about 500,000.

In a press conference, Cotton offered a rationale for his bill. “There’s no denying this generation-long surge in low-skilled immigration has hurt blue-collar wages,” he said. If we can reduce the number of low-skill immigrants coming into the country, that will reduce the pool of labor, put upward pressure on wages and bring more Americans back into the labor force.

It seems like a plausible argument. That is, until you actually get out in the real world.

Cotton and Perdue’s position, which is now the mainstream Republican position, is based on the unconscious supposition that American society is like a lake, with a relatively fixed boundary. If you cut the supply of fish coming from outside, there will be more food for the ones born here.

The problem is that American society is actually more like a river. Sometimes the river is running high, with a lot of volume and flow, with lots of good stuff for everybody, and sometimes it’s running low.

Let’s illustrate the point by looking at one portion of the labor market. Right now construction is booming in many cities. This has created high demand for workers and pervasive labor shortages.

Nationwide, there are now about 200,000 unfilled construction jobs, according to the National Association of Home Builders. If America were as simple as a lake, builders would just raise wages, incomes would rise and the problem would be over.

But that hasn’t happened. Builders have gone recruiting in high schools and elsewhere, looking for people willing to learn building skills, but they’re not having much luck.

Construction is hard, many families demean physical labor and construction is highly cyclical. Hundreds of thousands of people lost construction jobs during the financial crisis and don’t want to come back. They want steadier work even at a lower salary.

Employers have apparently decided raising wages won’t work. Adjusting for inflation, wages are roughly where they were, at about $27 an hour on average in a place like Colorado. Instead, employers have had to cut back on output. One builder told Reuters that he could take on 10 percent more projects per year if he could find the crews.

In other words, the labor shortage hasn’t led to higher wages; it’s reduced and distorted the flow of the economic river. There’s less home buying, less furniture buying, less economic activity. People devote a larger share of their income to housing and less to everything else. When builders do have workers, they focus on high-end luxury homes, leaving affordable housing high and dry.

The essential point is that immigrants don’t take native jobs on any sort of one-to-one basis. They drive economic activity all the way down the river, creating new jobs in some areas and then pushing native workers into more complicated jobs in others. A comprehensive study of non-European Union immigrants into Denmark between 1991 and 2008 found that immigrants did not push down wages, but rather freed natives to do more pleasant work.

An exhaustive U.S. study by the National Academy of Sciences found that immigration didn’t drive down most wages, but it had a “very small” and temporary effect on native-born workers without a high school degree.

The way to help working families is not to cut immigration. It’s to help everybody flow to the job he or she wants to take.

The last time we cut immigration, in the 1920s, we were in the middle of a baby boom. Today, fertility rates have plummeted. If the Cotton-Perdue bill became law, the working-age population would shrink, the nation would age and America would decline.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why so many Republicans prefer a dying white America to a place like, say, Houston.

Houston has very light zoning regulations, and as a result it has affordable housing and a culture that welcomes immigrants. This has made it incredibly diverse, with 145 languages spoken in the city’s homes, and incredibly dynamic — the fastest-growing big city in America recently. (Personally, I wish it would do a bit more zoning — it’s pretty ugly.)

The large immigrant population has paradoxically given the city a very strong, very patriotic and cohesive culture, built around being welcoming to newcomers and embracing the future. As the Houston urban analyst Tory Gattis points out, the Houston Rodeo has so many volunteers it has recently limited their special privileges. In 2015 it had the healthiest philanthropic sector in the nation. The city is coming together to solve its pension problems better than just about any other big place.

Cotton and Perdue are the second coming of those static mind-set/slow-growth/zero-sum liberals one used to meet in the 1970s. They’ll dry up the river. I wish they had a little more faith in freedom, dynamism and human ingenuity.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Across the country, Republicans have been facing crowds demanding to know how they will protect the 20 million Americans who gained health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and will lose it if the act is repealed. And after all that inveighing against the evils of Obamacare, it turns out that they’ve got nothing.

Instead, they’re talking about freedom — which these days is the real refuge of scoundrels.

Actually, many prominent Republicans haven’t even gotten to the point of trying to respond to criticism; they’re just whining about how mean their constituents are being, and invoking conspiracy theories. Talk about snowflakes who can dish it out but can’t take it!

Thus, Representative Jason Chaffetz insisted that the public outcry is just “a paid attempt to bully and intimidate”; Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, calls all anti-Trump demonstrations a “very paid, AstroTurf-type movement.” And the tweeter in chief angrily declared that protests have been “planned out by liberal activists” — because what could be worse than political action by the politically active?

But perhaps the saddest spectacle is that of Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, whom the media have for years portrayed as a serious, honest conservative, a deep thinker about how to reform America’s safety net. That reputation was never justified; still, even those of us who long ago recognized him as a flimflammer have been struck by his utter failure to rise to this occasion.

After years to prepare, Mr. Ryan finally unveiled what was supposedly the outline of a health care plan. It was basically a sick joke: flat tax credits, unrelated to income, that could be applied to the purchase of insurance.

These credits would be obviously inadequate for the lower- and even middle-income families that gained coverage under Obamacare, so it would cause a huge surge in the number of uninsured. Meanwhile, the affluent would receive a nice windfall. Funny how that seems to happen in every plan Mr. Ryan proposes.

That was last week. This week, perhaps realizing how flat his effort fell, he began tweeting about freedom, which he defined as “the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need.” Give me consumer sovereignty or give me death! And Obamacare, he declared, is bad because it deprives Americans of that freedom by doing things like establishing minimum standards for insurance policies.

I very much doubt that this is going to fly, now that ordinary Americans are starting to realize just how devastating loss of coverage would be. But for the record, let me remind everyone what we’ve been saying for years: Any plan that makes essential care available to everyone has to involve some restriction of choice.

Suppose you want to make insurance available to people with pre-existing conditions. You can’t just forbid insurance companies to discriminate based on medical history; if you do that, healthy people won’t sign up until they get sick. So you have to mandate the purchase of insurance; and you have to provide subsidies to lower-income families so that they can afford the policies. The end result of this logic is … Obamacare.

And one more thing: Insurance policies must meet a minimum standard. Otherwise, healthy people will buy cheap policies with paper-thin coverage and huge deductibles, which is basically the same as not buying insurance at all.

So yes, Obamacare somewhat restricts choice — not because meddling bureaucrats want to run your life, but because some restrictions are necessary as part of a package that in many ways sets Americans free.

For health reform has been a hugely liberating experience for millions. It means that workers don’t have to fear that quitting a job with a large company will mean loss of health coverage, and that entrepreneurs don’t have to fear striking out on their own. It means that those 20 million people who gained coverage don’t have to fear financial ruin if they get sick — or unnecessary death if they can’t afford treatment. For there is no real question that Obamacare is saving tens of thousands of lives every year.

So why do Republicans hate Obamacare so much? It’s not because they have better ideas; as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, they’re coming up empty-handed on the “replace” part of “repeal and replace.” It’s not, I’m sorry to say, because they are deeply committed to Americans’ right to buy the insurance policy of their choice.

No, mainly they hate Obamacare for two reasons: It demonstrates that the government can make people’s lives better, and it’s paid for in large part with taxes on the wealthy. Their overriding goal is to make those taxes go away. And if getting those taxes cut means that quite a few people end up dying, remember: freedom!

Blow and Krugman

February 20, 2017

In “Harry and Sidney: Soul Brothers” Mr. Blow offers on their 90th birthdays, an ode to two of the most remarkable men of our time.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “On Economic Arrogance:”  Why do Republicans imagine they can deliver growth?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Please allow me to divert my gaze for one day away from our national political darkness and toward two national rays of light.

Monday is Sidney Poitier’s 90th birthday. His best friend of 70 years, Harry Belafonte, turns 90 on March 1.

This is an ode to and appreciation of the friendship — one of the most remarkable and resilient of our time — between two Hollywood royals.

Poitier and Belafonte didn’t meet until they were 20 years old, and yet Belafonte still considered Poitier his first real friend in life. As Belafonte put it, he lived a “nomadic” life as a child, shuttling back and forth between New York and islands of the Caribbean with his mother as she searched for work. “I did not get rooted long enough to develop what many people have the joy of experiencing, and that is childhood friends.”

The two men met at the American Negro Theatre, where Poitier worked as a janitor while studying with the company and where Belafonte worked as a stagehand. This was where they became performers.

The two men quickly broke through to each other, in part because they had so much in common. Not only were they the same age, they were both born to parents of West Indian heritage, enabling them to see the absurdity of racism in America from within and without and to bring a quasi-Pan-African sensibility to the African-American experience.

They shared the charmingly ordinary experiences that young friends share, like sneaking into the theater on the same ticket, each seeing half of a show, then filling each other in afterward on the half the other had missed. They called it “sharing the burden and the joy.”

And yet, by leaning on each other, supporting each other (Belafonte counseled Poitier though the dissolution of his marriage, which ended during his nine-year affair with actress Diahann Carroll), pushing each other, and yes, competing with each other (the first time Poitier was cast in a role, he was Belafonte’s understudy), they would both find tremendous popular success. Each man often took roles that the other had turned down or didn’t get.

In the 1950s Belafonte was dubbed the “King of Calypso” after his breakthrough album Calypso became the first LP in America to sell a million copies. In the early 1960s, Poitier became the first African-American to win the best actor Academy Award.

Even at the height of their success both men made an indelible mark on the Civil Rights Movement and changed the very idea of black masculinity.

In 1964, Belafonte convinced a hesitant Poitier to help him deliver $70,000 stuffed into a doctor’s bag to Freedom Summer volunteers in the South. They were met by Klansmen who chased them and fired guns at them. As one website put it, referring to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, “The trip ‘solidified Poitier’s commitment to SNCC,’ and he would become the symbol of the group’s goals for African-Americans.”

For Belafonte’s part, he formed a committee to support the movement and raised thousands of dollars to help bail the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. out of jail, pay for the release of arrested protesters, help finance freedom rides and bankroll SNCC.

Belafonte and Poitier helped organize the March on Washington and helped plan King’s memorial after he was assassinated.

As for their impact on black masculinity, Belafonte has said of Poitier, “I don’t think anyone [else] in the world could have been anointed with the responsibility of creating a whole new image of black people, and especially black men.” In truth, Belafonte is being needlessly self-effacing here, because both he and Poitier accomplished this feat.

I’ve met both men and was enthralled by each. The first time I heard Belafonte speak in person, he spoke so eloquently and passionately that I was sure that he was reading a speech. He wasn’t. The next time I saw him I rehearsed a fan speech in my mind as I approached him, but before I could utter a word, he said to me, “I’m such a fan.” Mind. Blown.

When I was on my book tour, Poitier invited me to dinner in Beverly Hills. He was the most charming and graceful person I’ve ever met, famous or not. He told me: “I’m adopting you. I don’t have any sons. I have six daughters.” He insisted that I sign the book for him and his wife: “To Mom and Dad.”

Belafonte and Poitier demonstrated over a lifetime how celebrities could embody activism as well as the quiet power of dignity and grace.

King once said of Poitier: “He is a man of great depth, a man of great social concern, a man who is dedicated to human rights and freedom. Here is a man who, in the words we so often hear now, is a soul brother.”

In fact, I think that is what Poitier and Belafonte found in each other: a soul brother. Happy birthday, gentlemen.

Now, after that lovely bit of relief from our ongoing national nightmare, here’s Prof. Krugman:

According to press reports, the Trump administration is basing its budget projections on the assumption that the U.S. economy will grow very rapidly over the next decade — in fact, almost twice as fast as independent institutions like the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve expect. There is, as far as we can tell, no serious analysis behind this optimism; instead, the number was plugged in to make the fiscal outlook appear better.

I guess this was only to be expected from a man who keeps insisting that crime, which is actually near record lows, is at a record high, that millions of illegal ballots were responsible for his popular vote loss, and so on: In Trumpworld, numbers are what you want them to be, and anything else is fake news. But the truth is that unwarranted arrogance about economics isn’t Trump-specific. On the contrary, it’s the modern Republican norm. And the question is why.

Before I get there, a word about why extreme growth optimism is unwarranted.

The Trump team is apparently projecting growth at between 3 and 3.5 percent for a decade. This wouldn’t be unprecedented: the U.S. economy grew at a 3.4 percent rate during the Reagan years, 3.7 percent under Bill Clinton. But a repeat performance is unlikely.

For one thing, in the Reagan years baby boomers were still entering the work force. Now they’re on their way out, and the rise in the working-age population has slowed to a crawl. This demographic shift alone should, other things being equal, subtract around a percentage point from U.S. growth.

Furthermore, both Reagan and Clinton inherited depressed economies, with unemployment well over 7 percent. This meant that there was a lot of economic slack, allowing rapid growth as the unemployed went back to work. Today, by contrast, unemployment is under 5 percent, and other indicators suggest an economy close to full employment. This leaves much less scope for rapid growth.

The only way we could have a growth miracle now would be a huge takeoff in productivity — output per worker-hour. This could, of course, happen: maybe driverless flying cars will arrive en masse. But it’s hardly something one should assume for a baseline projection.

And it’s certainly not something one should count on as a result of conservative economic policies. Which brings me to the strange arrogance of the economic right.

As I said, belief that tax cuts and deregulation will reliably produce awesome growth isn’t unique to the Trump-Putin administration. We heard the same thing from Jeb Bush (who?); we hear it from congressional Republicans like Paul Ryan. The question is why. After all, there is nothing — nothing at all — in the historical record to justify this arrogance.

Yes, Reagan presided over pretty fast growth. But Bill Clinton, who raised taxes on the rich, amid confident predictions from the right that this would cause an economic disaster, presided over even faster growth. President Obama presided over much more rapid private-sector job growth than George W. Bush, even if you leave out the 2008 collapse. Furthermore, two Obama policies that the right totally hated – the 2013 hike in tax rates on the rich, and the 2014 implementation of the Affordable Care Act – produced no slowdown at all in job creation.

Meanwhile, the growing polarization of American politics has given us what amount to economic policy experiments at the state level. Kansas, dominated by conservative true believers, implemented sharp tax cuts with the promise that these cuts would jump-start rapid growth; they didn’t, and caused a budget crisis instead. Last week Kansas legislators threw in the towel and passed a big tax hike.

At the same time Kansas was turning hard right, California’s newly dominant Democratic majority raised taxes. Conservatives declared it “economic suicide” — but the state is in fact doing fine.

The evidence, then, is totally at odds with claims that tax-cutting and deregulation are economic wonder drugs. So why does a whole political party continue to insist that they are the answer to all problems?

It would be nice to pretend that we’re still having a serious, honest discussion here, but we aren’t. At this point we have to get real and talk about whose interests are being served.

Never mind whether slashing taxes on billionaires while giving scammers and polluters the freedom to scam and pollute is good for the economy as a whole; it’s clearly good for billionaires, scammers, and polluters. Campaign finance being what it is, this creates a clear incentive for politicians to keep espousing a failed doctrine, for think tanks to keep inventing new excuses for that doctrine, and more.

And on such matters Donald Trump is really no worse than the rest of his party. Unfortunately, he’s also no better.

Brooks and Krugman

February 17, 2017

Today Bobo has decided to tell us all about “What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like.”  He gurgles that without grown-ups in charge, the government could stop working.  “Don Shipp” from Homestead, FL will have something to say.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “The Silence of the Hacks:”  Is subversion in the defense of tax cuts no vice?  Here’s Bobo:

I still have trouble seeing how the Trump administration survives a full term. Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued.

Trump’s White House staff is at war with itself. His poll ratings are falling at unprecedented speed. His policy agenda is stalled. F.B.I. investigations are just beginning. This does not feel like a sustainable operation.

On the other hand, I have trouble seeing exactly how this administration ends. Many of the institutions that would normally ease out or remove a failing president no longer exist.

There are no longer moral arbiters in Congress like Howard Baker and Sam Ervin to lead a resignation or impeachment process. There is no longer a single media establishment that shapes how the country sees the president. This is no longer a country in which everybody experiences the same reality.

Everything about Trump that appalls 65 percent of America strengthens him with the other 35 percent, and he can ride that group for a while. Even after these horrible four weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill are not close to abandoning their man.

The likelihood is this: We’re going to have an administration that has morally and politically collapsed, without actually going away.

What does that look like?

First, it means an administration that is passive, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. To get anything done, a president depends on the vast machinery of the U.S. government. But Trump doesn’t mesh with that machinery. He is personality-based while it is rule-based. Furthermore, he’s declared war on it. And when you declare war on the establishment, it declares war on you.

The Civil Service has a thousand ways to ignore or sit on any presidential order. The court system has given itself carte blanche to overturn any Trump initiative, even on the flimsiest legal grounds. The intelligence community has only just begun to undermine this president.

President Trump can push all the pretty buttons on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise, but don’t expect anything to actually happen, because they are not attached.

Second, this will probably become a more insular administration. Usually when administrations stumble, they fire a few people and bring in the grown-ups — the James Baker or the David Gergen types. But Trump is anti-grown-up, so it’s hard to imagine Chief of Staff Haley Barbour. Instead, the circle of trust seems to be shrinking to his daughter, her husband and Stephen Bannon.

Bannon has a coherent worldview, which is a huge advantage when all is chaos. It’s interesting how many of Bannon’s rivals have woken up with knives in their backs. Michael Flynn is gone. Reince Priebus has been unmanned by a thousand White House leaks. Rex Tillerson had the potential to be an effective secretary of state, but Bannon neutered him last week by denying him the ability to even select his own deputy.

In an administration in which “promoted beyond his capacity” takes on new meaning, Bannon looms. With each passing day, Trump talks more like Bannon without the background reading.

Third, we are about to enter a decentralized world. For the past 70 years most nations have instinctively looked to the U.S. for leadership, either to follow or oppose. But in capitals around the world, intelligence agencies are drafting memos with advice on how to play Donald Trump.

The first conclusion is obvious. This administration is more like a medieval monarchy than a modern nation-state. It’s more “The Madness of King George” than “The Missiles of October.” The key currency is not power, it’s flattery.

The corollary is that Trump is ripe to be played. Give the boy a lollipop and he won’t notice if you steal his lunch. The Japanese gave Trump a new jobs announcement he could take to the Midwest, and in return they got presidential attention and coddling that other governments would have died for.

If you want to roll the Trump administration, you’ve got to get in line. The Israelis got a possible one-state solution. The Chinese got Trump to flip-flop on the “One China” policy. The Europeans got him to do a 180 on undoing the Iran nuclear deal.

Vladimir Putin was born for a moment such as this. He is always pushing the envelope. After gifting Team Trump with a little campaign help, the Russian state media has suddenly turned on Trump and Russian planes are buzzing U.S. ships. The bear is going to grab what it can.

We’re about to enter a moment in which U.S. economic and military might is strong but U.S. political might is weak. Imagine the Roman Empire governed by Monaco.

That’s scary. The only saving thought is this: The human imagination is vast, but it is not nearly vast enough to encompass the infinitely multitudinous ways Donald Trump can find to get himself disgraced.

“The court system has given itself carte blanche to overturn any Trump initiative, even on the flimsiest legal grounds.”  What a pile of crap — give us a citation of some of those “flimsiest” legal grounds, you worthless hack.  Here’s what “Don Shipp” had to say:

“No one could watch yesterday’s Faulknerian, stream of consciousness, psycho drama, and not be concerned about the mental stability and solipsistic tendencies of Donald Trump. We all saw it. The existential problem is that the Republican Party could utilize it’s control of the Congressional committee system, subpoena power, and the creation of select committees to thoroughly investigate the Russian debacle and monitor any future Trump anomalies, but blind ambition and their position as parasites on the political host of Donald Trump, precludes them from putting the welfare of the nation ahead of their political agenda. Mitch McConnell oozes fetid partisanship to the point of squalid political immorality. Paul Ryan’s obsession with enacting his economic agenda renders him spineless and unwilling to confront the conservative radicals in the House whose co-operation he would need to investigate Trump.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The story so far: A foreign dictator intervened on behalf of a U.S. presidential candidate — and that candidate won. Close associates of the new president were in contact with the dictator’s espionage officials during the campaign, and his national security adviser was forced out over improper calls to that country’s ambassador — but not until the press reported it; the president learned about his actions weeks earlier, but took no action.

Meanwhile, the president seems oddly solicitous of the dictator’s interests, and rumors swirl about his personal financial connections to the country in question. Is there anything to those rumors? Nobody knows, in part because the president refuses to release his tax returns.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong here, and it’s all perfectly innocent. But if it’s not innocent, it’s very bad indeed. So what do Republicans in Congress, who have the power to investigate the situation, believe should be done?

Nothing.

Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, says that Michael Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador were “entirely appropriate.”

Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, angrily dismissed calls for a select committee to investigate contacts during the campaign: “There is absolutely not going to be one.”

Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House oversight committee — who hounded Hillary Clinton endlessly over Benghazi — declared that the “situation has taken care of itself.”

Just the other day Republicans were hot in pursuit of potential scandal, and posed as ultrapatriots. Now they’re indifferent to actual subversion and the real possibility that we are being governed by people who take their cues from Moscow. Why?

Well, Senator Rand Paul explained it all: “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans.” Does anyone doubt that he was speaking for his whole party?

The point is that you can’t understand the mess we’re in without appreciating not just the potential corruption of the president, but the unmistakable corruption of his party — a party so intent on cutting taxes for the wealthy, deregulating banks and polluters and dismantling social programs that accepting foreign subversion is, apparently, a small price to pay.

Put it this way: I’ve been seeing comparisons between the emerging information on the Trump-Putin connection and the Watergate affair, which brought down a previous president. But while the potential scandal here is far worse than Watergate — Richard Nixon was sinister and scary, but nobody imagined that he might be taking instructions from a foreign power — it’s very hard to imagine today’s Republicans standing up for the Constitution the way their predecessors did.

It’s not simply that these days there are more moral midgets in Congress, although that, too. Watergate took place before Republicans began their long march to the political right, so Congress was far less polarized than it is now. There was widespread agreement between the parties on basic economic ideas, and a fair amount of ideological crossover; this meant that Republicans didn’t worry so much that holding a lawless president accountable would derail their hard-line agenda.

The polarization of the electorate also undermines Congress’s role as a check on the president: Most Republicans are in safe districts, where their main fear is of primary challengers to their right. And the Republican base has suddenly become remarkably pro-Russian. Funny how that works.

So how does this crisis end?

It’s not a constitutional crisis — yet. But Donald Trump is facing a clear crisis of legitimacy. His popular-vote-losing win was already suspect given the F.B.I.’s last-minute intervention on his behalf. Now we know that even as the F.B.I. was creating the false appearance of scandal around his opponent, it was sitting on evidence suggesting alarmingly close relations between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia. And nothing he has done since the inauguration allays fears that he is in effect a Putin puppet.

How can a leader under such a cloud send American soldiers to die? How can he be granted the right to shape the Supreme Court for a generation?

Again, a thorough, nonpartisan, unrestricted investigation could conceivably clear the air. But Republicans in Congress, who have the power to make such an investigation happen, are dead set against it.

The thing is, this nightmare could be ended by a handful of Republican legislators willing to make common cause with Democrats to demand the truth. And maybe there are enough people of conscience left in the G.O.P.

But there probably aren’t. And that’s a problem that’s even scarier than the Trump-Putin axis.

Blow and Krugman

February 13, 2017

In “The Power of Disruption” Mr. Blow tells us history shows that it works.  Prof. Krugman, in “Ignorance Is Strength,” says what they don’t know can hurt them, but also us.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Trump resistance movement is stretching its wings, engaging its muscles and feeling its power. It is large and strong and tough. It has moved past debilitating grief and into righteous anger, assiduous organization and pressing activism.

Welcome to the dawn of the fighting-mad majority: The ones who didn’t vote for Trump and maybe even some who now regret that they did.

They are charging forward under the banner of sage wisdom that has endured through the ages: Show up, get loud and fight back. Do it with your body and words, with your time and money, with every fiber of yourself. They see what this dawning regime means and they don’t intend, not even for a second, to wait around to see what happens. “What happens” is happening right now and it’s horrific.

Donald Trump is a vulgar, uninformed, anti-intellectual, extremely unpopular grifter helming a family of grifters who apparently intend to milk their moment on the mount for every red cent.

Trump still hasn’t released his taxes or fully disconnected from his businesses. His wife is suing The Daily Mail because she believes the newspaper may have injured her “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to “have garnered multimillion-dollar business relationships for a multiyear term.” When his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line was dropped by Nordstrom, Trump lashed out at the retailer on Twitter, citing Ivanka as something of his moral compass: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” This begs the question: “Why do you need someone to push you to do the right thing?”

Then, top Trump adviser Kellyanne “QVC” Conway, from the confines of the White House briefing room, said during a televised interview: “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would say.” She continued: “I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody; you can find it online.”

Unethical is too kind a word for these classless cretins. Furthermore, Trump has nominated, and his Republican conspirators in the Senate have confirmed, a rogues’ gallery of some of the least qualified, most questionable appointees in recent memory. Aside from some of them being the fiercest critics of the very agencies they are charged with leading, some have also been accused of bigotry, plagiarism, insider trading and overall vacuousness.

Trump’s Muslim ban has also been an absolute disaster and has met some much-applauded resistance in court, most recently with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rebuking the administration’s lawyers like children.

This administration is already manifesting as the disaster we knew it would be; the stench of its rot surrounds us. What is there to wait and see? A rose will never bloom from a weed; you must snatch that thing up at first sight, by the root.

That is why you are seeing so much grass-roots resistance from a multiplying array of groups. One of the most prominent is called “Indivisible.” The Nation interviewed Ezra Levin, a former Democratic staffer and co-founder of the project and reported on the exchange: “Levin says that Indivisible built on the Tea Party’s model of ‘practicing locally-focused, almost entirely defensive strategy.’ This, he adds, ‘was very smart, and it was rooted in an understanding of how American democracy works. They understood that they didn’t have the power to set the agenda in Washington, but they did have the ability to react to it. It’s Civics 101 stuff — going to local offices, attending events, calling their reps.”

I would add that these groups are practicing one of the most effective tactics of confronting power: disruption. Town hall meetings have been disrupted; protesters disrupted Education Secretary Betsy Devos’s plans to enter a Washington school.

Disruption works!

When Frederick Douglass attacked Abraham Lincoln by saying that he “seems to possess an ever increasing passion for making himself appear silly and ridiculous, if nothing worse,” Douglass was being disruptive.

When women suffragists paraded through Washington, they were being disruptive.

When Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat, she was being disruptive.

When civil rights activists marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were being disruptive.

When LGBT people fought back at The Stonewall Inn, they were being disruptive.

When Act Up flooded Times Square, they were being disruptive.

When Occupy Wall Street refused to move from their parks, they were being disruptive.

When Black Lives Matter took to the streets and ground traffic to a halt, they were being disruptive.

When Native Americans stood in resistance at Standing Rock, they were being disruptive.

When Elizabeth Warren persisted, she was being disruptive.

Disruption is not a dirty word; in this environment, it’s a badge of honor.

Yes, it’s important to show up on Election Day, but it is also important to show up on the hundreds of days before and after. This is what the resistance movements are saying to Trump and his America: Buckle your seatbelts, because massive disruption is in the offing.

Trump is not normal. He is not competent. And we will not simply sit back and suck it up.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

When I travel to Asia, I’m fairly often met at the airport by someone holding a sign reading “Mr. Paul.” Why? In much of Asia, names are given family first, personal second — at home, the prime minister of Japan is referred to as Abe Shinzo. And the mistake is completely forgivable when it’s made by a taxi driver picking up a professor.

It’s not so forgivable, however, if the president of the United States makes the same mistake when welcoming the leader of one of our most important economic and security partners. But there it was: Donald Trump referring to Mr. Abe as, yes, Prime Minister Shinzo.

Mr. Abe did not, as far as we know, respond by calling his host President Donald.

Trivial? Well, it would be if it were an isolated instance. But it isn’t. What we’ve seen instead over the past three weeks is an awesome display of raw ignorance on every front. Worse, there’s no hint that either the White House or its allies in Congress see this as a problem. They appear to believe that expertise, or even basic familiarity with a subject, is for wimps; ignorance is strength.

We see this on legal matters: In a widely quoted analysis, the legal expert Benjamin Wittes described the infamous executive order on refugees as “malevolence tempered by incompetence,” and noted that the order reads “as if it was not reviewed by competent counsel at all” — which is a good way to lose in court.

We see it on national security matters, where the president continues to rely on a chief adviser who, suspicious closeness to the Kremlin aside, appears to get his strategic information from right-wing conspiracy theorists.

We see it on education, where the hearings for Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, revealed her to be completely ignorant about even the most elementary issues.

We see it on diplomacy. How hard is it to ask someone from the State Department to make sure that the White House gets foreign leaders’ names right? Too hard, apparently: Before the Abe flub, the official agenda for the state visit by Theresa May, the British prime minister, repeatedly misspelled her name.

And on economics — well, there’s nobody home. The Council of Economic Advisers, which is supposed to provide technical expertise, has been demoted from cabinet rank, but that hardly matters, since nobody has been nominated to serve. Remember all that talk about a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan? If you do, please remind the White House, which hasn’t offered even a ghost of a concrete proposal.

But let me not be too hard on the Tweeter-in-chief: disdain for expertise is general in his party. For example, the most influential Republican economists aren’t serious academics with a conservative bent, of whom there are many; they’re known hacks who literally can’t get a number right.

Or consider the current G.O.P. panic over health care. Many in the party seem shocked to learn that repealing any major part of Obamacare will cause tens of millions to lose insurance. Anyone who studied the issue could have told them years ago how the pieces of health reform fit together, and why. In fact, many of us did, repeatedly. But competent analysis wasn’t wanted.

And that is, of course, the point. Competent lawyers might tell you that your Muslim ban is unconstitutional; competent scientists that climate change is real; competent economists that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves; competent voting experts that there weren’t millions of illegal ballots; competent diplomats that the Iran deal makes sense, and Putin is not your friend. So competence must be excluded.

At this point, someone is bound to say, “If they’re so dumb, how come they won?” Part of the answer is that disdain for experts — sorry, “so-called” experts — resonates with an important part of the electorate. Bigotry wasn’t the only dark force at work in the election; so was anti-intellectualism, hostility toward “elites” who claim that opinions should be based on careful study and thought.

Also, campaigning is very different from governing. This is especially true when the news media spend far more time obsessing over your opponent’s pseudo-scandals than they do on all actual policy issues combined.

But now things have gotten real, and all indications are that the people in charge have no idea what they’re doing, on any front.

In some ways this cluelessness may be a good thing: malevolence may indeed be tempered by incompetence. It’s not just the court defeat over immigration; Republican ignorance has turned what was supposed to be a blitzkrieg against Obamacare into a quagmire, to the great benefit of millions. And Mr. Trump’s imploding job approval might help slow the march to autocracy.

But meanwhile, who’s in charge? Crises happen, and we have an intellectual vacuum at the top. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Oh, trust me, Paul — I’m terrified.