Posts Tagged ‘Krugman’

Blow and Krugman

May 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This rhetoric is overheated, violent and dangerous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Krugman

May 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krugman’s blog, 5/23/17

May 24, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Trucking And Blue-Collar Woes:”

What with everything else going on, this Trip Gabriel essay on truckers hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should. But it’s awesome — and says a lot about what is and isn’t behind the decline of blue-collar wages.

Trucking used to be a well-paying occupation. Here are wages of transportation and warehousing workers in today’s dollars, which have fallen by a third since the early 1970s:

Why? This is neither a trade nor a technology story. We’re not importing Chinese trucking services; robot truck drivers are a possible future, but not here yet. The article mentions workers displaced from manufacturing, but that’s a pretty thin reed. What it doesn’t mention is the obvious thing: unions.

Unfortunately the occupational categories covered by the BLS have changed a bit, so it will take someone with more time than I have right now to do this right. But using the data at unionstats we can see that a drastic fall in trucker unionization took place during the 1980s: 38 percent of “heavy truck” drivers covered by unions in 1983, already down to 25 percent by 1991. It’s not quite comparable, but only 13 percent of “drivers/sales workers and truck drivers” were covered last year.

In short, this looks very much like a non tradable industry where workers used to have a lot of bargaining power through collective action, and lost it in the great union-busting that took place under Reagan and after.

And the great majority of the people whose chance at a middle-class life was destroyed by those political changes probably voted for Trump. Oh well.

Krugman’s blog, 5/20/17

May 22, 2017

There was one post on Saturday, “Belts, Roads, and Strategic Trade Policy:”

Look, I’m as obsessed with the Trump disaster as anyone else. But I’m trying to think about other things. And there does appear to be some big stuff happening, or potentially happening, on the global trade front, via China’s “belts and roads” transportation initiative. This is obviously an attempt to expand China’s political influence, and help find markets for Chinese exports. The magnitude of the effects is going to take some work to estimate. But is there anything else that’s interesting on an analytical level?

Well, I find myself thinking about some of my old work on economic geography, inspired in part by William Cronon’s wonderful Nature’s Metropolis, about the rise of Chicago.

What I took from Cronon was the importance of being a transportation hub. Thanks to the network of railroads spreading out from Chicago (partly dictated by the Great Lakes), virtually any two places in the “Great West” were effectively closer to Chicago than they were to each other.

Think of any economic activity characterized by strong economies of scale. There is a clear incentive to centralize this activity, and serve multiple markets from one location. But which location? In Figure 1 I show three locations with basically comparable transport links, shown by the dotted lines; in this case no one location has an obvious advantage, unless there are big differences in either costs or local market size.

But suppose that two of those transport links are greatly improved, as shown by the solid lines in Figure 2. Then location C gets a leg up: other things equal, you will want to locate stuff in C to serve markets in A and B as well.

Right now, China looks more like A or B than C: stuff goes mainly by ship, whether to Europe, America, or various developing countries. Good highways across central Asia and down to South Asia could change that, giving China a new centrality in the world’s economic geography; you might almost call it the Middle Kingdom.

How big a deal would this be? I have no idea. But you can definitely see Belts and Roads as a bit of a strategic trade policy as well as being a strategic, well, strategic policy.

Blow and Krugman

May 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crisis isn’t limited only to Trump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

May 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krugman’s blog, 5/17/17

May 18, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Calling Literatures From The Vasty Deep:”

Noah Smith has a very nice essay on how to deal with people who try to ward off serious criticism of their ideas by appealing to a “vast literature” you don’t know. As he says, sometimes there are vast literatures of nonsense, or at any rate of dubious quality, that mainly serve to protect vested intellectual interests.

Yet of course there are also cases in which you really should know something about existing research before opining, and Noah has a clever device: the Two Paper Rule. Give me two papers in this vast literature that are “exemplars and paragons” of the literature. If you can’t, the whole literature is probably a waste of time.

Which of course sets some of us to work trying to think of the two papers we’d recommend in particular areas of interest. So, some of my examples.

Noah is generally very down on macroeconomics, but I believe that we’ve learned a lot in macro since the 2008 crisis. Take fiscal policy: before the crisis there was strikingly little solid evidence about its effects, largely because history gave us so few natural experiments (causation generally ran from business cycles to budgets rather than the other way around). But the crisis gave us both some experiments via austerity and a renewed search for historical cases. I’d point to Blanchard and Leigh, using austerity as an experiment, and Nakamura-Steinsson, exploiting regional shocks from defense spending. Not saying these are the only fine papers, but they’re enough to show that there’s a real there there.

I think we’ve also had some dramatic confirmation of what some of us thought we knew about monetary policy at the zero lower bound. I can think, for example, of a 1998 paper that has held up really well; but I’ll leave that as an exercise for readers.

What about trade? Autor/Dorn/Hanson on the China shock may not be the last word, but surely a revelatory approach. In a strange way, I’d put Subramanian and Kessler in the same category: realizing that this globalization is different from anything that came before is a big deal.

I guess that in a way I’m pushing back against Noah’s nihilism (noahlism?) even while endorsing his method. I think there has been a lot of good economics done, even if there are also vast literatures not worth your time.

Lovely neologism there, or should I say “noahlogism?”

Krugman’s blog, 5/15/17

May 16, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Nattering Nabobs of NAFTA:”

This discussion with David Rennie of The Economist on Trump is pretty scary. To paraphrase an old Brad DeLong line, Trump is more ignorant and impulsive than you can imagine, even taking into account that he’s more ignorant and impulsive than you can imagine. How close we came to leaving NAFTA:

People inside the White House also called the new Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Perdue had only been confirmed, like, a day or two earlier. And they called him in, [saying], “You need to come over here now! You need to! He’s about to withdraw from NAFTA.”

So Sonny Perdue literally asked his staff to draw up a map of the bits of America that had voted for Donald Trump and the bits of America that do well from exporting grain and corn through NAFTA. [The map] showed how these two areas often overlap. So he went in, said to Donald Trump, “Actually, Trump America, your voters, they do pretty well out of NAFTA.” And the president said, “Oh. Then maybe I won’t withdraw from NAFTA.”

Which put me to work wasting some time. Who actually exports a lot to Mexico? The top 10, as % of state GDP in 2014:

Trump states indeed. But I was more interested in the economic geography. What we see here mainly is the gravity equation: trade falls off with distance, with border and near-border states doing a lot of Mexico trade. The outliers are Michigan and to a lesser extent Indiana and Tennessee, which presumably reflects the especially close NAFTA integration of the auto industry.

Interesting stuff, at least for me. Also the kind of thing that should be taken into account in future trade negotiations, as the president takes expert advice into account and [hysterical laughing fit]

Blow and Krugman

May 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who does that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

But why should anyone besides pedants care?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there is no such faction, and never was.

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

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

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

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

Krugman’s blog, 5/12/17

May 13, 2017

He’s baaack!  There was one post yesterday, “Trumpistan:”

Item: Trump demanded loyalty — not to his office, but to the person of the president — from James Comey.

Item: Trump admitted on live TV that he fired Comey to stop the ongoing investigation into Russia’s connections with his campaign.

Item: a woman was arrested for laughing at a Trump administration official.

Item: Another Trump official has commended police for arresting a reporter who shouted questions at him.

Item: Republicans in Congress show absolutely no inclination to do anything about any of this.

So, has America already become an authoritarian regime where law enforcement serves the supreme leader, not the Constitution, where questioning or even ridiculing the regime’s officials has become a crime, and in which the legislature is just a rubber-stamping operation?

We don’t know the answer yet; we’ll have to see how things unfold in the next few weeks. But future historians may well record that American democracy died in May 2017.