Taking the Argument Too Far

Michele Bachmann was a rising star in the Republican Party once, a long time ago – that year when the Republicans were deciding which of them had the best chance of making Obama a one-term president – the year of fifteen or so candidates in twenty or so primary debates. She even led in the polls for a bit, because she was so severely conservative. She didn’t make nuanced arguments. She was all in, and in the Republican debate on November 9, 2011, when asked what percentage of their income Americans should pay in taxes, she went all in:

I think you earned every dollar. You should get to keep every dollar that you earn. That’s your money; that’s not the government’s money. That’s the whole point. Barack Obama seems to think that when we earn money, it belongs to him and we’re lucky just to keep a little bit of it. I don’t think that at all. I think when people make money, it’s their money. Obviously, we have to give money back to the government so that we can run the government, but we have to have a completely different mindset.

She continued to ramble on a bit, but she had uttered the ultimate expression of the Republican mindset – Americans should get to keep every dollar that they earn. That’s their money, not the government’s money.

Everyone had heard that before. Taxation is theft, sometimes necessary, unfortunately, to keep the government running, but theft none the less. No one knew the completely different mindset that Michele Bachmann had in mind – perhaps a government funded by voluntary contributions and bingo nights and bake sales, and an occasional car wash – but it didn’t matter. She was gone soon enough. She took the argument too far. She did that a lot – it was one conspiracy theory after another – and the Republicans finally settled on Mitt Romney, for all the good it did them. But at least he knew the government runs on tax money. His gripe was with the loathsome forty-seven percent, the poor and working poor who paid no federal income tax – the morally reprehensible takers. It wasn’t fair. The people who had made something of their lives had to pay for everything, and it was time for the “takers” to pay up. The people who had made something of their lives were getting ripped off.

This was a variation of the “taxation is theft” argument. This was theft from the job creators, the makers, the doers – the morally responsible folks who had been rewarded for their moral responsibility with the hard-earned comforts of life. Here, the government wasn’t the thief. It was the poor and working poor – the morally reprehensible takers – but really, someone had to be taxed to keep the nation running. It was time for the freeloaders to pay up.

Romney tried to walk that back. He wasn’t heartless. He understood that “those people” were in trouble. He’d make sure they got jobs, or something, but the damage was done. He was a self-righteous rich man. He was gifted at generating resentment. That sunk him. His studied broad grins were worse than outright sneers. Obama won easily.

Republicans have been trying to strike the right balance ever since. How far can they advance the “taxation is theft” argument before it blows up in their faces? They now have a Michele Bachmann as president, with one conspiracy theory after another – Obama tapped his phones and so on. He also takes arguments too far – we WILL build a big wall and Mexico WILL pay for it. But he hasn’t made Romney’s forty-seven percent mistake. He swore he would never cut Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid, and everybody would have health insurance – the best there ever was, and it would cost next to nothing. He says the opposite now. Those cuts will be necessary and twenty-four million people will lose their health insurance (nobody knew health care was so complicated) – but he once said those things. He’s no dummy. He saw what happened to Mitt Romney. He too may be rich, but he’d be a champion of that forty-seven percent. Coal miners would be back at work, even if coal has become a cumbersome and expensive and rather useless energy source. He’d work something out, and of course everyone’s taxes will be lower. There’d be no more talk about makers and takers. All Americans want their goodies – roads and bridges and schools and whatnot – and no Americans want to pay for any of that. He’d work something out there too.

Okay, this is what he worked out:

President Trump on Wednesday proposed sharp reductions in individual and business income tax rates and a radical reordering of the tax code that would significantly benefit the wealthy, but he offered no explanation of how the plan would be financed as he rushed to show progress before the 100-day mark of his presidency.

Mr. Trump’s skeletal outline of a tax package, unveiled at the White House in a single-page statement filled with bullet points, was less a plan than a wish-list. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary D. Cohn, the director of Mr. Trump’s National Economic Council, laid out the bare bones to reporters, part of a mad dash toward the administration’s 100th day on Saturday that has included the resurrection of a health care bill and near-daily signings of executive orders.

But they offered none of the standard accouterments of such rollouts, such as detailed charts showing the cost of each provision, phase-in periods, the impacts of the proposals on people and testimonials on the program’s potential benefits.

This was nothing much at all, but these guys have enthusiasm:

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something really big,” Mr. Cohn said. “President Trump has made tax reform a priority, and we have a Republican Congress that wants to get it done.”

No one is sure what the “it” is of course, but it seems to be this:

The proposal envisions slashing the tax rate paid by businesses large and small to 15 percent. The number of individual income tax brackets would shrink from seven to three – 10, 25 and 35 percent – easing the tax burden on most Americans, including the president, although aides did not offer the income ranges for each bracket….

The president would eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, a parallel system that primarily hits wealthier people by effectively limiting the deductions and other benefits available to them – both moves that would richly benefit Mr. Trump. Little is known of Mr. Trump’s tax burden, but one of the small nuggets revealed in the partial release of a 2005 tax return this year was that he paid $31 million under the alternative minimum tax that year.

So he gets to save himself thirty-one million big ones. Some might object to that, or to this:

Corporations would not have to pay taxes on their foreign profits, an unusual proposal for a president who has championed an “America first” approach and railed against companies that move jobs and resources overseas. They would also enjoy a special, one-time opportunity to bring home cash that they are parking overseas, though administration officials would not say how low that rate would be or how they would ensure that the money would be invested productively.

And he sticks it to the blue states, but not everyone:

Mr. Trump wants to double the standard deduction for individuals, essentially eliminating taxes on around $24,000 of a couple’s earnings. That proposal was met with alarm by home builders and real estate agents, who fear it would disincentivize the purchase of homes. The proposal would scrap most itemized deductions, such as those for state and local tax payments, a valuable break for taxpayers in Democratic states like California and New York.

But the president would leave in place popular breaks for mortgage interest, charitable contributions and retirement savings.

Now add this:

In a brief session with reporters, Mr. Cohn and Mr. Mnuchin said they had been toiling for weeks on the proposal, much of which closely resembles the plan Mr. Trump championed as a presidential candidate. They argued that it would spur robust economic growth that would – along with the elimination of deductions – cover the potentially multitrillion-dollar proposal entirely, a prospect that even many Republicans privately concede is virtually impossible.

“This will pay for itself with growth and with reduction of different deductions and closing loopholes,” Mr. Mnuchin said, repeating his optimistic estimate that the plan would spur the economy to grow at a rate of 3 percent annually. “The economic plan under Trump will grow the economy and will create massive amounts of revenues, trillions of dollars in additional revenues.”

That’s the same old Art Laffer thing – cut taxes, reducing revenue, and the economy soars, increasing revenue. Ronald Reagan found out that this just doesn’t work. It hasn’t ever worked, but no matter:

Democrats rejected what they described as magical thinking behind the plan and condemned it as a giveaway to the rich masquerading as a tax overhaul.

“This is an unprincipled tax plan that will result in cuts for the One Percent, conflicts for the president, crippling debt for America and crumbs for the working people,” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, said in a statement. “Instead of providing a real tax reform plan as promised, this administration is offering cakes to the fortunate few.”

That’s Mitt Romney stuff, but there’s this:

As expected, the White House did not include in its plan the border adjustment tax on imports that was a centerpiece of a plan developed by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Mnuchin said the White House could not support that proposal “in its current form,” setting up an intraparty struggle over the elements of a tax plan and how to offset the deep reductions envisioned.

Paul Ryan wants those tariffs – increase the cost of foreign goods. People will then “buy American” – even if everything is now much more expensive. FDR tried that in 1934 and it was a disaster, and of course this had to happen:

Democrats are ready to battle Mr. Trump over the tax cuts, which they are determined to tie to his refusal to release his tax returns.

“Trump’s latest proposal is another gift to corporations and billionaires like himself,” said Thomas E. Perez, the Democratic Party chairman. “Trump must release his tax returns, as millions of Americans are demanding, before Congress can consider any Trump tax plan. We must know how much Trump would personally financially benefit from his own proposal.”

Forget that:

Questioned about that repeatedly on Wednesday, Mr. Mnuchin said that Mr. Trump, the first president in four decades not to disclose at least a portion of his tax returns, had “no intention” of releasing them now.

Mnuchin was channeling W. C. Fields – “Go away, kid, you bother me” – but it wasn’t funny, and Kevin Drum adds this:

This is the United States of America, the biggest, richest country on the planet. The leader of the free world. And this is what we get from our president these days. He wants to cut taxes by $4 trillion or more – $4 trillion! – and he can’t be bothered to produce more than a single page of bullet points about it. No details. No legislation. No analysis from the OMB. Nothing. Just a comic book version of a tax overhaul.

The contempt and incompetence this displays is breathtaking.

And there’s that other problem that Alan Rappeport discusses here:

As President Trump’s top economic advisers faced a barrage of questions on Wednesday about the tax plan they had just unfurled, there was one that they struggled most to answer: how to keep the “massive tax cuts” they proposed from ballooning the federal deficit.

The White House insists that economic growth will cover the cost, which could be as high as $7 trillion over a decade. But the question will dog Republicans and could fracture their party as they face the prospect of endorsing a plan that many economists and budget analysts warn will increase the deficit. After years of fiscal hawkishness, conservatives now face a moment of truth about whether they truly believe America’s economy is drowning in debt.

Yeah, there’s that:

Some skeptics are already ringing alarm bells, fearing that Republicans will sign on to what critics see as a dangerous plan composed by a president who called himself the King of Debt.

“It seems the administration is using economic growth like magic beans: the cheap solution to all our problems,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group that advocates fiscal restraint. “But there is no golden goose at the top of the tax-cut beanstalk, just mountains of debt.”

Ms. MacGuineas’ group estimates that Mr. Trump’s plan could reduce federal tax revenue by $3 trillion to $7 trillion over a decade. The economy would need to grow at a rate of 4.5 percent – more than double its projected rate, an unlikely prospect – to make the plan self-financing.

This is magical thinking, and there’s history:

“This is fool’s gold that you’ll cut taxes, everybody will work harder, more money will come and you’ll erase the fiscal impact,” said Steve Bell, who was a Republican staff director of the Senate Budget Committee from 1981 to 1986. “It never happens.”

Joseph J. Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts, said the Trump plan appeared to have strong parallels with Reagan’s 1981 cuts. Mr. Thorndike recalled that the Reagan administration soon realized the problem of the red ink it was facing and started looking for new sources of revenue.

“This looks like ’81, where they said, ‘Deficit be damned, we want to do a tax cut,'” Mr. Thorndike said. “It’s a cautionary tale.”

And this plan is less coherent than anything Art Laffer convinced Reagan to do:

The White House’s outline was too thin on details to allow for a concrete analysis of how much deficits would grow. There were no specifics about what income would fall into the three, instead of seven, individual tax brackets. The explanation of how the mammoth switch to a territorial corporate tax system would work was vague. There was no word on how low the tax on repatriated foreign corporate earnings would be. And Gary D. Cohn, the director of the president’s National Economic Council, could not say how much of a tax cut a middle-income American would get.

Other than that, it’s a solid plan, and a joke:

For Democrats, now out of power, the reversal is bitterly ironic, and several lawmakers assailed the president for, they said, preparing to cripple the country with debt.

“I’m not the first to observe that a Republican Congress only cares about the deficit when a Democrat is in the White House,” said Alan B. Krueger, the Princeton economist who was chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “It may be that Dick Cheney is right and that deficits don’t matter to the public, but they do matter to the economy.”

But for Republicans who have been craving big tax cuts for years, confidence was high that the worries about deficits were overwrought.

“This is a thing of beauty, a thing of wonder,” Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, said of Mr. Trump’s one-page plan.

That’s the Norquist Kiss of Death, and Justin Miller adds this:

Donald Trump has been in office nearly 100 days with little to show for it, save for signing a bunch of fancy parchment that orders the roll back of several environmental and worker protections.

His fragile ego is driving his need to do something big. And so he’s doing what Republicans generally do when all else fails: propose steep tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.

And rightly, everyone is onto this:

Experts on the left and right agree there’s no way the White House can cover the cost of those cuts – about $2.4 trillion in lost revenue over 10 years – just by limiting deductions, closing loopholes, or even including dubious revenue raisers like House Speaker Paul Ryan’s border-adjustment tax, which Trump has now ditched. Alas, Trump and his aides are turning to the only argument that politicians can make to justify trickle-down economics: that when the wealthy and corporations pay less in taxes, economic growth surges and make up for the lost revenue.

“The plan will pay for itself with growth,” Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pronounced last week. Factoring in economic growth with tax cuts is a dubious practice known as “dynamic scoring.” It’s the special sauce of voodoo economics that trickle-downers use to provide political cover for the otherwise humongous holes that their tax cuts leave in federal budgets.

George H. W. Bush coined the term “voodoo economics” for this sort of thing when he was running against Reagan in the primaries. Bush became Reagan’s running mate and then his vice president – and he had to stop saying that. That’s a shame:

Trump is making an unfunded, unsustainable, deficit-ballooning tax cut for the rich the cornerstone of his first 100 days, with the fingers-crossed promise that it will drive unprecedented economic growth. It was a lie the last time Republicans pushed through a similar tax cut, and it’s still a lie today.

Nicholas Kristof puts that this way:

What do you do if you’re a historically unpopular new president, with a record low approval rating by 14 points, facing investigations into the way Russia helped you get elected, with the media judging your first 100 days in office as the weakest of any modern president?

Why, you announce a tax cut!

And in your self-absorbed way, you announce a tax cut that will hugely benefit yourself. Imagine those millions saved! You feel better already!

I’m deeply skeptical that President Trump will manage to get a tax reform package passed into law, and that’s just as well. Trump’s new tax “plan” (more like an extremely vague plan for a plan) is an irresponsible, shameless, budget-busting gift to zillionaires like himself.

And it’s bad politics:

This isn’t about “jobs,” as the White House claims. If it were, it might cut employment taxes, which genuinely do discourage hiring. Rather, it’s about huge payouts to the wealthiest Americans – and deficits be damned! If Republicans embrace this “plan” after all their hand-wringing about deficits and debt, we should build a Grand Monument to Hypocrisy in their honor.

Trump’s tax “plan” is a betrayal of his voters. He talks of helping ordinary Americans even as he enriches tycoons like himself.

In fact, this is theft:

Where the tax plan would have a big impact is in empowering some very wealthy people, because of another bit of chicanery in the proposal: Trump apparently would allow some business owners to dodge personal income tax by paying at the much lower corporate rate. In other words, tycoons would try to structure their incomes to pay not at a 39.6 percent top personal rate but at a 15 percent corporate rate.

This isn’t tax policy; it’s a heist.

Now add this:

The Tax Policy Center examined Trump’s campaign tax plan and found it would cause the federal debt to rise by at least $7 trillion in the first decade, and more than $20 trillion by 2036 – slowing growth, not raising it. To put the latter number in perspective, that’s additional borrowing of about $160,000 per American household.

Effectively, we’d borrow from China or other countries to finance huge tax breaks for Trump and his minions. And this is populism?

No, it’s not. Ever since the Romney disaster, Republicans have been trying to strike the right balance, to see how far they can advance the “taxation is theft” argument before it blows up in their faces. It may have just done that. They now have Michele Bachmann as president, with one conspiracy theory after another, and a shallow thinker who always takes arguments too far. Perhaps she feels vindicated. The rest of us feel something else.

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Preposterous Things

Donald Trump wants us to know things about him. In a 2014 interview he said that he was told, by many people who know such things, that he was “the best baseball player in New York” – when he was in high school, in 1962, the year that the Yankees won the World Series, with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris – and Yogi Berra, who would go on to say many preposterous things too.

The media shrugged. This wasn’t much of a news story. Perhaps his high school baseball coach – at that military academy where his parents had sent him after he sucker-punched his eight-grade art teacher – had told him that. It made him feel good. He came to believe that. Others must have said that. It became true, so everyone should know this about him – but no one much cared. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris don’t care. They’re dead – but Donald Trump is a winner. He’s the best – at everything.

Yeah, yeah – that’s what he says – but this baseball thing wasn’t worth arguing about. On the other hand, Donald Trump became the first president in many decades who refused to show up on opening day in Washington and throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Nationals’ game. Was he hiding something? No, this baseball thing wasn’t worth arguing about. There are other things to argue about. There are his executive orders.

Those are better than legislation. Even with a Republican House and a Republican Senate, there been no new legislation in the first one hundred days – nothing at all. There were promises – but Obamacare wasn’t repealed and replaced. That’s a bit embarrassing, but Trump has proudly signed a whole lot of executive orders.

That’s impressive, except that’s as impressive as his baseball skills:

In an effort to show President Trump has had a successful first 100 days, the White House issued a press release Tuesday which incorrectly stated that he had signed more executive orders so far than Franklin Roosevelt.

“In office, President Trump has accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other President since Franklin Roosevelt,” the statement declared, highlighting the 30 Executive Orders he will have signed by his 100th day and noting that was more than FDR, who it claimed only signed nine during the same period of time.

Those familiar with the history of Executive Orders were quick to note that, in fact, FDR signed dozens of Executive Orders in the days between his inauguration in March of 1933 and his 100th day in office that June.

The error was particularly meaningful because Roosevelt originated the entire concept of the “first 100 days” that the White House is responding to.

Oops. He wasn’t the best baseball player in New York either, and Steve Benen sees the problem:

As Donald Trump’s 100th day as president quickly approaches, the White House has found itself with a difficult rhetorical pitch. On the one hand, Trump continues to say that the 100-day standard is “ridiculous” and unimportant, and the media’s preoccupation with the metric is a needless distraction. On the other hand, Trump and his team are desperate to tell everyone what an amazing 100-day stretch it’s been for the Republican administration. (The New York Times’ headline on this was perfect: “Trump Wants It Known: Grading 100 Days Is ‘Ridiculous’ (but His Were the Best”)

The Guardian had also noted this:

From the desk of the Oval Office to the podium at rallies filled with throngs of supporters, Trump has hailed his executive actions as “big stuff” and “very, very important”. The flick of his pen is promoted by the White House a major “win” and a promise kept to voters.

“TRUMP TAKES ACTIONS TO GET WASHINGTON OUT OF THE WAY,” blared the subject line of one email blast touting a rollback of federal regulations.

But an analysis of Trump’s executive actions as he nears the 100th day of his presidency on Saturday – which thus far includes 25 executive orders, 24 memorandums and 20 proclamations – show that Trump’s actions are more cosmetic than they are substantive. Many of the actions establish big goals, but few provide legislative prescriptions. They order agency reviews and studies, ask for recommendations or tinker at the margins of existing law.

And then the Associated Press piled on:

White House aides said that Trump will have signed 32 executive orders by Friday, the most of any president in their first 100 days since World War II. That’s a far cry from Trump’s heated campaign rhetoric, in which he railed against his predecessor’s use of executive action late in his tenure as President Barack Obama sought to maneuver around a Republican Congress. Trump argued that he, the consummate deal maker, wouldn’t need to rely on the tool.

“The country wasn’t based on executive orders,” said Trump at a town hall in South Carolina in February 2016. “Right now, Obama goes around signing executive orders. He can’t even get along with the Democrats, and he goes around signing all these executive orders. It’s a basic disaster. You can’t do it.”

Steve Benen adds this:

In March 2016, with his hold on the GOP nomination nearly complete, Trump went so far as to declare, “I want to not use too many executive orders, folks. Executive orders sort of came about more recently. Nobody ever heard of an executive order. Then all of a sudden Obama, because he couldn’t get anybody to agree with him, he starts signing them like they’re butter. So I want to do away with executive orders for the most part.”

Perhaps the best quote of them all is from January 2016, when Trump told CNN his thoughts on the “executive-order concept.” He explained at the time, “You know, it’s supposed to be negotiated. You’re supposed to cajole, get people in a room, you have Republicans, Democrats, you’re supposed to get together and pass a law. [Obama] doesn’t want to do that because it’s too much work. So he doesn’t want to work too hard. He wants to go back and play golf.”

Donald Trump probably shouldn’t have said that. His presidency, so far, seems to be one-third the nation’s business, one third golf, and one third watching “Fox and Friends” and tweeting out angry responses to what that chirpy morning panel says should make everyone angry – and no baseball at all. In his spare time he signs executive orders.

Those are supposed to be impressive, but Jonathan Chait sees a basic misunderstanding here:

The executive order has become a totem of power for hopeful Republicans, symbolizing their belief that Trump can or will reshape the federal government, despite the collapse of his first and largest legislative initiative. But what Trump’s fixation with executive orders actually reveals is how little he and his party understand about how government works and what it takes to bring about long-lasting change.

This, for example, doesn’t bring about long-lasting change:

One of the new orders will create an office at the Department of Veterans Affairs that will “identify barriers to the Secretary’s authority to put the well-being of our veterans first.” Another will “review prior monument designations [of federal lands] and suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monument proclamations.” Another orders “a review of the locations available for off-shore oil and gas exploration.” And then there is “an interagency task force to examine the concerns of rural America and suggest legislative and regulatory changes to address them.”

These steps are not evidence of a government working productively. They are the kinds of steps that ought to have been taken two years ago by the president when he started his campaign. Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, brought together experts to examine the concerns of rural America and suggest legislative and regulatory changes to address them, and they published their findings in August 2015. Trump has the vague idea that there are laws that are making life too hard for veterans, and fossil-fuel operators, and people in small towns, but he has no idea what those laws are. His “executive orders” are actually just using the government to start the process of designing his campaign platform for him.

He is doing what he should have done a year ago, but these are harmless:

If Republicans wish to pretend that Trump is really making America great again by signing pieces of paper asking people who work for him whether they have any ideas how to make America great again, more power to them. I can think of worse outcomes for this presidency than a theater of pseudo-action.

But that’s not the history behind all this:

After the 2010 midterms deprived Barack Obama of a workable (or even functional) congressional majority, he shifted his attention to executive orders. It was in Obama’s interest to play up the importance of his unilateral actions, and also in the interest of his Republican opponents to denounce these orders in overwrought terms, as oppressive and even unconstitutional. Their belief that Obama had evaded Congress to construct a Leviathan of his own design had a flip side: Once Trump won, Republicans assumed he could undo everything Obama did. After Trump’s election, Republicans giddily predicted a quick erasure of Obama’s legacy. “The reason Obama’s legacy is so vulnerable today,” wrote one columnist, “is that the 44th president relied more on executive actions.”

As the author of a book on Obama’s legacy, I frequently encountered conservatives who believed this. The assumption was strange and confusing – the most important parts of Obama’s legacy revolved around actions that could not be overturned: the economic rescue (stimulus, stress tests, the auto bailout), the massive green-energy investment, education reform, Wall Street regulation, and of course the Affordable Care Act. All these deep reforms, with the exception of the stress tests, required legislation.

That’s how our form of government works and that’s what it takes to bring about long-lasting change. Somehow they forget that, or don’t want to admit that. Nothing is going to change.

They should have realized that. An executive order banning Muslims from entering the county, disguised as a geographic ban, was never going to work. The courts shot that down. The courts shot down the lightly revised version too. There’s actual legislation forbidding such religious discrimination, supporting what’s in the Constitution in the first place. Pass new legislation if that’s what’s necessary. Bold and thundering executive orders don’t “trump” existing law, but here we go again:

A federal judge has blocked a directive from President Donald Trump seeking to deny federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities” and other localities that decline to cooperate in enforcement of federal immigration laws.

San Francisco-based U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday barring federal officials nationwide from carrying out the portion of a Jan. 25 Trump executive order aimed at cutting off grants to local governments that won’t provide assistance to federal authorities in locating and detaining undocumented immigrants.

Existing law got in the way again:

Orrick cited public comments from Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in concluding that the order appeared intended to sweep more broadly than allowed by federal law. The judge, an Obama appointee, called “not legally plausible” the Justice Department’s arguments that Trump was simply trying to secure compliance with current law.

“If there was doubt about the scope of the Order, the President and Attorney General have erased it with their public comments,” Orrick wrote. “The Constitution vests the spending power in Congress, not the President, so the Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds.”

In short, Congress can change the law. Donald Trump cannot, and this came at a bad time:

The ruling is another high-profile blow to Trump’s efforts to use executive orders to carry out major policy moves – a drive his staff is highlighting as he approaches the 100-days-in-office mark. Courts have also blocked key portions of two of the president’s other immigration-related executive orders – his travel bans on citizens of several majority Muslim countries.

However, Orrick noted that his new injunction may not block much of what the Trump administration claimed in court it was trying to do through the portion of the Jan. 25 order targeting sanctuary cities. If all Trump wanted to do was cut off Justice Department grants to localities that are out of compliance with the law, he can still do that, the judge observed.

Those would be Justice Department grants pertaining to immigration. Justice Department grants to buy new police cars are off limits. Federal grants to fix highways and bridges are off limits too.

That was the worry:

Orrick acted on lawsuits brought by the City of San Francisco and nearby Santa Clara County. At least three other suits are pending over the same sanctuary city language in Trump’s immigration-enforcement executive order. Since the judge’s injunction applies nationwide, it could moot those other suits for the time being.

The judge concluded that the California localities were correct to be concerned that their funding was in jeopardy and that the grants affected might be more than just the few the Justice Department said were covered by Trump’s order.

“Although Government counsel has represented that the Order will be implemented consistent with law, this assurance is undermined by Section 9(a)’s clearly unconstitutional directives. Further, through public statements, the President and Attorney General have appeared to endorse the broadest reading of the Order,” Orrick added.

“Is the Order merely a rhetorical device, as counsel suggested at the hearing, or a ‘weapon’ to defund the Counties and those who have implemented a different law enforcement strategy than the Government currently believes is desirable? The result of this schizophrenic approach to the Order is that the Counties’ worst fears are not allayed and the Counties reasonably fear enforcement under the Order,” the judge wrote.

All executive orders are rhetorical devices. The law is not a rhetorical device. Donald Trump needs to get “his” Congress to pass something specific about this, but that, as they say, is like herding cats – nasty cats, with claws out, hissing. They know he’s scared of them. That’s why Obamacare is still around.

The New York Times account also adds this:

Exactly what makes a city or county a sanctuary is a matter of interpretation, but most that present themselves as sanctuaries, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston, limit how much they cooperate with federal immigration authorities, often by refusing to turn over unauthorized immigrants from local jails except under certain conditions or by preventing local police officers from asking about immigration status.

In San Francisco’s case, the city argued that the executive order violated the Constitution by essentially trying to commandeer state and local officials to enforce federal immigration law. In practical terms, San Francisco’s filing said, forcing the city to cooperate with federal immigration agents would threaten public safety by breaking trust between local authorities and immigrants, who the city argued would become less likely to report crimes or serve as witnesses.

There are practical considerations, and this:

In court, lawyers for the government argued that despite Mr. Trump’s vows to end all aid to uncooperative sanctuary jurisdictions, the order was intended to do no more than highlight the president’s commitment to hardening immigration enforcement. No more than a few small grants would be affected, they said.

Judge Orrick’s response: If that were true, what was the point?

Let the guy pose as a strong man, or strongman, on his own time, because the law stands:

He also wrote that because the Constitution gives Congress the federal wallet, the president may not impose new conditions on federal funds to municipalities. The Supreme Court has held that the federal government cannot compel states to administer a federal program, the judge wrote, citing a case with very different partisan battle lines: National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the 2012 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not withhold Medicaid funding to force states to comply with Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

And, Judge Orrick added, 10th Amendment restrictions on the power of the federal government require that the federal funds at stake be related to the policy in question, so that, for instance, housing funds cannot be yoked to immigration laws.

Now add this:

San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee (D) applauded Orrick’s ruling, saying his jurisdiction “is and will remain a Sanctuary City … If the federal government believes there is a need to detain a serious criminal, they can obtain a criminal warrant, which we will honor, as we always have.”

In short, there is no problem here:

The ruling was also hailed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which had been told by Sessions hours earlier that officials must communicate with immigration officials under federal law.

“The Conference has long opposed the withholding of funds from so-called ‘sanctuary cities,’ which, of course, is a political term not a legal one,” executive director Tom Cochran said in a statement.

This may have been a fight about nothing at all, but there’s a lot of that going around. Take that big wall, please. Eugene Robinson writes about that:

In the annals of pathetic climb-downs this Sunday-morning tweet from President Trump deserves a special place of honor, or perhaps dishonor – “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.”

To put those weasel words in context, let me ask a question of all you small-business owners out there. If a customer brings some merchandise to the cash register and promises that one of his neighbors will pay you for it “eventually… at a later date… in some form,” what are your odds of ever seeing that money? How likely is it that “in some form” means cash? Do you let him walk out with the goods, or do you remind him you weren’t born yesterday?

The question answers itself:

Trump apparently believes we are all hopelessly naive. With his presidency nearing the 100-day mark, he is desperate not to have to acknowledge that his outrageous, ridiculous, impossible campaign promises were, in fact, outrageous, ridiculous and impossible.

Somehow that doesn’t matter:

There was nothing ambiguous about his pledge to build a wall along the southern border, with Mexico footing the bill. This is what Trump said in August following his meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has categorically denied that his country will pay a dime toward the barrier: “Mexico will pay for the wall, believe me, 100 percent. They don’t know it yet, but they will pay for the wall.”

So he wants U.S. taxpayers to pay for the thing, amid ever-more-vague promises that Mexico will ante up “in some form” at some future date. Like, never.

The idea of a 2,000-mile, 30-foot-high, “big, beautiful” wall along the entire border was always more of a revenge fantasy than an actual proposal.

The executive order to severely punish sanctuary cities was a revenge fantasy too. So was the executive order banning Muslims from entering the county, disguised as a geographic ban, and the lightly revised version too. So were the other executive orders. TRUMP TAKES ACTIONS TO GET WASHINGTON OUT OF THE WAY!

No. It made him feel good. He came to believe that. Others must have said that. It became true, so everyone should know this about him – he’s getting things done. Sure, and in 1962 he was the best baseball player in New York. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were losers.


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The Trump Puzzlement

Aging baby boomers remember a far more innocent time. In 1956 it was The King and I – the film adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, with Deborah Kerr as the English governess and tutor to the many children of the stern but befuddled King of Siam, played by Yul Brynner. This was when that part of the world was France’s problem, not ours, and Deborah Kerr was charming. She sang Getting to Know You – sort of. That was dubbed by Marni Nixon, who did the same thing for Audrey Hepburn in the film adaption of My Fair Lady – but no matter. All cultural and political problems could be solved if people just got to know each other. It was quite simple. Yul Brynner, as the King of Siam, was skeptical. This and that would come up. He’d mutter the same thing over and over – “Is a puzzlement” – but he came around. He finally danced with her. It all worked out.

To a nine-year-old kid in Pittsburgh this made perfect sense – but Siam became Thailand and French Indochina became North and South Vietnam and ten years later America was at war there. People got to know each other. They didn’t like each other. It was just a movie.

The problem remains the same. Or maybe it’s a challenge. If people REALLY got to know each other, maybe things would work out. Donald Trump’s average approval rating is now the lowest since Gallup began presidential approval surveys in 1953 – although ninety-six percent of the forty percent who voted for him think he’s doing just fine – but maybe if people really got to know him, those numbers would skyrocket. Deborah Kerr was suggesting something like that. It’s worth a shot. Perhaps that’s why Donald Trump agreed to an extended interview with the Associated Press, but that contained this:

“They had a quote from me that NATO’s ‘obsolete.’ But they didn’t say why it was obsolete. I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn’t in government. People don’t go around asking about NATO if I’m building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO’s obsolete – not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO – NATO is obsolete, and I said, ‘And the reason it’s obsolete is because of the fact they don’t focus on terrorism.'”

Like the King of Siam, Steve Benen is puzzled:

For now, let’s put aside NATO’s counter-terrorism work and instead focus on Trump’s welcome concession: when he first started publicly discussing his perspective on the alliance, he didn’t “know much” about NATO. After all, his focus was on New York real estate, not international affairs.

He did, however, pontificate anyway, criticizing NATO while seeking the nation’s highest office.

We could, of course, focus on why a presidential candidate didn’t “know much about NATO” in 2016 – it seems like the sort of thing a would-be national leader would have firm opinions on before launching a White House bid – but I’m just as intrigued by the idea that Trump was comfortable publicly criticizing one of the key pillars of global security in recent generations without actually knowing what he’s talking about.

It’s an epistemological mess: Trump is asked a question, then he answers it, then he learns something about the subject matter. At the risk of sounding picky, that’s not the order in which this is supposed to go.

That is a puzzlement, but that is only one example of this sort of thing:

He assumed he could simply tell China to curtail North Korea’s nuclear program, and he said as much many times, but then he had a 10-minute conversation with China’s Xi Jinping, at which point he, in his own words, “realized it’s not so easy.”

Trump repeatedly criticized the U.S. Export-Import Bank, before having a chat with the CEO of Boeing, at which point he said “it turns out” he likes the Bank after all. He talked about passing health care reform without knowing how “complicated” it was. He spoke about U.S. policy towards Syria without understanding Assad regime role in horrific atrocities.

So, America is getting to know him:

His acknowledgement about NATO is a distinct point: Trump is comfortable telling the public that when he gives an opinion about an important subject, it’s possible, if not likely, he has no idea what he’s talking about.

In the president’s mind, this doesn’t even make him appear foolish or irresponsible. On the contrary, Trump seems to believe he can just guess what the truth might be and it’ll all work out in the end.

So now we know the man:

This is more than an ignorance problem; it’s a learning problem. Trump doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, but he’s nevertheless prepared to tell you his thoughts on the subjects he doesn’t understand.

Josh Marshall put that this way:

Ignorance is just the first stage of Trump’s fairly advanced problem. He is not only ignorant but clearly unaware of his level of ignorance. This is compounded by a seeming inability to understand that everyone else isn’t equally ignorant to him.

Okay, now America knows that, and Slate’s Jamelle Bouie adds this:

Each president brings with him more than just his agenda to Washington. He also brings personal qualities, those traits of character that shape and define his time in office as much as any event or policy. For Barack Obama, that quality was a confidence – or, critics might say, aloofness – exemplified by the nickname “No Drama Obama.” For George W. Bush, it was a resolve that crossed into stubborn rigidity. For Bill Clinton, a malleability that sometimes – or even often – skirted principle.

Donald Trump has just three months in office, but even now, we can see what he brings to the White House. Not the strength or mastery he works to project with every public appearance, but its opposite: insecurity. As president, Trump is profoundly insecure: insecure about his electoral victory, insecure about his public standing, and insecure about his progress as chief executive.

That is what the interview showed:

Throughout the long and meandering exchange, Trump repeatedly turns from questions of policy and program to the obsessions and insecurities that seem to consume his attention. When asked, for example, if he’ll reject a bill to fund the government if it doesn’t include funding for a border wall, Trump pivots from the issue at hand to a discussion of the Electoral College. “You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the Electoral College,” said Trump, later adding that “the Electoral College is very difficult for a Republican to win.”

This focus on the Electoral College – and how difficult it’s supposed to be for Republican presidential candidates – is a regular tic for Trump. “You know, look, the Democrats had a tremendous opportunity because the Electoral College, as I said, is so skewed to them,” said Trump in response to questions about his White House team. “The Electoral College is so skewed in favor of a Democrat that it’s very, very hard.”

This was a bit odd, or maybe not:

It’s difficult to discern the exact reason for these digressions. But the best explanation is that Trump remains self-conscious about his failure to win the national popular vote or is possibly already worried that he might lose re-election. Harping on difficulty of an Electoral College victory is a way of saying that he accomplished the hard part of an election and of creating an excuse for any potential future failure – which is tied to another aspect of Trump’s insecurity: his childlike need for constant affirmation.

“I have learned one thing, because I get treated very unfairly, that’s what I call it, the fake media,” said Trump, in a long non sequitur that came after the AP asked about his work building relationships with Democrats.

That’s telling:

With the 100-days marker, Trump dismisses it as an “artificial barrier” and says voters shouldn’t judge him on it, while simultaneously arguing that he has accomplished most of the items on his list for the period. It’s as if Trump knows he is far behind on his agenda – that, a Supreme Court justice aside, he has done relatively little as president – but that he also has to affirm his self-image as a historic, consequential leader. That’s why, when the topic turned to his February address to Congress, Trump turned immediately to extreme hyperbole. “Some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber,” he said.

No one has yet found those people, but it’s easy enough to see this:

With any given issue and on any given concern, Trump turns immediately to how he’s perceived; whether the press is unfair, whether he is getting his due. And while he denounces outlets like MSNBC and CNN, he is clearly preoccupied with the cable news and hyper-attentive to what’s said about him. “By the way, I’m 10–0 for that. I’ve called every one of them,” said Trump about his early statement describing the recent attack in France as “terrorism” before all the details were known. Once again, here, he’s complaining about press criticism, eventually ending his digression by affirming his position as president. “Whatever. In the meantime, I’m here, and they’re not.”

He says that a lot, but perhaps he shouldn’t:

One imagines he sees it as a statement of confidence. In reality, it’s the boast of someone who protests a bit too much, who feels less secure in his station than he might project.

Bouie sees trouble ahead:

Presidential insecurity isn’t harmless, especially for a commander in chief who is obsessed with winning and who seems to see life as a dominance game, where someone or something has to be a loser. What happens when the insecure president can’t move his agenda through Congress? What happens when his plans fail? What does he do to ensure that, above all, he isn’t a loser? If our recent national adventures with Afghanistan, Syria, and North Korea are any indication, we have a good, and worrying, answer for that question.

There’s that song from the move – “Haven’t you noticed, suddenly I’m bright and breezy, because of all the beautiful and new things I’m learning about you, day by day?”

It’s not like that, and Chris Cillizza notes these two items:

The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Bob Costa reported Monday on a recent working lunch at the White House where the topic of press secretary Sean Spicer came up – specifically whether Trump was considering firing the sometimes-embattled mouthpiece. “I’m not firing Sean Spicer,” Trump said, according to an attendee who relayed the encounter. “That guy gets great ratings. Everyone tunes in.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Trump was asked about why he hasn’t been more successful in changing minds of those who disagree with him. “I seem to get very high ratings,” Trump responded. “You know Chris Wallace had 9.2 million people, it’s the highest in the history of the show. I have all the ratings for all those morning shows. When I go, they go double, triple.” Trump then noted that his appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation got the program its highest ratings “since the World Trade Center – since the World Trade Center came down!”

Okay, that’s three thousand dead, followed by two major wars and the whole Middle East falling apart – but he’s bigger than that. Look at the ratings.

That makes him a bit of a moral monster, but Cillizza understands:

Success for Trump is people talking about you. People watching you. What they say about you is less important. It’s that they say anything at all. And if they do, you win.

But this had to happen:

For those (still) wondering what forces in our culture produced Trump, I would suggest that reality TV (and the mindset it has created) is the single most important factor to understanding not only where Trump came from but how he imagines the world to be.

In the world of self-conscious reality TV – so everything after the first year of MTV’s “Real World” – the key is to make a name for yourself. It’s not about proving yourself to be a “good” person or “staying true” to who you are. It’s about creating a personality that people are drawn to – either out of love or hate.

And, the way you gauge whether or not you have succeeded is simple: 1. Do people watch you, and the related corollary: 2. Are you famous?

It may be that simple:

Trump is, in many ways, the logical evolution of a society that prizes fame – as translated through Twitter followers, Facebook friends and TV ratings – over all else. The fame is the thing. Everything else is secondary – or not even thought about at all.

That’s exactly how Trump judges himself and those around him. Are people paying attention to me? Are people watching? If so, then all of this talk about how I am not succeeding is pointless and based on a misguided understanding of how people think.

And this:

He’s not totally wrong. In fact, Trump understood better than anyone else during the 2016 election that what people were looking for was a show, a spectacle that they could watch, laugh at or roll their eyes over. They didn’t care that Trump ran his rallies like a circus – in fact, it endeared him to them. How could a guy who says and does so much outlandish stuff possibly be a traditional politician? Plus, he makes me laugh – skewering “low energy” Jeb Bush or “Lyin'” Ted Cruz or “Crooked Hillary” Clinton!

And, for those who hated him – well they still watched, didn’t they?

QED – Quod Erat Demonstrandum – “that which was to be demonstrated” – those are the words you put at the end of a mathematical proof. Case closed – but Paul Waldman sees this:

One way or another, Donald Trump will end up being a transformative president. But Republicans who voted for him probably didn’t predict that he’d encourage a renewed desire for big government among Americans.

Waldman cites the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll on this:

In November, voters gave control of the White House and Capitol Hill to the party traditionally associated with reducing the size of government. But now, a record number of Americans say that the government should do more – not less – in order to solve the nation’s problems.

A new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll finds 57 percent of the public saying that the government should do more to solve problems and meet the needs of Americans, versus 39 percent who said the government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.

That’s the highest share yearning for a more active government since the poll began asking voters about the role of government in 1995. And it’s a significant shift even since 2015, when 50 percent said that the government should do more while 46 percent complained that it was too active.


Looked at in the right way, this makes perfect sense. To begin, we should understand that Americans have contradictory beliefs about the proper role of government. This is a finding in political science that goes back half a century; in their 1967 book “The Political Beliefs of Americans: A Study of Public Opinion,” Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril argued that the public is “ideologically conservative” but “operationally liberal.” They like the idea of small government in the abstract, but they also like almost all the particular things that government does. If you ask them whether they want to spend less or more on a list of programs, they’ll say we should spend more on just about everything (the exceptions are usually welfare and foreign aid, in part because people wildly overestimate how much we actually spend on them).

Both parties understand this, and it’s reflected in their rhetoric and the political challenges they face. Republicans tend to talk about broad principles, while Democrats tend to talk about specific programs. Republicans struggle to justify their actual plans (if they have them) for things such as Medicare or environmental protection, while Democrats struggle to craft appealing overarching messages.

If you’re a Republican president, the most advantageous place to be is one in which you preach the small-government gospel and praise Americans for their can-do spirit and rugged individualism, while not actually threatening the government programs they rely on.

And Trump is neither, so no one knew him:

During the 2016 campaign, he made a lot of conservatives uneasy by saying that he wasn’t going to touch the programs Americans love, such as Social Security and Medicare. But he also made far more ambitious promises about government – not just that he’d do specific things such as build up infrastructure, but that if we gave him the presidency he’d solve every problem anyone faces. Despite some occasional criticism of regulation, Trump didn’t use the traditional Republican rhetoric about “empowering” people by getting government out of their way. He didn’t characterize Americans as a force waiting to be unleashed; in his telling, the only active force was Trump himself, and once he had government power at his disposal he’d bring us so much winning we’d get tired of winning.

So what you had in 2016 was two candidates advocating for a strong government actively working to improve Americans’ lives. But now, Trump is in many ways governing like an ordinary Republican: gutting the EPA, hoping to remove regulations on Wall Street, and targeting the social safety net. The controversies around these moves have the effect of drawing public attention toward the popular things government does.

That is what the bald king would say is “a puzzlement” and so we get this sort of thing:

For years, “Obamacare” was unpopular in the abstract, despite the fact that almost all the law’s provisions garnered extraordinary support. Millions of people would say they opposed this thing called “Obamacare” that they only vaguely understood, yet also say that they loved the fact that you can’t be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition, Medicaid was expanded, young people can stay on their parents’ insurance plans, and so on. As long as Republicans were just criticizing the law in the abstract, they were fine. But once they tried to repeal it, news coverage focused on the particular things they were trying to take away, and the result was that the popularity of the law soared, and their replacement plan crashed.

And expect more of that from Trump:

He’ll be pursuing a typical Republican agenda, but he won’t have the ideological ballast to make the case for it – and he’ll have to be the primary salesman for every policy change Republicans attempt. We saw it in health care, where occasionally he’d blurt out things such as “We’re going to have insurance for everybody” when they most certainly wouldn’t, a mistake that an ideologue like Paul Ryan would never make. That only had the effect of establishing a promise he would quickly break, discrediting the whole effort. He can pretend that letting energy companies dump coal ash in streams will bring back all the mining jobs, but that’s a scam that can work for only so long before people realize that the jobs haven’t come back.

So Trump has encouraged voters to believe that government’s job is to solve their problems, but when it doesn’t, he won’t have arguments about liberty and the free market to fall back on. If you change people’s expectations, you’d better be able to deliver on them.

Don’t expect that. People are getting to know the man, and he doesn’t deliver. There won’t be a wall, as Josh Marshall notes here:

Late this afternoon Trump signaled that he is giving in and will either accept non-wall money and pretend it’s like a wall or just give the whole thing up entirely and try again in the fall, which likely means never.

That’s what the Washington Post was reporting:

With a Friday deadline looming to pass a new spending bill, the Trump administration projected confidence that a shutdown would be avoided. In the face of fierce Democratic opposition to funding the wall’s construction, White House officials signaled Monday that the president may be open to an agreement that includes money for border security if not specifically for a wall, with an emphasis on technology and border agents rather than a structure.

Trump showed even more flexibility Monday afternoon, telling conservative journalists in a private meeting that he was open to delaying funding for wall construction until September, a White House official confirmed.


As you can see, White House officials were telegraphing a less confrontational stance – metaphor wall money. But Trump himself couldn’t help caving even more aggressively, apparently openly discussing where the White House assumes it will end up, which is getting nothing at all. So White House officials pitch new bargaining position, and Trump, allowed to talk, says no, let’s just lose completely.

This does fit the pattern with the earlier Obamacare repeal debacle – aggressive stance, bluster, confidence followed by abject surrender.

That’s what this is:

When you surrender there’s pretty good reason to be confident there won’t be a fight. How can there be? That’s not how it works.

How does it work? Donald Trump agreed to an extended interview with the Associated Press. Maybe if people really got to know him, his record low approval numbers would jump up. It was worth a shot. All cultural and political problems could be solved if people just got to know each other – but only in Hollywood, in the fifties. People did get to know him even better. He’s still a puzzlement.

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Our Reckless Caretaker

Donald Trump knows how to fire up a crowd. He did that as a candidate and continues to do that as president, but it’s not an Obama thing, where the crowd, rightly or wrongly, sees a brighter future. Trump is angry, and he works his crowds into seething anger – about the present state of things. In his inauguration speech he said the “American carnage” would end here and now. That carnage seemed to have something to do with Muslims and Mexicans and the Chinese, and maybe the gays, and Nancy Pelosi and her kind, and previous Republican administrations too. George W. Bush, as he was leaving the event, seems to have muttered this – “That was some weird shit.”

Consider the source. Bush’s younger brother, Jeb – the seemingly sensible one in the family – with all the Republican money in the world behind him – dropped out of the race early. Trump fired up the crowd and “low energy Jeb” was gone – but not because Jeb said the wrong things or had the wrong ideas. Jeb was mocked for his careful thoughtfulness, not the thoughts. There was no defense against that. An angry crowd wants anger. On the day of Trump’s inauguration Jeb’s older brother still didn’t get it.

Most Americans still don’t get it. Trump’s average approval rating is now the lowest since Gallup began presidential approval surveys in 1953 – although ninety-six percent of the forty percent who voted for him think he’s doing just fine. They’re the angry ones, and that Gallup stuff is probably “fake news” anyway. Trump has also been perpetually angry at “fake news” – those “facts” which just aren’t facts at all. That makes the press the “enemy of the people” – even if the press points out they can verify this or that or the other thing from multiple sources and from things said on record, and on video too.

This came to a head when one of Trump’s spokesmen, a spokeswoman actually, Kellyanne Conway, defended Trump on Meet the Press. She told Chuck Todd that Trump was merely offering “alternative facts” – and Todd’s jaw dropped – and he then argued that alternative facts are, well, falsehoods. Kellyanne Conway smiled enigmatically. There’s no winning that argument either.

But some things did happen. In fact, a few years ago this happened:

From October 1 through 16, 2013, the United States federal government entered a shutdown and curtailed most routine operations because neither legislation appropriating funds for fiscal year 2014 nor a continuing resolution for the interim authorization of appropriations for fiscal year 2014 was enacted in time. Regular government operations resumed October 17 after an interim appropriations bill was signed into law.

During the shutdown, approximately 800,000 federal employees were indefinitely furloughed, and another 1.3 million were required to report to work without known payment dates.

This was their way to get what they couldn’t get in House or Senate votes or in the courts:

The Republican-led House of Representatives, in part encouraged by conservative senators such as Ted Cruz and conservative groups such as Heritage Action, offered several continuing resolutions with language delaying or defunding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as “Obamacare”). The Democratic-led Senate passed several amended continuing resolutions for maintaining funding at then-current sequestration levels with no additional conditions.

This didn’t work out well for the Republicans, and it was stupid idea in the first place:

On October 1, 2013, many aspects of the Affordable Care Act implementation took effect. The health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act launched as scheduled on October 1. Much of the Affordable Care Act is funded by previously authorized and mandatory spending, rather than discretionary spending, and the presence or lack of a continuing resolution did not affect it. Some of the law’s funds also come from multiple-year and “no-year” discretionary funds that are not affected by a lack of a continuing resolution.

The Republicans finally figured that out and gave up:

Late in the evening of October 16, 2013, Congress passed the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014, and the President signed it shortly after midnight on October 17, ending the government shutdown and suspending the debt limit until February 7, 2014.

This cost the federal government seven or eight billion dollars, and cost the Republicans even more:

According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted several months following the shutdown, 81% of Americans disapproved of the shutdown, 86% felt it had damaged the United States’ image in the world, and 53% held Republicans in Congress accountable for the shutdown.

Luckily, by that time, the fancy computer systems at the health insurance exchanges were freezing up due to crappy programming, so the Republicans got to scream that this showed that Obamacare was a total failure. People forgot the shutdown for a bit. Then the Obama team fixed the software and people then forgot about the software issues too. Everyone moved on, but the government did shut down. That’s a fact. And people hated that. That’s a fact too. And they hated the Republicans for being total assholes. That’s a fact too.

There are no alternative facts here, so why is Donald Trump now almost giddy about shutting down the government again, now? Kelsey Snell and Robert Costa report that he is considering that:

President Trump and White House officials pressed congressional Republicans on Sunday to use the looming threat of a government shutdown to win funding for a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico, a top priority for the administration as it nears the symbolic 100-day mark.

Trump wants funding to be included in a spending measure that would keep the government open past April 28, a determined effort that has prompted a possible standoff with lawmakers in both parties, who hope to avert a federal closure next weekend.

Trump wants his wall or at least one legislative win in his first one hundred days:

Trump’s push for fast action on his pledge to build the border wall is part of a mounting and, at times, tense scramble inside the administration to kick-start the president’s agenda, even if it risks dire political consequences. It follows weeks of frustration within the White House over inaction and stalemates on Capitol Hill over big-ticket items such as health care and tax cuts.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said in an interview Sunday with The Washington Post that the president and his advisers remain “strong” in their commitment to securing funding for border security and a wall.

This nice, but now Trump has to deal with “his” party:

The timing promises a week of high drama on the Hill. The Senate returns Monday night, and the House returns Tuesday from a two-week recess, leaving just three days when both chambers will be in session to wrangle out a funding agreement. Negotiators worked throughout the break, but thus far a deal has not been struck.

The wall, which experts say would cost $21.6 billion and take 3½ years to construct, has emerged as a crucial sticking point for the White House, with the president insisting privately and publicly that progress toward its funding and eventual construction must be showcased this week.

“Congress is right to be nervous, but that’s Trump’s style to be aggressive, ambitious, right out of ‘The Art of the Deal,'” said William J. Bennett, a conservative commentator and close friend of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). “Everyone seems to be getting used to that and how Trump doesn’t want the half loaf but the whole loaf.”

This will not go well:

It remained unclear Sunday whether moderates within the GOP could persuade the White House to avoid a shutdown. Democrats have insisted that they will not vote for any spending bill that gives the White House money or flexibility to begin construction of a border barrier. They believe that the GOP will have to either abandon Trump’s demand or assume political responsibility if a shutdown occurs.

“The burden to keep it open is on the Republicans,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Building a wall is not an answer. Not here or any place.”

It seems that everyone remembers 2013 and who got the blame, and the Democrats are making sure they do, but President Trump is new at this:

Inside the White House on Sunday, West Wing aides made calls to congressional allies, while the president tweeted and reached out to several advisers, according to three officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

Trump’s tweets included a shot at Democrats in which he drew parallels between border-wall funding and continued federal payments for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Some Trump associates said that they believe Democrats may be willing to deal on border funding if those payments are put on the table this week during cross-party talks.

“ObamaCare is in serious trouble. The Dems need big money to keep it going – otherwise it dies far sooner than anyone would have thought,” Trump tweeted.

By law, Trump has to make those regular federal payments of subsidies to the insurance companies – his job is to faithfully execute the law of the land – but there’s a lawsuit about those payments. He could not make those payments until that’s settled. Millions of the poor and elderly and gravely ill would be left high and dry – and that would be the Democrats fault. He’s got them over the barrel:

The tweets did little to assuage concerns created earlier in the day when White House budget director Mick Mulvaney suggested that Trump might not sign a spending bill that does not meet his demands.

“Will he sign a government funding bill that does not include funding for the border wall?” Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday,” asked Mulvaney during a televised interview.

“We don’t know yet,” Mulvaney responded.

Mulvaney said that the White House expects Democrats to cave on the border wall in exchange for guaranteed payments under the ACA.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer laughed in his face:

Democrats believe that voters will blame Trump for a shutdown, particularly if congressional leaders omit wall funding from a spending deal. Democrats and GOP leaders appeared to be nearing a spending agreement last week before Trump ramped up his demands.

In short, both sides are ignoring him:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is among a group of prominent Senate Republicans who have said publicly that they hope to avoid a border wall fight this week.

“I think that’s a fight worth having and a conversation and a debate worth having for 2018,” Rubio said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “If we can do some of that now, that would be great. But we cannot shut down the government right now.”

And there’s this:

Mulvaney’s hardline stance is also odds with a White House faction convinced that a government shutdown would be cataclysmic for an administration already struggling to prove its ability to govern, according to GOP aides in the White House and Congress who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing talks.

Republican leaders have signaled that they will concentrate this week on keeping the government open, even if that means ignoring White House calls for action on other major priorities, such as rewriting the tax code and overhauling the ACA.

Trump is alone on this, and Josh Marshall dives deeper:

It didn’t occur to anyone to take the federal government hostage to extort policy changes from political opponents until the advent of the Newt Gingrich Speakership.

Before they become notorious reputational debacles, Gingrich was quite clear about what he was doing. He would shut the government down, break President Bill Clinton’s will with the pressure and bend Clinton to his will and policy dictation. There were two shutdowns under Clinton and the Republican Congress. There was one under President Obama in 2013 and a debt ceiling crisis in 2011 which wasn’t a shutdown but had the same legislative hostage taking dynamics. The one recurring pattern is that shutdowns happen in the context of divided government. To be more specific, they happen when there is a Democratic President and Republicans in control of one or two houses of Congress. It simply never occurred to anyone before now that there would be a shutdown crisis when one party had unified control of the entire government still less that a President whose party controlled Congress would threaten to shut the government down to extort policy concessions from a party that controls nothing.

And yet, here we are… The White House will cut off Obamacare subsidies unless Democrats agree to fund Trump’s Wall.

Marshall is not impressed:

For the moment, let’s observe and pass over the fact that this whole effort has a distinctly mafia feel to it, even down for the dollar for dollar semantics. Legislative hostage taking which appears to have become habitual for Republicans has a certain general logic when it is about budget cutting. But here there’s no apparent opposition to the subsidies. Democrats can have as much of them as they want – as long as they agree to fund Trump’s wall. It’s straight up extortion, without even the pretense of ideological opposition to the policies being threatened.

And it’s not going to work:

Perhaps here Trump is simply bluffing. Maybe he’ll get distracted and move on to something else next week. But I get the sense that this is a serious threat. And I get the sense the White House might go through with the threat because I think they believe they are in a strong position even though they’re in a weak position.

That’s fairly obvious:

The President’s Wall is not popular. For much of the country it is a divisive, bad idea. Even those who do not oppose it per se do not view it as a high priority. One illustrative data point: a late March AP/NORC poll found that 58 percent opposed new funding for a wall while only 28 percent support it. It’s very unpopular. Notably this is about spending. Remember, “who’s gonna pay for the wall?” Mexico!

So what happened to Mexico paying? Trump continues to pretend that he is somehow compelling Mexico to pay for the wall on some sort of inter-state layaway plan. But clearly this is nonsense. That central premise of the campaign, impose a national humiliation on Mexico by forcing them to pay for a wall on the border is out the door, forgotten. Americans are going to pay for it and it is not popular.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, Obamacare is more popular than it has ever been. Indeed, the failed repeal attempt has made it more popular. The repeal debacle also solidified key elements of how the public sees the law. Popularity of the law called Obamacare has become unfastened from the fate of those who receive care under it.

That changes everything:

Obamacare provides coverage for more than 20 million people. Any replacement or change to the law will be and was this spring evaluated in terms of the numbers of people who lost or gained coverage. House Republican arguments about gaining the freedom to lose or abandon your coverage went nowhere. Moderate Republicans and many non-moderates (Tom Cotton, for example) were stung by the public backlash against changes that would lose people coverage. What the White House is threatening is a cut off of subsidies which would destabilize and possibly collapse Obamacare exchanges leading to loss of coverage or higher premiums.

In other words, President Trump is now threatening the Democrats with doing the thing that terrified many Republicans out of repealing Obamacare only a month ago.

We have already seen from the repeal fight that those developments are politically toxic. President Trump and his aides appear to view Obamacare beneficiaries as Democrats’ charges, something akin to family members the President can take hostage and threaten to injure or kill to extort concessions. This is a rather dire miscalculation of the politics of the situation. Democrats have made great political sacrifices to maintain coverage under Obamacare. But the people who are likely to suffer political damage by this action are not Democrats but rather congressional Republicans, indeed Trump himself. After all, that’s why Obamacare repeal went down in flames in the first place. One might say that the eventual harm is to beneficiaries. But there’s little reason for Democrats to think they’d lose this fight. Indeed, a fair analysis of the situation suggests the best way to protect beneficiaries is to call the President’s bluff. After all, they just won basically the same fight a month ago. The simple reality is that the President is threatening to set himself and his party on fire unless Democrats relent.

In short, the Democrats have Trump over a barrel:

The President is demanding Democrats vote funds for his deeply unpopular wall which he promised Mexico would pay for or he’ll try to sabotage Obamacare exchanges in a way likely to damage him and congressional Republicans. This is an almost comically weak political hand. The relative popularity of each policy makes that so. The ruthless and cynical effort to threaten harm to ordinary beneficiaries as a way to extort money for the wall makes it only more so.

And there’s this:

The Democrats are the party of government. This is a reality that all sides concede, whether they see it as an honor or a stain. Republicans are the ones who talk about shrinking the government until it is small enough that it can be strangled in a bathtub. It’s Republicans who talk about government being the problem not the solution. It’s Republicans who rail against big government and often government workers. When the public sees that someone is shutting down the government, cutting government services, furloughing employees, Republicans will always tend to get the blame. This would mostly be the case even if it weren’t the case that it’s always Republicans who are in fact engineering the shutdowns or threatening them. It’s no different from the widely understood reality that the public tends to credit Republicans more on national security issues because they believe Republicans are the more bellicose, war-fighting party. On the question of continuity in government services, caring if the government gets shut down, Democrats have inherent credibility Republicans simply lack.

What this amounts to is that this is a fight Republicans and the Trump White House will have a very, very hard time winning. But I don’t think President Trump knows that.

That may be the real problem:

Can the Trump White House be this legislatively inept? This self-deluding? Of course, they can. It’s an empirical reality we see every day. It’s how we got to three months into the administration with no major legislation at all getting passed.

And as for the empirical reality Americans see every day, David Remnick offers this:

For most people, the luxury of living in a relatively stable democracy is the luxury of not following politics with a nerve-racked constancy. Trump does not afford this. His Presidency has become the demoralizing daily obsession of anyone concerned with global security, the vitality of the natural world, the national health, constitutionalism, civil rights, criminal justice, a free press, science, public education, and the distinction between fact and its opposite. The hundred-day marker is never an entirely reliable indicator of a four-year term, but it’s worth remembering that Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama were among those who came to office at a moment of national crisis and had the discipline, the preparation, and the rigor to set an entirely new course. Impulsive, egocentric, and mendacious, Trump has, in the same span, set fire to the integrity of his office.

We did elect a man of alternative facts:

Trump appears to strut through the world forever studying his own image. He thinks out loud, and is incapable of reflection. He is unserious, unfocussed, and, at times, it seems, unhinged. Journalists are invited to the Oval Office to ask about infrastructure; he turns the subject to how Bill O’Reilly, late of Fox News, is a “good person,” blameless, like him, in matters of sexual harassment. A reporter asks about the missile attack on Syria; he feeds her a self-satisfied description of how he informed his Chinese guests at Mar-a-Lago of the strike over “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.”

And we’re getting used to this sort of thing:

This Presidency is so dispiriting that, at the first glimmer of relative ordinariness, Trump is graded on a curve. When he restrains himself from trolling Kim Jong-un about the failure of a North Korean missile test, he is credited with the strategic self-possession of a Dean Acheson. The urge to normalize Trump’s adolescent outbursts, his flagrant incompetence and dishonesty – to wish it all away, if only for a news cycle or two – is connected to the fear of what fresh hell might come next. Every day brings another outrage or embarrassment: the dressing down of the Australian Prime Minister or a shout-out for the “amazing job” that Frederick Douglass is doing. One day NATO is “obsolete”; the next it is “no longer obsolete.” The Chinese are “grand champions” of currency manipulation; then they are not. When Julian Assange is benefiting Trump’s campaign, it’s “I love WikiLeaks!”; now, with the Presidency won, the Justice Department is preparing criminal charges against him. News of Trump’s casual reversals of policy comes with such alarming regularity that the impulse to locate a patch of firm ground is understandable. It’s soothing. But it’s untenable.

But he us who he is:

Trump emerged from neither a log cabin nor the contemporary meritocracy. He inherited his father’s outer-borough real-estate empire – a considerable enterprise distinguished by racist federal-housing violations – and brought it to Manhattan. He entered a world of contractors, casino operators, Roy Cohn, professional-wrestling stars, Rupert Murdoch, multiple bankruptcies, tabloid divorces, Mar-a-Lago golf tournaments, and reality television. He had no real civic presence in New York. A wealthy man, he gave almost nothing to charity. He cultivated a kind of louche glamour. At Studio 54, he said, “I would watch supermodels getting screwed on a bench in the middle of the room.” He had no close friends. Mainly, he preferred to work, play golf, and spend long hours at home watching TV. His misogyny and his low character were always manifest. Displeased with a harmless Palm Beach society journalist named Shannon Donnelly, he told her in a letter that if she adhered to his standards of discretion, “I will promise not to show you as the crude, fat and obnoxious slob which everyone knows you are.” Insofar as he had political opinions, they were inconsistent and mainly another form of performance art, part of his talk-show patter. His contributions to political campaigns were unrelated to conviction; he gave solely to curry favor with those who could do his business some good. He believed in nothing.

By the mid-nineties, Trump’s investment prospects had foundered. Banks cut him off. He turned to increasingly dubious sources of credit and branding opportunities at home and abroad. A typical deal, involving a hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, included as partners an Azerbaijani family distinguished for its outsized corruption and for its connections to some Iranian brothers who worked as a profit front for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. There is little mystery as to why Trump has broken with custom and refuses to release his tax returns. A record of his colossal tax breaks, associations, deals, and net worth resides in those forms. It may turn out that deals like the one in Baku will haunt his Presidency no less than his grotesque conflicts of interest or any of the possible connections to Russia now being investigated by the FBI and congressional committees will.

That may catch up with him, or this will:

In the transitional period between Election Day and the Inauguration, Obama’s aides were told that Trump, who has the attention span of a hummingbird, would not read reports of any depth; he prefers one- or two-page summaries, pictures, and graphics. Obama met with Trump once and talked with him on the telephone roughly ten times. The discussions did little to change Obama’s mind that Trump was “uniquely unqualified” to be President. His grasp of issues was rudimentary, at best. After listening to Obama describe the framework of the nuclear agreement with Iran – a deal that Trump had previously assessed as “terrible” and vowed to dismantle – he conceded that maybe it made sense after all. In one of the many books published under his name, “Trump: Think Like a Billionaire,” he said, “The day I realized it can be smart to be shallow was, for me, a deep experience.”

There’s much more, but this will do for a summary:

In 1814, John Adams evoked the Aristotelian notion that democracy will inevitably lapse into anarchy. “Remember, democracy never lasts long,” he wrote to John Taylor, a former U.S. senator from Virginia, in 1814. “It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.” As President, Donald Trump, with his nativist and purely transactional view of politics, threatens to be democracy’s most reckless caretaker, and a fulfillment of Adams’s dark prophecy.

We now have our reckless caretaker, with his alternative facts, who can fire up a crowd, and with a stroke of his pen he can veto any appropriations bill “his” Republicans and all Democrats agree to, to keep the government from shutting down. He’ll shut it down, to get what he wants, even if that has never worked for anyone before. That’s a fact, but he makes up facts. That made him rich. Why stop now?

Maybe it’s time to stop him. But we have no mechanism for that. That’s a fact too.

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Not Always a Good Idea

Billy Wilder found it hard to be a young successful film director in Berlin in the thirties. He was Jewish. There was Hitler. He got the hell out of there. He headed for Hollywood, and here he became a wonder. There was Sunset Boulevard – an unflinching look at the rancid underbelly of the film industry. Souls are crushed. The good guy dies. Everyone in the industry hated it, and loved it – it was all true. The intersection of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard is now Billy Wilder Square. Someone stole the sign years ago. It figures – but everyone loved Some Like It Hot – Marilyn Monroe in all her fluid three-dimensional glory, but somehow shy and lovable, and funny as hell. Jack Kennedy was impressed. In between the two there was Sabrina – Audrey Hepburn as the original manic-pixie-dream-girl. She’s the honest and authentic wide-eyed waif that blows away the cobwebs. Late in the film she tells Humphrey Bogart – as the stuffy cutthroat businessman Linus Larrabee – that “Paris is always a good idea.”

His heart melts, or gets in touch with his inner child, or he discovers his true self that was hidden all along, or something. The two of them head for Paris. Fade to black. Roll the credits.

Billy Wilder should have known better:

Paris syndrome is a transient mental disorder exhibited by some individuals when visiting or vacationing to Paris, as a result of extreme shock resulting from their finding out that Paris is not what they had expected it to be. It is characterized by a number of psychiatric symptoms such as acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution (perceptions of being a victim of prejudice, aggression, or hostility from others), derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, and also psychosomatic manifestations such as dizziness, tachycardia, sweating, and others, such as vomiting…

Japanese visitors are observed to be especially susceptible.

Paris isn’t always a good idea, even if you’re not Japanese. The culture is different. It’s a formal place. The French value elegance and restraint. There are things that just aren’t done. The bon élèves understand – they were raised right. And then there’s the language. One must speak French with precision. Learn the damned subjunctive.

Linus Larrabee was going to have a hard time there, but Billy Wilder didn’t make that film, and now things are even stranger. France has its own Donald Trump. Comment dit-on «America First» en francais?

One says that like this:

It has almost become routine in France: A terrorist attack shatters the rhythms of daily life, bringing bloodshed and anguish. The assailant turns out to be someone known to the authorities.

What is different now is the timing, as Paris is again on high alert, less than 36 hours before the country goes to the polls on Sunday in one of the most tumultuous and unpredictable presidential races in memory.

The brazen assault on Thursday by Karim Cheurfi, 39, a French national with a history of violence, left one police officer dead on the sidewalk of the Champs-Élysées.

It has also provided a potent opportunity for conservatives, primarily Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right National Front, to use the violence to try to stoke hostility toward immigrants and Muslims, as well as fears about whether citizens can be protected from terrorism.

That can win an election, so she seized the moment:

Barely a week ago, with her poll numbers sagging, Ms. Le Pen tried to rally her base with a raw appeal against Muslims and immigrants. It was unclear if her gambit was resonating. Now she and other candidates are jockeying to position themselves as tough on terror, amid revelations that Mr. Cheurfi, like several attackers before him, had been on the authorities’ radar.

The Paris prosecutor’s office on Friday acknowledged having opened a preliminary terrorism investigation into Mr. Cheurfi as recently as March 9. He was arrested in February, only to be released for lack of evidence. After Thursday’s attack, the police found kitchen knives, a gun and a Quran in the trunk of the car he was driving, and also pieces of paper with scribbled allegiances to the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack.

Ms. Le Pen pounced, mocking the departing president, François Hollande, and vowing to be an unblinkingly tough leader.

“For 10 years, under the governments of left and right, everything has been done to make us losers,” she said, speaking from her party headquarters outside Paris on Friday. “There must be a president who acts and who protects.”

That was Trump, last year, talking about Obama, and all the other “losers” too. She knows how to win, no one else does. Only she can save France. Donald Trump kept saying that only he could save America, and then there’s the Hillary Clinton figure:

Some analysts predicted that the principal electoral beneficiary could be the embattled mainstream center-right candidate François Fillon, who produced a book last fall called “Defeating Islamic Totalitarianism,” and who also uses harsh rhetoric to depict the antiterrorism fight as a war of civilizations.

Mr. Fillon, a former prime minister, and once the presidential front-runner, had languished in polls after becoming entangled in a nepotism scandal that led to embezzlement charges against him. But he has been gaining ground in recent weeks, and the attack might provide a final push.

“You can imagine a movement toward one who has held power,” said Dominique Reynié, an expert on the far right who teaches at Sciences Po. “He’s written on terrorism. He’s been prime minister.”

Yeah, and Hillary Clinton talked tough, and she had been a senator and then secretary of state, for all the good it did her. One can imagine a movement toward one who has held power. One can also imagine elephants tap-dancing in spats. One can imagine lots of things, but this isn’t imaginary:

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Mr. Cheurfi’s neighbors in the Paris suburb of Chelles described him as quiet, and showing no obvious signs of radicalization. “Not very friendly. Fairly proud,” said Augusto Rodriguez, a neighbor.

Mr. Cheurfi was not among France’s notorious “S-Files,” the thousands suspected of extremism whom the state is officially surveilling, but does not have enough formal proof to arrest. The S-Files have acquired near-mythic boogeyman status in the French imagination. On Friday, Ms. Le Pen called for their expulsion from the country. At a campaign rally in Marseille earlier in the week, she called them an “immense army of the shadows that wants us to live in terror.”

That’s Trump’s Muslim ban taken a step further – toss them all out – and there’s this:

Emboldened after the Champs-Élysées attack, Ms. Le Pen sought, as she often does, to place the antiterrorism fight as a struggle for the French soul. The idea is at the heart of her nationalistic campaign, and even as her momentum has slowed she has still placed first in many polls before the Sunday vote. “France is targeted not for what it does, but for what it is, and the French, for the simple reason that they are French,” Ms. Le Pen said.

Comment dit-on «America First» en francais? That’s how one says “America First” in French, and this was predictable:

Ms. Le Pen “was seeking, like after every tragedy, to take advantage of it, in order to sow division,” said the prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve. “She’s seeking to shamelessly exploit fear and emotion for exclusively political ends.”

Of course she is. That works. She saw that work here. She’s not dumb, and Aaron Blake notes that she has a friend over here:

One of the dumbest games played in Washington is when politicians say nice things about other politicians but insist they aren’t “endorsing” them.

President Trump is now playing that game with the far-right candidate for French president, Marine Le Pen.

After French police officers were shot in Paris on Thursday, Trump quickly pointed the finger at terrorism – before the motive had been publicly determined. “That’s a very, very terrible thing that’s going on in the world today,” Trump said at a White House news conference with the Italian prime minister. “But it looks like another terrorist attack. And what can you say? It just never ends. We have to be strong, and we have to be vigilant.”

By Friday morning, Trump nodded subtly toward Le Pen’s candidacy, suggesting that the shooting would impact the election in a “big” way. And the implication was unmistakable.

He’s with her:

A Le Pen victory would clearly be cast as an extension of the nationalist sentiment characterizing both Brexit and Trump’s win.

And then Trump gave an interview to AP reporter Julie Pace, in which he said Le Pen was “the strongest on what’s been going on in France.”

“She’s the strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France,” Trump said. “Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders will do well in the election.”

That wasn’t an endorsement, but it was:

Trump also just happened to underscore an issue that he feels is of the utmost importance – it was the subject of his first controversial executive action, the travel ban – and then pointed to Le Pen as clearly the best candidate on that issue. That’s no coincidence.

And it’s not like Trump spends lots of his time weighing in on foreign politics, if he even follows them. The one issue you could point to is Brexit. Like he just did with Le Pen, Trump suggested that the British referendum option to leave the European Union would win but said he wasn’t endorsing it.

That was bullshit:

After Brexit passed, Trump quickly made it his own, frequently pointing to his prediction that it would prevail.

When you combine all of this with the fact that Le Pen’s policies are so close to his own on issues of immigration and national sovereignty, it’s clear what’s going on here. And if Trump isn’t actually supporting Le Pen, the White House should probably take this opportunity to dispute that characterization. Because Trump is really making it sound that way.

It is what it is, but then there was this:

Former President Barack Obama gently waded back into international politics on Thursday, talking by phone with French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Macron is the center-left candidate, and the leading contender to stop far-right Marine Le Pen from winning in either Sunday’s first round or the subsequent runoff.

Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said “an endorsement was not the purpose of the call, as President Obama is not making any formal endorsement.”

That’s not what Emmanuel Macron thought:

A source familiar said that Macron had sought the call. He’s hoping to preserve France’s pro-European Union bent, in line with Obama’s vision of global politics – and opposed to President Donald Trump’s. Le Pen had meetings in Trump Tower during the transition and has since traveled to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin.

Things are lining up. Marine Le Pen has Putin and Trump on her side – the extreme nationalists – and Emmanuel Macron has Obama:

Macron released video of his side of the call in a tweet reading in English, “Let’s keep defending our progressive values. Thank you for this discussion @BarackObama.”

And now add this:

Obama remains popular in Europe, but he’s yet to demonstrate any transferability of that into electoral wins, including when he came out heavily against Brexit in advance of last year’s vote, at the urging of then-Prime Minister David Cameron. Last November, traveling in Berlin the week after Trump won, Obama was asked whether he’d back Chancellor Angela Merkel in her own reelection this fall, and he said he’d support her.

“If I were here and I were German, and I had a vote, I might support her,” Obama said then. “But I don’t know whether that hurts or helps.”

But he’s scheduled to be back in Germany for another officially nonpolitical event with Merkel at the end of May.

Things are lining up. It’s Trump and Putin versus Obama and Merkel. Marine Le Pen is just a proxy. This is likely to produce acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution (perceptions of being a victim of prejudice, aggression, or hostility from others), derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, and also psychosomatic manifestations such as dizziness, tachycardia, sweating, and others, such as vomiting.

Vomiting may be appropriate, and Griff Witte explains why:

Of the four candidates with a realistic chance to become France’s next president, three oppose Western sanctions against Russia.

Two would take France out of NATO’s military command, or perhaps remove it from the alliance altogether.

And the one candidate who fits neither category would dramatically increase European defense cooperation to lessen dependence on what he regards as an unreliable United States.

This is not good:

When French voters make their choices Sunday in the first round of the country’s utterly unpredictable presidential race, the status quo for Western security won’t be on the ballot. Instead the election could become yet another convulsive moment for a decades-old international security order that is still wobbling from the turbulence of President Trump.

Victory for either the far right or the far left – candidates representing either extreme are among those locked in the four-way contest for a ticket to the second round – would mark an especially pronounced break for a country that is one of two nuclear-armed powers in Europe, with the world’s sixth-most-powerful military and a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

“It would be catastrophic – the undoing of 65 years of foreign and security policy,” said François Heisbourg, an analyst with the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research and a former defense ministry official. “This is big.”

That’s an understatement:

If there’s peril for the West, there’s opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia meddled in the U.S. election to help Trump, according to U.S. intelligence agencies. Whether Russia is interfering in the French vote is less clear. But analysts say the election undoubtedly offers another potentially disruptive moment for the West that Russia would relish – and likely seek to exploit.

“Putin would take advantage,” Heisbourg said. “The risk of war in and out of Europe would be quite high.”

And that risk may be certain:

“No matter who wins,” a recent analysis by the London-based European Leadership Network concluded, “France’s security and defense policy will not be the same, and some candidates would bring revolutionary changes.”

The most dramatic shift would come if either the far right’s Marine Le Pen or the far left’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon manages to pull off a win – a prospect once dismissed as anything from unlikely to impossible, but now being seriously contemplated across Europe.

Despite coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, both candidates are hostile toward NATO. Mélenchon has dismissed the alliance as a Cold War “anachronism” and an emblem of U.S. imperialism that he wants France to leave behind.

Le Pen also argues that NATO’s time has passed and that France should at least abandon the alliance’s integrated command structure, if not ditch the 28-member organization altogether.

She’s quite serious:

An admirer of Trump’s, she recently took rare issue with the U.S. president when he reversed course on his earlier criticism of NATO and approvingly described it as “no longer obsolete.”

“I am coherent,” Le Pen told France Info radio in a dig at Trump and a confirmation of her own anti-NATO views. “I don’t change my mind in a few days.”

She just said she’s better at being Donald Trump than Donald Trump is, and she won’t walk away from Putin either:

Le Pen, whose party received a 9-million-euro loan from a Moscow-based bank in 2014, has endorsed the Russian annexation of Crimea, called for a lifting of Western sanctions and proposed a new global power axis among Putin, Trump and, assuming she wins, herself.

“A new world has emerged in these past years,” she said during her Moscow visit. “It’s the world of Vladimir Putin, it’s the world of Donald Trump in the United States, it’s the world of [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi in India, and I think that probably I am the one who shares with these great nations a vision of cooperation and not a vision of submission.”

She does seem to worry about Donald Trump a bit, but also seems to assume he’ll grow a pair and reverse himself on NATO again. He just needs to listen Steve Bannon a bit more, not McMaster and Mattis and all those other submissive weaklings. And of course Putin wins no matter what:

If anyone other than independent candidate Emmanuel Macron wins the vote, Putin would, at the very least, have a more sympathetic counterpart in the Elysee Palace.

Mélenchon, for instance, has accused the West of provoking Russia with its missile-defense systems and NATO expansion into Eastern Europe. He wants to lift sanctions and revive historically close Russian-French ties, while weakening links across the Atlantic to the United States.

Center-right candidate François Fillon, meanwhile, has also emerged as a sharp critic of sanctions, arguing that the measures intended to punish Russia for its military intervention in Ukraine end up hurting the French economy.

Fillon, the subject of often-approving coverage in the Russian media, has long-standing ties to Moscow and was paid tens of thousands of dollars to arrange a meeting between Putin and a Lebanese billionaire, according to reports in the French media. His campaign has denied the allegation.

And that’s why Obama made that phone call:

The only major candidate who does not favor a softer line on Russia is Macron. The 39-year-old goes out of his way in speeches to criticize Putin, knocking the leader’s well-documented reputation for political oppression and arguing that France, as the cradle of the Enlightenment, has a responsibility to speak out.

“Do not surrender to the siren call of those who argue that our principal ally will be Russia,” he told thousands of cheering supporters at a recent Paris rally. “We’ll have to talk to Russia. But shouldn’t we be outraged when human rights are violated?”

Well, the Enlightenment was a long time ago, when Paris probably was still a good idea. Things changed. Don’t believe the waif. That was just a movie.

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The Second Kick of the Mule

W C. Fields had it right – “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”

Of course Fields real name was William Claude Dukenfield and he drank a lot, and that finally killed him, but everyone agrees that he was a fine fellow. He wasn’t really a curmudgeon. That was efshtick. He came from vaudeville. Everyone had a shtick – but he didn’t suffer fools gladly. In his will there was a clause leaving a portion of his estate to establish a “W. C. Fields College for Orphan White Boys and Girls, where no religion of any sort is to be preached.” There was no point in being a damn fool about religion either. When something isn’t working, and is never going to work, do the sensible thing – quit. Move on.

And then there’s Eugene Robinson – that pleasant fellow from the Washington Post with his Pulitzer Prize for his columns on how Obama won the presidency – who sees the same thing:

House Republicans are apparently ready for yet another attempt to snatch health insurance away from constituents who need it. Someone should remind Speaker Paul Ryan of a saying often attributed to his legendary predecessor Sam Rayburn: “There’s no education in the second kick of the mule.”

Sam Rayburn sounds a lot like W. C. Fields. The two were born two years apart – 1880 and 1882 – so maybe there was something in the air back then. Or maybe the fools were more obviously fools back then – easier to spot – but Donald Trump and Paul Ryan seem to want that second kick of the mule:

President Trump is pushing Congress toward another dramatic showdown over the Affordable Care Act, despite big outstanding obstacles to a beleaguered revision plan and a high-stakes deadline next week to keep the government running.

The fresh pressure from the White House to pass a revision was met with skepticism by some Capitol Hill Republicans and their aides, who were recently humiliated when their bill failed to reach the House floor for a vote and who worry now that little has changed to suggest a new revision would fare any better.

They’re familiar with Sam Rayburn’s mule, but Trump isn’t:

The effort reflects Trump’s sense of urgency to score a victory on Obamacare replacement and move on to other legislative objectives, notably tax restructuring. Passing an Affordable Care Act revision would also allow the president to show progress toward a major campaign promise as he completes his first 100 days in office.

“The plan gets better and better and better, and it’s gotten really good, and a lot of people are liking it a lot,” Trump said at a news conference Thursday. “We have a good chance of getting it soon. I’d like to say next week, but we will get it.”

Right – and everyone will get a unicorn too – or not:

Congressional Republicans also worry that they must attract Democratic support to fund the government past the month’s end – a step they must take by midnight April 28 to avoid a shutdown. That could become difficult if Democrats grow alienated by the effort to alter former president Barack Obama’s key domestic policy achievement, which some White House officials said they hope will come up for a vote as early as Wednesday.

Several congressional GOP aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk openly about the ongoing negotiations, said they worry that the rushed process threatens to create another embarrassing public failure over health care. The schedule would also make it nearly impossible for lawmakers to finish their work in time for official scorekeepers to provide a clear estimate of how much the legislation would cost or how it would affect coverage numbers.

It may be time to move on, but they won’t move on:

The fresh hopes for resuscitating the American Health Care Act are pegged to an amendment being offered by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) that aims to attract enough conservatives and moderates that the measure can pass in the House. White House officials said language would be circulated among members in the next few days, and the modifications will be discussed Saturday in a conference-wide call as Republicans prepare to return to Washington next week.

The MacArthur amendment would allow states to obtain permission from the federal government to write their own list of essential health benefits and allow insurers to charge people with preexisting conditions higher premiums, as long as they also make a high-risk pool available to those patients – a change conservatives have demanded.

As a concession to moderates, the amendment would also add back federal requirements for essential health benefits, which the measure’s current version instead leaves up to states.

That’s where they were the last time, and many of them know it:

Apart from the publicly embarrassing struggle to reach consensus on an Affordable Care Act revision, some Republicans are also uncomfortable with refocusing on health care just as they are trying to build goodwill with Democrats to pass a stopgap budget plan to keep the government open past April 28.

Republican leaders have already admitted that they are unable to craft a spending bill that can appease the far-right flank of the GOP, and they have turned to Democrats to deliver votes instead. Democrats have so far been willing to work with Republicans to avoid a government shutdown, but any effort to schedule a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act could destroy those talks and threaten a government shutdown that Republicans have vowed to avoid.

“There isn’t going to be a warm, fuzzy feeling,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) said of the impact a health-care repeal effort would have on spending talks.

Try, try again, then quit – there’s no point in being a damn fool about it – but they have their own damn fool in charge:

Trump’s position on a health-care overhaul appears to have shifted in the weeks since the House GOP’s proposal, called the American Health Care Act, failed last month. Then, the president indicated that he was ready to move on to his next priorities, notably tax reform.

Now, Trump is bringing a new urgency to the task of delivering one of his central campaign promises. Additionally, with the 100-day mark of his presidency approaching, he and his senior aides are eager to show a concrete legislative achievement.

Greg Sargent puts that this way:

Naturally, giving President Trump something to arbitrarily tout as an achievement (even if it passes the House, the Senate looms) in advance of the arbitrary 100-day mark is far more important than the human toll the proposal would have on millions.

But the toll of the new plan is considerable:

It allows states to seek a waiver to get rid of the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on charging higher premiums to people with preexisting conditions, on the condition that states set up or participate in high-risk pools that would help cover any of those people who lose insurance. It would also restore to the GOP bill the ACA’s requirement that insurers cover Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) – such as doctor’s and emergency room visits and maternity care – but allow states to seek waivers from them.

In effect, the waiver on preexisting conditions is designed to make conservatives happy, while giving moderates high-risk pools that allow them to argue it wouldn’t harm people with preexisting conditions. The restoration of EHBs is designed to make moderates happy, while telling conservatives states could still get out from under them.

But the waiver on prohibitions against jacking up premiums for people with preexisting conditions – which is called “community rating” – is a major problem. It would smack them with far more in costs — potentially pushing them off coverage entirely.

Sargent provides a nifty table documenting the specifics, for policy wonks, but it comes down to this:

Topher Spiro, a health policy analyst at CAP, tells me that these sums were calculated by using actuary “risk scores” for each condition, which detail how much someone with that condition costs insurers relative to a healthy person.

“If insurers can charge sick people higher premiums than healthy people, they would add a surcharge to premiums that reflects this additional cost,” Spiro says. “The premium markups would be unimaginable, adding thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to premiums. They would be priced out of the market and quarantined into high-risk pools.”

Now, in fairness, these findings are based on calculated national averages, so applying them to what would happen in any given state is tricky. But this is intended as a general guideline of what sort of premium hikes we might see in states that did seek waivers – and it’s fair to assume many red states would do so. What’s more, this conclusion dovetails with the general conclusions of other health policy analysts. The big story is that, while the new plan would ostensibly keep the prohibition against refusing to cover people with preexisting conditions, allowing premiums to be jacked up would functionally price a lot of those people out of the market, gutting that protection.

This is far worse than the last time around:

Indeed, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt tells me he thinks the CAP projections are plausible. “These figures show why a guarantee of coverage without community rating offers essentially no protection for people with pre-existing conditions,” Levitt says. “No insurance company will want to cover people with expensive health conditions if they don’t have to, so they will set premiums to make sure the coverage is out of reach. Health care costs are highly concentrated among a small number of people who are sick, and they would find it impossible to get affordable coverage.”

Of course, the new plan’s defenders would reply that these people can go into high-risk pools (this is apparently meant to give moderates cover to back it). But they’ve historically been underfunded and/or resulted in people paying higher prices or going without coverage.

But wait, there’s more:

Meanwhile, the new GOP plan would keep in place the old plan’s phase-out of the Medicaid expansion, which would itself result in 14 million fewer people on Medicaid, according to the Congressional Budget Office. You’d think that this, plus the gutting of protections for preexisting conditions, would render the new plan toxic for GOP moderates who, in rejecting the old plan, have confirmed that they are not willing to embrace a massively regressive plan that would push millions of poor and sick people off coverage while delivering an enormous tax cut to the rich. Of course, the need to give Trump a fake achievement to tout is also an urgent matter, so who knows what they’ll do?

They could stop being damn fools. Let it be. There really is no education in the second kick of the mule, and Eugene Robinson explains that kick:

Republicans don’t talk much about the practical reason for moving urgently on health care, which is to set the stage for tax reform: They want to take money now used to subsidize health care for low-income Americans and give it to the wealthy in the form of big tax cuts. Again, we can see you.

I’m sure the crowds at GOP town halls will be understanding. Just be sure to check attendees at the door for tar and feathers.

The crowds at GOP town halls will see this:

We would go back to the pre-ACA situation in which serious illness could mean losing a home or filing for bankruptcy.

This may satisfy GOP ideological imperatives – Ayn Rand would be so proud – but it is atrocious policy, even if you put aside considerations such as compassion and community.

And there’s this:

We live at a time of enormous economic dislocation. The manufacturing sector has shrunk dramatically, and now retail may be starting down the same path; long-lost jobs in industries such as coal mining are not coming back, no matter what Trump says. Workers need to be able to move to where jobs are being created – which means that health insurance should ideally be portable. But Republicans are heading in the other direction by trying to set up a system with radically different health-insurance rules in different states. In today’s world, how does that make sense?

And there’s this:

Unchanged from last month’s failed bill are provisions that would strip massive amounts of money out of Medicaid, by far the nation’s biggest source of payment for nursing-home care. So Republicans might not want to show their faces anywhere near retirement communities.

They’re asking for trouble, for that second kick from Sam Rayburn’s hypothetical mule, but that’s the plan:

The Affordable Care Act changed the way most people in this country think about health care. It did not, however, change the thinking of many House Republicans, who continue to believe individuals should be held financially liable for a genetic predisposition toward diabetes or a random cellular mutation that leads to cancer.

Not everyone feels that way. Ezra Klein argues that the Republicans’ biggest health care achievement has been making Obamacare more popular:

It is bizarre watching House Republicans persuade themselves that the problem they face on health care is cutting a deal between the Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group rather than crafting legislation that people actually like, and that will actually make some part of the health care system noticeably better. But the GOP’s refusal to take public opinion even mildly into account has put them in a disastrous position.

I’m not sure Republicans realize how deep a hole they’re in on this issue. But here’s a way to make it clear. Obamacare is now significantly more popular than Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, the Republican Party, or the American Health Care Act.

The aggregate approval numbers from all the polling are a bit sobering – Obamacare at 55 percent, Mike Pence at 49 percent, the Democratic Party at 45 percent, the Republican Party at 40 percent, Donald Trump at 39 percent, Congress at 34 percent, Paul Ryan at 29 percent, and the new American Health Care Act at 17 percent – before these latest possible revisions.

That’s absurd:

The Republicans’ strategy, right now, is to replace a law that’s more popular than they are with a bill that was polling at 17 percent before it went down in flames. And their approach to doing that isn’t a new campaign where they persuade the public that the AHCA is a good idea, nor is it a new proposal that fixes the problems that made the old bill so unpopular.

Instead, it’s a backroom deal that changes the AHCA so it’s easier for insurance companies to charge sick people more for coverage. Is that really what Republicans think the public disliked about the original bill? That it made it too hard for insurers to turn away former cancer patients?

The mule has already kicked them, twice:

When Democrats passed Obamacare, the law was mildly unpopular (though nothing close to the AHCA’s catastrophic numbers), but they believed, firmly, that it would grow more popular as it began delivering insurance to millions of people.

So far, the main thing the new Republican majority has achieved on health care is to prove the Democrats right – they have made Obamacare more popular than it’s been at any other point in its existence. And they’ve achieved that by persuading people disappointed in Obamacare that it’s better than what Republicans want to put in its place.

Josh Barro puts that another way:

I think it is best to understand the periodic reemergence of the American Health Care Act as similar to the periodic searches for evidence that President Barack Obama really did “tapp” Trump’s phones.

Trump says he was wiretapped, so he sets off a frenzy as Republicans seek to substantiate that claim, even though they will never be able to. Trump says Republicans are still making great progress on a healthcare deal, so he also sets off frenzies among Republicans to substantiate that claim, even though they’ll never be able to.

Trump forces his staff and Republicans in Congress to spend energy trying to construct in the real world the alternate reality that exists in his head, even when their energies would be best directed elsewhere – for example, toward trying to reach an agreement on a bill to prevent the government shutdown that will occur, absent legislation, on April 29.

That actually makes sense, but not in the real world:

The problems that prevent Republicans from passing a health care bill remain the same as they ever were.

A substantial number of members of the Republican House conference have maximalist ideas about Obamacare repeal, and can’t abide leaving a lot of the law’s spending and (especially) insurance regulations in place.

A substantial number of other members of the Republican conference have ideological or political objections (or both) to changes that would take away health insurance from many of their constituents, and/or make it difficult for people to get health insurance coverage that addresses their actual medical needs.

Fixing the first group’s objections will only deepen the second group’s objections. The spending the Freedom Caucus hates is what keeps coverage levels high. The regulations they hate are what make sure coverage actually addresses people’s healthcare needs, including pre-existing conditions.

In short, this was never going to work:

Healthcare is more complicated than Trump realized, but it’s not so complicated that you can creatively slice and dice the legislation to address the objections from both the right and the center. It’s impossible to write a bill that gives 216 Republicans in the House something they consider to be politically and substantively acceptable.

Meanwhile, the healthcare bill keeps getting less popular, congressional Republicans keep getting berated about the bill by constituents at town halls, and more members keep responding to that beratement by making promises to ensure the law protects coverage and holds people with preexisting conditions harmless – promises they will break if they vote for a revived version of the bill.

If so, and this seems to be so, there’s only one way to see this:

This bill is dead. Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead. But Republicans will prop up its stinking corpse… until the president allows them to stop.

Donald Trump will not allow them to stop. He’ll be a damn fool about it. He’s not W. C. Fields. In fact, Donald Trump doesn’t drink. Maybe that’s the problem. Donald Trump is out back with Sam Rayburn’s mule.

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The Day Came

Forget North Korea. Forget Russia and Syria and Iran and ISIS too. Forget the repeal of Obamacare and its replacement with free-market nonsense that will cover no one but the healthy rich – and forget tax reform that will make the wealthy even wealthier, for no good reason. Forget the ongoing mass deportation of anyone who even looks vaguely Hispanic, and forget the coming trade wars that will paralyze the global economy. Well, don’t forget all that, but the day finally came, when modern American conservatism fell apart.

Perhaps that’s a bit too dramatic, but America has long understood what our sort of conservatism is, and made peace with it. It was fairly simple. Modern conservatism in the fifties was defined, if not established, by William F. Buckley, who cast out the John Birchers and the other conspiracy nuts. It was time to get serious. Conservatism was about free-markets and small government – the less government the better. It was a bit racist – Buckley vigorously argued for segregation – but that was a matter of states’ rights to him, and traditions that should not be abandoned lightly. Barry Goldwater was aboard. He lost. Ronald Reagan was aboard. He won – and William F. Buckley was there to explain it all. Buckley was erudite – reporters had to look up those odd words he used – but he was the voice of the movement. He founded the National Review, and the Weekly Standard followed, to compete with it, to say the same things even better. Much of it was cold-blooded and nasty, but was said with elegance, and then the think-tanks sprang up – the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, and at Stanford, the Hoover Institute. Herbert Hoover was the good guy. Franklin Roosevelt was the bad guy – he had created a culture of dependency, on government.

So that was settled. Agree with it or not, Americans understood our sort of conservatism, but things changed. Richard Nixon might have started that change with his crude populism. He hated the Ivy League crowd, and there was no one more Ivy League than William F. Buckley. Nixon’s “silent majority” was the guys in hard hats that hated the hippies and everything that had to do with the sixties. Nixon used cultural resentment to win the presidency. His “Southern strategy” was to blame what had gone wrong down there on uppity black folks – without saying that directly – and that worked just fine. Carry the South and win every election. Republicans took notice – and then Nixon was gone. Watergate caught up with him.

Modern conservatism as cultural resentment went dormant for a bit, but it wouldn’t die, and things changed in 1996 with the birth of Fox News. Buckley was a grumpy old man. Fox News gave America Bill O’Reilly – the voice of cultural resentment in America. The folks at the National Review and the Weekly Standard still wrote the elegant pieces on free-market economics and tax policy and whatnot, but O’Reilly was talking about insufferable feminists and black thugs and the War on Christmas and Mexicans and Muslims and gays – we’d be better off without them. And there was political correctness – a straight white Christian man couldn’t say anything these days. He resented that. His viewers resented that.

That took off. O’Reilly had the hottest show on cable news. He buried CNN and MSNBC – he had ten times their ratings. That was an exaggeration, but modern conservatism had changed. O’Reilly was its voice.

And now that has fallen apart:

Bill O’Reilly’s reign as the top-rated host in cable news came to an abrupt and embarrassing end on Wednesday as Fox News forced him out after the disclosure of a series of sexual harassment allegations against him and an internal investigation that turned up even more.

Those insufferable feminists, or quite normal women being used and abused, did him in:

Mr. O’Reilly and his employers came under intense pressure after an article by The New York Times on April 1 revealed how Fox News and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, had repeatedly stood by him even as he and the company reached settlements with five women who had complained about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior by him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.

Since then, more than 50 advertisers had abandoned his show, and women’s rights groups had called for him to be fired. Inside the company, women expressed outrage and questioned whether top executives were serious about maintaining a culture based on “trust and respect,” as they had promised last summer when another sexual harassment scandal led to the ouster of Roger E. Ailes as chairman of Fox News.

Yes, his boss, Roger Ailes, had been fired for the same thing. It was O’Reilly’s turn, but it was a bit odd:

For a generation of conservative-leaning Fox News viewers, Mr. O’Reilly, 67, was a populist voice who railed against what they viewed as the politically correct message of a lecturing liberal media. Defiantly proclaiming his show a “No Spin Zone,” he produced programming infused with patriotism and a scorn for feminists and movements like “The War on Christmas,” which became one of his signature themes.

The news of Mr. O’Reilly’s ouster came while he was on a vacation to Italy; on Wednesday morning, he met Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Mr. O’Reilly’s tickets to the Vatican were arranged by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York.

In a statement later in the day, Mr. O’Reilly praised Fox News but said it was “tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims.”

“But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today,” he said.

He was whining, resentful to the end. He just shook hands with the Pope! What did these people want?

They wanted this:

In the aftermath of Mr. Ailes’s dismissal in July, the Murdochs pledged to clean up the network’s culture. But since then, it has been hit with new sexual harassment allegations, and female staff members said they remained fearful of reporting inappropriate behavior…

Mr. O’Reilly’s dismissal was hailed by women’s rights activists and some inside the company as a sign that the network, and perhaps corporate culture at large, was finally taking the issue of sexual harassment seriously.

“This is a seismic cultural shift, when a corporation puts a woman’s rights above the bottom line,” said Wendy Walsh, a former guest on Mr. O’Reilly’s show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” who made allegations against him. “Today, we have entered a new era in workplace politics.”

But even on Wednesday, after the ouster, some employees said they were skeptical about whether the treatment of women at Fox News would actually change.

No one really expects it to change, but what’s done is done:

Mr. O’Reilly has been an anchor at Fox News since he joined the network in 1996. His departure is a significant blow to the Fox News lineup, which has dominated the prime-time cable news ratings. In January, the network lost another star, Megyn Kelly.

He will be succeeded in the 8 p.m. Eastern slot by Tucker Carlson, who moved into the channel’s prime-time lineup only in January.

Read about Tucker Carlson here – fired by CNN and then fired by MSNBC – another smug white male conservative full of resentments and more than willing to air them, but younger than O’Reilly, and there’s this – “On January 11, 2010, Carlson and former vice president Dick Cheney aide Neil Patel launched a political news website titled The Daily Caller.”

Nothing much will change, but Tucker Carlson is no Bill O’Reilly, and Jim Rutenberg explores that problem:

No two people did more to build Fox News Channel into a powerful cultural-political force than Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly.

Mr. Ailes, the founding chairman of Fox News, envisioned a news network that would speak for those forgotten Americans who thought the rest of the media was talking down to them while abetting a liberal takeover of their country.

He found one of those concerned citizens in the person of a midcareer, midlevel broadcaster named Bill O’Reilly, of Levittown, Long Island. With a white working-class background, and a perfectly perched chip on his shoulder, Mr. O’Reilly was the ideal personality for Mr. Ailes to build his network around.

Mr. O’Reilly quickly climbed to the top of the cable ratings, and then pulled the rest of the network along with him as he became one of the biggest stars in television news history.

In so doing, he empowered Mr. Ailes to build Fox News into more than America’s No. 1 cable news network. Much more significantly, Mr. O’Reilly helped Mr. Ailes turn it into the beating heart of a new, populist conservative movement, one that reshaped the political landscape while making its parent company, 21st Century Fox, billions.

And, finally, it became an important vehicle in the conservative convoy that delivered their mutual friend Donald J. Trump to the White House.

Tucker Carlson cannot fill those shoes:

First there is Mr. O’Reilly’s own audience, which steadfastly stuck with him – and then some – as the revelations about sexual harassment first emerged in The New York Times. For as long as he has been “looking out for” them – as he puts it – he has sworn to beat back the “secular progressive” forces of political correctness.

His fans told interviewers they doubted the allegations against him, describing him as an “easy target” for liberal groups and the same mainstream media he has made a career of lambasting.

Now here was Fox News, the network they trust above all others, refusing on Wednesday to stand behind Mr. O’Reilly in the face of what he called “unfounded claims” in the same way that they do.

“Generally, the Fox audience is not going to be happy the network fired him,” said Chris Ruddy, chief executive of a smaller Fox News rival, Newsmax Media. “They’re going to think it was unfair.”

But, really, where will Mr. O’Reilly’s viewers go in his absence?

Tucker Carlson ain’t it, but Bruce Headlam gets to the core issue here:

You know there is a lot of fear in corporate America when it actually penetrates the hard exoskeleton of Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Murdoch’s Fox News announced Wednesday that it will part with its star host Bill O’Reilly weeks after a New York Times investigation into sexual harassment charges led more than 50 companies, under pressure from protesters, to pull their ads from “The O’Reilly Factor.”

This wasn’t the only recent boycott. Last month, North Carolina passed a face-saving reversal of its bill that prevented transgendered people from using the bathroom of their choice after a host of companies and organizations, including the NCAA, said they wouldn’t do business in the state.

A campaign by the group Sleeping Giants has shamed hundreds of marketers into pulling their ads from the right-wing Breitbart News. A threatened boycott has extracted a promise from United Airlines that it will no longer violently remove passengers in favor of a company employee. If you’ve flown United recently, you’ll know that’s progress.

Boycotts work, sort of:

There’s little evidence that broad-based boycotts actually hurt a company’s bottom line; in fact, loyal customers often increase their patronage. Mr. O’Reilly’s ratings rose after the Times investigation. After the Cracker Barrel chain fired gay employees in 1991, visits to the restaurants rose in the face of protests. In 1977, when a Georgia group threatened a boycott of the Girl Scouts of America for its endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment, cookie sales went through the roof.

But boycotts can cause a significant drop in share price, according to a 2007 study of boycotts over a 28-year period. In other words, shareholders react to their own fear of what might happen to the company’s brand, and not to what’s actually happening to its revenue.

That’s an important distinction:

None of the companies that pulled out of “The O’Reilly Factor” or Breitbart News are exactly a profile in courage. The basic allegations against Mr. O’Reilly have been known since 2004, when he settled his first lawsuit, but that didn’t stop companies from advertising until more women came forward. Though in some cases, corporate cowardice is a good thing. American business is often accused of producing a bland, monolithic culture – “Disneyfication” – but sometimes the fear to offend instills a kind of civility that other spheres of public life lack.

The idea here is that cowardice is socially useful:

Just compare the inclusive if dull message you hear from corporations with the state of our political culture, where the vilifying of enemies (the elite, welfare queens, the deplorables) is still a critical tool. Donald Trump won an election despite the creepy predatory comments he made on the “Access Hollywood” tape. But Mr. O’Reilly is being shown the door for acting toward women exactly as Mr. Trump had suggested (“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”). Not that he needed the encouragement, apparently.

Things change when money is involved:

Steve King, a five-time congressman from Iowa, has plagued the public arena for years with his barely concealed white nationalism. By contrast, when Donald Sterling, the longtime owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was heard on tape disparaging African-Americans, the NBA revoked his right to ownership and put the team up for auction. The NBA did this even though Mr. Sterling was speaking in private about associates of his ex-girlfriend, who secretly taped him as part of an extortion plot.

This is the same sort of thing:

Kellogg’s and Charles Schwab don’t want their ads to appear on a site featuring headlines like “Birth Control Makes Women Crazy and Unattractive” or “Only Gullible Fools Believe the Great Barrier Reef Is Dying” unless they want to destroy their corporate reputations.

Likewise, Mercedes-Benz is a niche brand in the United States, but the company spends millions so that every consumer associates its vehicles with Jon Hamm uttering the phrase “The best or nothing” and not with Bill O’Reilly’s voice telling a would-be conquest that she’s a “wild girl.”

It seems this just had to happen:

More important, 21st Century Fox’s stock has slipped almost 6 percent since the Times investigation was published. That decline would make a coward of almost any chief executive. Mr. O’Reilly’s lawyer is laying the blame for his client’s situation on a “smear campaign” that is “being orchestrated by far-left organizations.” That sounds like the kind of all-out political assault that Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly himself excelled at for years. But it wasn’t politics that did in Mr. O’Reilly. It was just business.

Still, there is the tale of how it came to this, and it did start with Nixon. In 1967, Roger Ailes, who was producing the Mike Douglas Show, had a long discussion about television in politics with one of the guests, Richard Nixon, who thought television was a gimmick. Nixon was old-school. Ailes reminded Nixon of that televised debate with Kennedy in 1960, where those listening on radio though that Nixon won the debate, and those who watched it on television thought Kennedy had won. Radio is background noise. Television is what everyone talks about.

Nixon hired Ailes on the spot, as his Executive Producer for Television. Nixon’s 1968 election might have been Ailes’ doing – he worked hard to make the very odd Nixon more likeable and “accessible” to the public. That story is told in The Selling of the President 1968 – Joe McGinniss tells how Ailes made Nixon one of the cool kids again, and then a decade later there was this:

During the 1988 U.S. presidential election, the Willie Horton attack ads run against Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis built upon the Southern strategy in a campaign that reinforced the notion that Republicans best represent conservative whites with traditional values. Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes worked on the campaign as George H. W. Bush’s political strategists, and upon seeing a favorable New Jersey focus group response to the Horton strategy, Atwater recognized that an implicit racial appeal could work outside of the Southern states. The subsequent ads featured Horton’s mugshot and played on fears of black criminals. Atwater said of the strategy, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”

Horton, big and black, was the convicted murderer who escaped during a weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison and then committed an awful rape along with armed robbery. Even though the furlough program was actually repealed during Dukakis’ second term, Bush’s two guys made Horton the symbol here, a signifier. Dukakis had no clue about bad guys. Dukakis was soft on crime. And black men are frightening. Everyone knows this.

And then, another decade later, in February 1996, Roger Ailes left America’s Talking (now MSNBC) to start the Fox News Channel for Rupert Murdoch. The job was the same – make the angry conservative stiffs the cool kids again. Ailes could do that and Fox News, featuring Bill O’Reilly, launched on October 7, 1996, and they’ve been working on that ever since.

They have had that plan. They say they alone are “Fair and Balanced” – a counterweight to CNN and certainly MSNBC, and to the three broadcast networks, and to the New York Times and Washington Post and all the rest of the liberal mainstream media that persists in questioning the wisdom of angry white conservatives. That is, however, no more than their saying that they’re the cool kids, who know what’s what, not those other guys. It’s a high-school thing.

That may be why Roger Ailes hired all those pretty and leggy and young blond women to sit around with the angry old white men – for every Bill O’Reilly a Megyn Kelly. The angry old white men get the hot chicks. That makes them cool, doesn’t it? It really is like being back in high school. The taunt is there. Check her out! She’s with me! I’m cool and you’re not!

Megyn Kelly left for NBC – she graduated from Bethlehem Central High School in Albany in 1988 or so. She’s not going back.

We may still be stuck in high school, however, and Isaac Chotiner explains why:

As the most-watched host on the most successful cable channel of the past two decades, O’Reilly came to represent a style of in-your face conservatism that had previously been associated primarily with talk radio. O’Reilly’s uniquely aggressive personality and instinctual skills in front of the camera go a long way toward explaining his success. But he also tapped into the right-wing id in a way no one had before, captivating his viewers with his unbridled egotism and stoking their resentments. It was a playbook that won him a huge audience – and, to judge by Donald Trump’s eerily similar appeal to voters, a legacy that will outlast his grip on the 8 p.m. time slot.

There is a parallel:

When The O’Reilly Report began in 1996 – the show didn’t become what O’Reilly referred to as “The Factor” until 1998 – it was your typical anti-Clinton offering from Fox News, with many of the same preoccupations of other conservative programs in the second half of that decade. (White House scandals, mainly.) Over his first several years on the air, O’Reilly made an effort to appear reasonable. He declared that he was not a Republican, but an independent; he refused to support the death penalty; he talked about the value of environmental protection; he said that he understood both sides of the debate on issues such as gun control and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict; and he took immense pride – which manifested itself as smug self-satisfaction – in his supposedly nonpartisan, down-home common sense.

That sounds familiar, as does this:

O’Reilly’s minor heresies during his first decade on the air were ultimately less indicative of the future direction of his show than the passions that always consumed him. These were not the same passions of the Club for Growth crowd. O’Reilly was naturally in favor of tax cuts and smaller government, and after 9/11 he became predictably jingoistic, offering full-throated support for the Iraq war and a tough line on terrorism. But even then it was clear that the traditional Republican platform never really motivated him. The idea of O’Reilly spending more than 30 seconds talking about supply-side economics was unfathomable; Limbaugh and Hannity would do so constantly.

That’s Trump and Paul Ryan, because the resentment matters more:

A college professor would call America a fascist country, or a retailer would announce that it would greet customers with “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” O’Reilly would rant and rave; he would call for people to be fired; he would bemoan that America was becoming less religious and less white. Sure, Limbaugh and Hannity would occasionally focus on culture instead of politics, but for O’Reilly, it was what fueled the show, and what really got him exercised. (Much was made of his Levittown upbringing and disdain for snobby elites.) Even better, he didn’t appear to be faking it in the way one often suspects of certain right-wing hosts. All of the details that have leaked out about O’Reilly – from the harassment claims to the violent way he behaved toward his ex-wife – strongly suggest that he was not playing a character when he fumed on the air…

It’s simply impossible to overstate how much of each night’s show was consumed by O’Reilly’s own grievances. He skirmished with everyone from Matt Lauer to Rosie O’Donnell to Al Franken, and those fights would invariably become the topic of the day on his show.

Donald Trump tweets about Meryl Streep, the same sort of thing, and that’s the problem:

I never really had a theory for how this supposed man of the people got away with talking about nothing but himself. Then Donald Trump came along. Here was another rich guy who built a following speaking up for the working man. Like O’Reilly he seemed entirely driven by resentment: at President Obama, at the media, at the people who doubted him. And like O’Reilly, he spoke almost entirely of himself. His stump speeches were shocking, in part, because they were rarely about anything other than Donald Trump. When I would see him talk to a bunch of working-class voters in the Midwest and appeal to them by describing his own battles with CNN, I was surprised. But not as surprised as I would have been if I hadn’t been watching O’Reilly all these years.

They’re two of a kind:

In 2016 and 2017, as both O’Reilly and Trump battled accusations of misconduct, it’s been hard not to see them as twinned: bigoted, sexist dinosaurs from the past. Each man went to extreme lengths to defend the other, and you sensed that this wasn’t only because they share the same audience but also because they have so much in common, that they really do see themselves in one another.

So this is half a victory:

Finally we are seeing the downfall of a true symbol of reaction and misogyny. But satisfaction these days has a tendency to give way to despair. An even larger symbol (and transmitter) of these ugly ideas is sitting in the White House. O’Reilly’s time has finally come, but the forces he helped unleash on American culture remain ascendant.

Still, Fox News did fire Roger Ailes and then Bill O’Reilly – bigoted, sexist dinosaurs from the past. America can fire Donald Trump in four years, or sooner – and then someone can define American conservatism once again. Maybe they’ll come up with something useful this time.

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