Some people have a problem with cause and effect. They need counselling. Don’t talk back to that cop. Don’t tug on superman’s cape. Don’t spit into the wind. Don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger – and if you hold your hand in an open flame and feel no pain you’re probably dead. Some things are obvious – and don’t sneer at the folks on your side. Don’t mock them mercilessly in public. You’ll need them.
The last guy understood this. There was Obama’s somewhat famous foreign policy dictum – basically don’t do stupid shit – that kept us out of endless trouble. Maybe that was leading from behind, a horrible thing to some, but we started no new wars. North Korea wasn’t testing nukes and shooting off missiles. Crises weren’t solved, but they were contained. Iran agreed to give up their nuclear weapons program, for at least ten years, even if they agreed to nothing else. Nothing there was solved, but one part of the problem was contained – and domestically, there was Obamacare, an awkward half-free-market hybrid healthcare system that also included expanding Medicaid to cover those who couldn’t afford even its subsidized policies, but it worked. The number of uninsured dropped dramatically, even if Obamacare didn’t work all that well. It was something. Something is better than nothing.
Obama understood cause and effect. Nationalized healthcare – a single-payer system – Medicare for All or whatever – would enrage half the country. Doing nothing would enrage the other half. He split the difference.
The new guy doesn’t understand cause and effect. Donald Trump will enrage both halves of the country – he likes that sort of thing – and the latest is this:
President Donald Trump will oppose any congressional attempts to reinstate funding for Obamacare subsidies – unless he gets something in return, his budget director Mick Mulvaney said in an interview Friday morning.
The comments by the Office of Management and Budget chief delivered a severe blow to efforts by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to strike a bipartisan deal on funding the subsidies. Trump canceled those payments to insurance companies on Thursday night, raising hopes among some Democrats and centrist Republicans that the Trump administration could accept a bill that would revive the subsides while offering states more flexibility to opt out of Obamacare.
But Mulvaney panned those efforts, calling the so-called cost-sharing reduction payments “corporate welfare and bailouts for the insurance companies.”
That’s a bit of a misrepresentation, but there was this:
The administration, however, opened the door to negotiations on the now-canceled payments. After speaking to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Saturday, Trump said that a temporary deal could be struck on shoring up the insurance markets. Mulvaney suggested the insurance payments could be a bargaining chip in a broader negotiation with Congress to either repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law – or fund Trump’s long-stalled border wall with Mexico.
Yes, he wants that wall, but this is dangerous:
Republican leaders are worried that Trump’s move to end Obamacare subsidy payments could backfire on them in the 2018 midterms, inciting voters upset about skyrocketing insurance payments. But Mulvaney said voters are far more likely to punish congressional Republicans for failing to live up to a seven-year promise: repealing Obamacare.
That could go either way, and there was this:
A new multi-state lawsuit has been announced to stop President Trump from halting key ObamaCare payments to insurers.
Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., signed onto the lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in California, according to Sarah Lovenheim, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).
On Thursday night, Trump announced he would stop making the payments, which led to an outcry from critics saying he was sabotaging the health-care law.
The complaint will seek a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction requiring the cost-sharing reduction payments be made.
Those weren’t corporate welfare and bailouts for the insurance companies – they allowed a whole lot of people to finally afford health insurance – and people know that:
A solid majority of the public – 71 percent – wants to see President Donald Trump make Obamacare work instead of dismantling the law, according to a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
While the poll was conducted before the White House announced that Trump would end crucial subsidies for insurers under Obamacare, 60 percent of respondents said they want to keep the payments in tact…
Thirty percent considered the subsidies – called cost-sharing reduction (CSR) – a bailout to insurance companies and said the program should end.
That thirty percent is with Trump on this, and there are the details:
Democrats (93 percent) and Independents (74 percent) were far more supportive of the idea than Republicans. About half of the Republicans surveyed – 48 percent – said they’d like to see the Trump administration make the current healthcare law work. Four in 10 Republicans said Trump should make the law fail, according to the poll.
That’s odd. Fewer than half of Republicans are with Trump on this, and Greg Sargent sees the miscalculation here:
President Trump’s peculiar combination of malevolence, certainty in his own negotiating prowess, and cluelessness about the details of policy, sometimes leads him to issue fearsome-sounding threats that are rooted in a baffling misread of the distribution of leverage and incentives underlying the situation at hand.
That is, this guy doesn’t understand cause and effect:
There is already a bipartisan set of negotiations – led by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the leaders of the health and education committee – that have been continuing over how to shore up the Affordable Care Act’s individual markets. According to a Democratic source familiar with the talks, there is broad agreement that Congress should appropriate the money to cover the billions of dollars in cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which, if halted, could cause the individual markets to melt down. The sticking points are over how much flexibility the deal should give to give states in defining what counts as insurance coverage, and there’s a decent chance those sticking points will be resolved.
Indeed, Alexander has publicly confirmed that he believes Congress should appropriate the funds to cover the CSRs. He has also publicly allowed that he believes Murray has already made serious concessions towards the flexibility of ACA rules that Republicans want, though Murray still insists that the regulations requiring insurers to offer “essential health benefits” must remain. What this means is that, presuming a deal is reached, the real lingering question will be whether Republican leaders in Congress will accept such a compromise and allow a vote on it.
They too will have to understand cause and effect:
The pressure on Republicans to do that will be intense. The Washington Examiner recently reported that vulnerable House Republicans worry they could have a major political problem on their hands if these payments are stopped, because it could harm large numbers of people in their districts. As it is, millions are enrolled in plans with cost-sharing reductions, which pay money to insurers to subsidize out-of-pocket costs, and if they are halted, insurers could exit the markets, further destabilizing them and leaving millions without coverage options. Tellingly, influential House Republicans such as Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.) and Greg Walden (Ore.) have called for Congress to appropriate the payments.
Cause and effect do matter here:
In the end, Trump and Republicans are the ones likely to feel more pressure to support such a deal, which will put them in the tough spot of choosing between taking the blame for chaos in the individual markets and weathering the rage from the right that accepting a deal will unleash. Even if Trump doesn’t understand this, congressional Republicans surely do.
All of this puzzles Josh Marshall:
This morning President Trump tweeted out: “The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!”
This is almost word for word the kind of chilling message a hostage taker sends. I’ve got your kids. You need to call me.
Of course, that might have been intentional:
Part of this is dominance. The desire to act, dominate, destroy. There’s the need to produce something for his most ardent supporters. But the biggest drive is what is contained in this tweet. To force Democrats hands by using Obamacare beneficiaries as hostages.
“Dems should call me to fix!”
Setting aside any moral calculus, this is folly in political terms. A lot of Senate Republicans get this. This hurts millions of Americans. But Trump is doing the damage in plain daylight. He’s shooting himself without even realizing it. If the ‘deal’ Trump wanted was one that helped people, Democrats might face a dilemma over whether to follow their political advantage or making good policy. But there’s no conflict. For Democrats politics and policy line up entirely.
Marshall thinks Trump is making a bad mistake but just can’t help himself:
The underlying driver here is Trump’s transactional, bullying way of approaching business which he brought from his predatory business to the White House. I don’t think you can understand what’s happening here except through that prism. For Trump, Democrats own Obamacare. It’s theirs. If he breaks it, it’s still theirs. It’s all on them. The “Obamacare” brand is the entirety of it. The more he breaks it, the more they need him to fix it. It’s like if the Democrats owned a building or a company. They more he damaged it, the more they’d need him to stop. This is a logic Trump understands. It’s his native environment. This is an organized crime mentality, one he used again and again in his private business.
But that’s not how big social programs like this work. Legislation and governance is fundamentally about people. That’s not just lofty rhetoric. The consequences of government play out in elections. Trump doesn’t get that. A lot of Republican Senators do.
But the man just can’t help himself:
President Trump signed his executive order on cross-state insurance policies yesterday. He just cut off CSR funding. He’s about to decertify the Iran nuclear deal. Each action is consistent with the campaign he ran in 2016. But they’re coming in a rush. Why now? Each move has some contingent logic. But I suspect the big driver is that rising pressures on the President are leading him to act out. And the acting out is escalating. Beyond the policy specifics and verbiage, Trump’s politics is about dominance and destruction. It’s a drive deep in him and one that he shares – albeit with very different life experiences – with his core political supporters. That’s the bond.
And that leads to stupid shit:
Most of us have seen this raft of articles talking about rising pressure in the White House – the President is coming apart, angry, isolated. I’m skeptical of these reports, to the extent they suggest he’s about to blow apart or lose it entirely. But he does seem increasingly erratic, impulsive. He’s under pressure because he feels like he’s losing. For Trump these policies and policy moves are not just about politics. They are characterological. The more pressure rises, the more he feels besieged, the more he’ll take unilateral actions to assert himself – to balance himself.
Cause and effect are in play here then, in an odd way, and Paul Waldman says this about the Iran business:
Today, President Trump announced that the only way to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to begin destroying the painstakingly negotiated agreement that is keeping them from getting nuclear weapons.
“History has shown that the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes,” Trump said, as though we had been ignoring Iran until now. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”
So he’s going to withdraw his certification of their compliance, which means Congress now has to decide whether to re-impose sanctions. Congress will probably allow the deal to survive, with additional conditions. And Trump today said that, going forward, if he’s not satisfied, “the agreement will be terminated.”
None of that makes sense:
What exactly is Trump trying to accomplish? The answer may seem obvious, but it isn’t at all.
Presidents, we know, are supposed to have “vision,” a broad conception of where they want to lead the country. When they run, it’s often presented in vague terms. The closest Trump came as a candidate was promising that “We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning.” While in a sense “making America great again” was a kind of vision, presidents also need specific goals to guide their decision-making, a real conception of how they want things to turn out so that they can figure out the best way to get there.
Trump’s lack of those specific goals – or to put it another way, the lack of a defined end-state he’s trying to reach – may be one of his most underappreciated weaknesses as a president. Most people, even many in his own party, understand that he’s spectacularly uninformed about policy, not particularly bright and distressingly impulsive. But he also seems to have no idea where he’s trying to go…
That has become obvious:
Ever since he was a candidate, Trump has complained that the nuclear agreement, which was negotiated not only between Iran and the United States but also with Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union, is a terrible deal, while seldom getting specific about what exactly he objects to in its provisions. We knew what President Barack Obama was trying to accomplish with the deal in the first place: an Iran that, whatever else it might be up to, couldn’t threaten anyone with nuclear weapons.
What’s Trump’s vision? An Iran that not only doesn’t have nuclear weapons but also is a force for peace and stability, and maybe a liberal democracy to boot? Well, that would be great. How is pulling out of the nuclear agreement going to get us there?
This new guy clearly doesn’t understand cause and effect:
Trump seems to believe that there’s some mythical “better deal” awaiting somewhere, and if he threatens to withdraw from the agreement, then the Iranian government will fall to its knees and say, “We submit! We’ll do whatever you want!” But of course it won’t, and the other partners aren’t interested in starting the process all over again either. If we do pull out, there’s a chance the agreement could collapse and Iran would resume its pursuit of nuclear weapons, which is exactly the thing the agreement is preventing.
It would be edifying to hear Trump or some of his aides and allies explain exactly how this scenario is supposed to play out and where it’s supposed to end up. But if they tried to do that, it would become obvious how little they’ve thought it through.
There’s a lot of that going around:
Trump has decided to go whole-hog to destroy the individual health insurance market, with executive orders that will drive up premiums, send insurers from the market and potentially lead to many people losing their coverage. And what exactly is the health-care future Trump is aiming for with these actions? It’s almost impossible to tell. He often talks as if he’s a social democrat wanting government to provide for everyone (“We’re going to have insurance for everybody”), but then moves to remove government protections and move us toward a cruel Randian future more in line with what most Republicans would like to see. Can anyone say they have any idea what health-care system Trump envisions, and how it relates to the decisions he’s making now?
And it’s more than that:
A president with a better grasp on policy would at least have a sense of what course is likely to produce success and which outcomes are reasonable to predict. Trump, on the other hand, is apparently willing to believe any ridiculous story somebody tells him, if it ends with “Trump wins!”
A case in point: Conservative economist Kevin Hassett, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, apparently told Trump that just one of the White House’s proposed tax changes – allowing corporations to repatriate cash they have parked overseas and pay low taxes on it – would be such a spectacular shot of adrenaline to the economy that it would make every American family $4,000 richer. Sane economists, both Democrat and Republican, will tell you that this notion is utterly ludicrous. But it sounds good to Trump, so he has been touting the number, as proof of how great his tax cuts are going to be.
Again, this new guy clearly doesn’t understand cause and effect:
Presidents don’t need to be policy geniuses, but at the very least they need a sense of how cause leads to effect and a vision of what they’re trying to accomplish. That way they can tell whether what they’re doing is likely to take the country to the place they want to go. Trump has neither, which means he’s either being pushed around by people who have figured out how to manipulate him for their own ideological ends, or he’s flopping about aimlessly with no principles to guide him except if Obama did it, I should do the opposite.
Either way, it’s not very encouraging.
Josh Marshall agrees with that:
President Trump straight up lied in his speech today on ‘decertifying’ the Iran nuclear deal. He said: “The Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement.” This is not true. The US, the Europeans, outside observers, and the inspectors, all agree that Iran is meeting the conditions of the deal. If Iran were violating the deal, all of this drama wouldn’t have been necessary. Trump could have just canceled the deal without any need to justify the decision. He would have had broad support for doing so. That’s the bind he’s been in. The Iranians are keeping their end of the bargain. So Trump really hasn’t had a good rationale – legal or geopolitical – for getting out.
He doesn’t have a good rationale:
In addition to all the things the President says his new policy will accomplish he made this pledge. “We will deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.”
But of course there was no explanation of how that would happen. It’s possible that the deal might stay in place even if the US pulled because the benefits to Iran and Europe are good enough to keep it going. But assuming the deal gets totally scuttled there are really only three ways to “deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.” 1) You can impose sanctions and other forms of pressure to a great enough extent that the Iranians relent. (That’s kind of what Obama did – crippling sanctions plus covert, often cyber, sabotage.) 2) You sign a new agreement. Or 3) you can go to war and physically coerce them into stopping.
“One” seems highly unlikely since the European powers and China and Russia don’t want to do that. Without them, really ruinous sanctions aren’t possible. “Two” seems unlikely mainly because the Trump administration shows really no inclination even to want a deal. “Three” fits the Trump mentality but it’s fraught with incalculable danger. There’s a reason why it never happened under President Bush and even Israel was held back largely by its own generals.
Marshall suggests looking at a bit of history:
What we see here really looks like Bush administration policy on North Korea in the first years of this century. The Clinton administration had a deal too. It was sort of still born. The GOP Congress hobbled it from Capitol Hill and cut off funding for it. There’s evidence – though it wasn’t that rock solid – that the North Koreans started violating the agreement in the late Clinton years. For all that though, the nuclear weapons program we’re now so concerned about and which has produced numerous nuclear weapons, was shuttered.
The Bush foreign policy team decided that deal was appeasement and basically forced a complete breakdown of the deal. They would not tolerate North Korea getting a nuclear weapon. No appeasement, no payoffs, no cowering. Only they had no actual plan for how to do that. In 2006, North Korea detonated its first nuclear device.
So here we are:
The Bush team wouldn’t stand for appeasement, opted for a policy of strength and moral clarity and got a nuclear North Korea. By any possible definition the policy was an abject failure. Might the Clinton approach have failed too? Maybe – but it kept the program shuttered for almost a decade. For all the messiness, that was a success.
Set aside all the policy ins and outs with the President’s decision today and this looks almost exactly the same. The Trump team thinks it’s a terrible deal, a giveaway, appeasing a rogue regime. In its place they have no plan at all.
Maybe that will do. There’s David French – the conservative lawyer who writes for National Review. He writes about both Donald Trump and the alt-right and pulls no punches, and then got all those death threats aimed at his wife and children. Now he writes about ordinary rural conservatives who support Trump:
Trump is stoking a particularly destructive form of rage – and his followers don’t just allow themselves to be stoked, they attack Trump’s targets with glee. Contrary to the stereotype of journalists who live in the Beltway and spend their nights at those allegedly omnipresent “cocktail parties,” I live in rural Tennessee, deep in the heart of Trump country. My travels mainly take me to other parts of Trump country, where I engage with Trump voters all the time. If I live in a bubble, it’s the Trump bubble. I know it intimately.
And I have never in my adult life seen such anger. There is a near-universal hatred of the media. There is a near-universal hatred of the so-called “elite.” If a person finds out that I didn’t support Trump, I’ll often watch their face transform into a mask of rage. Partisans are so primed to fight – and they so clearly define whom they’re fighting against – that they often don’t care whom or what they’re fighting for. Don’t like the media? Shut it down. Don’t like kneeling football players? Make them stand. Tired of American weakness overseas? Cheer incoherent and reckless tweets as evidence of “strength.”
This is a place where cause and effect don’t matter, and Kevin Drum sees this:
The two big explanations for the rise of this rural anger (and the rise of Trump) revolve around economics and race. The modern economy has screwed these folks over and they’re tired of it. Or they’re badly threatened by the growth of the nonwhite population. Which is it? Almost certainly both, and in any case it doesn’t matter much – both of these things are likely to get worse from their point of view. The nonwhite population share is obviously going to keep growing, and the economy of the future is only going to become ever more tilted toward the highly educated. If working-class whites really are enraged by either or both of these things, they’re only going to get more enraged as time goes by.
That’s especially true if they keep voting for Republicans, who will actively make these things worse while skillfully laying off the blame on “elites” and “Hollywood liberals.” Keeping the rage machine going is their ticket to political power.
In this case, Republicans have thoroughly muddled cause and effect, and Drum isn’t sure that can be un-muddled:
How do we prick this bubble? Obama tried to give them cheap health care, and it enraged them. He passed stricter regulation on the Wall Street financiers who brought us the Great Recession, and they didn’t care. He fought to reduce their payroll taxes and fund infrastructure to help the economy get back on track, and they sneered that it was just a lot of wasted money that ballooned the national debt.
At the same time, Obama didn’t try to take their guns away. He didn’t outlaw Christianity or conduct a war on Christmas. He didn’t do much of anything related to abortion. He did promote a number of gay-friendly policies, and praised the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.
None of it really seemed to matter, though. The culture war stuff remained enraging regardless of what Obama did or didn’t do.
Drum admits that there may be no answer to this. Some people have a problem with cause and effect. They need counselling. Instead, they elected Donald Trump.