Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saluting George Washington on Veteran's Day

And, on the subject of Veteran's Day and the role the military does and does not have in maintaining freedom, let us consider George Washington and his Continental Army, and how we honor them.

We do not honor Washington and his Continental Army in the way that we honor Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant.  We don't marvel at his military genius, as we do for Lee or Grant, or thrill to the battles that he won.  While we have Civil War reenactments that recreate the battles in every detail except for the killing.  The Revolutionary War just doesn't inspire that sort of devotion.  Part of it, I assume, is that no one wants the play the British.  But the other reason is that it would be embarrassing.  Washington's Continental Army lost most of the battles it fought.  Yes, granted, it won the Battle of Trenton and inspired the famous patriotic painting above.  But the Battle of Trenton is not exactly one that bears reenacting.  Instead of facing off in a fair fight, Washington's army sneaked up on the Hessians while they were holding a Christmas party, which seems like rather dirty pool.  He contributed much of he planning to the turning point Battle of Saratoga, but was not present to command.  And although he was, of course, present for the decisive (for some reason) Battle of Yorktown, but the French played a major role in that.

So what do we honor Washington and his Continental Army for?  The place name most people think of when it comes to Washington and his army is Valley Forge, which was not a battle at all, but a winter encampment.  We remember and honor Washington and his army for enduring cold, hunger and disease and sticking together.  It is entirely appropriate that we should honor them in that way.  In every war before the 20th Century, more soldiers died of disease from squalid conditions than were killed in battle.  And besides, battle takes up only a small part of any army's time.  Procuring food and shelter are much more of their ongoing existence.  And, although there were many desertions, for an army to be barefoot in the winter and not know where its next meal was coming from, but not to desert en masse, or to mutiny, or take to uncontrollable looting really is an important achievement.

But we honor George Washington not just for holding together a starving and freezing army.  We honor him having an army often unpaid and desperate for supplies and an incompetent government seemingly incapable of providing them and still respected civilian control of the military.  He never marched his army against the Continental Congress to oust these blunderers and get things done.  And when his army, angry over still not being paid, finally did mutiny, Washington sympathized with their grievances, but talked them down anyhow. 

And, of course, he was honored not only in the U.S., but throughout Europe for not using the prestige that accompanied him as military hero to become a military dictator, but retired to Mount Vernon and returned to politics only as an elective civilian rule, and only for two terms.  George III is quoted as saying, "If that is true, he's the greatest man of our age."  Reading over the notes from the Constitutional Convention and the ratification debates, it has become clear to me that, contrary to what I was taught in school, no one at the time was the least bit worried about a hereditary monarchy.  What they feared was a military dictatorship.  One need look no further than France just a few years later to see that such fears were well justified.

So yes, by all means, let's honor our veterans.  But let's not turn honor into idolatry.  And let's remember that in the end, our army can protect freedom only by deferring to civilian leadership, however unworthy it may seem.

A Very Politically Incorrect Comment this Veteran's Day

I have been wanting to do this post since the NFL protests, with one side saying that football players kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner insults our troops overseas and the other saying that our troops overseas are fighting for the players' right to protest.

It also harkens back to a song my school sang on the Bicentennial, "Freedom is a word often heard today/But if you want to keep it there's a price to pay/Each generation has to win anew/Cause it's not something handed down to you.  Freedom isn't free."  In fact, it is inspired by every time I hear that "freedom isn't free," taken to imply that the more wars we fight, the freer we are.

It is also inspired by a poem I saw long ago in the Washington Times generally denigrating democratic (small-d) politicians ("who would betray a fellow man") as self-seeking, squalid and sordid compared to soldiers who are models of pure, unselfish patriotism.  "It's not the politicians with their compromising ploys/That have given us the freedom that our country now enjoys."

But what finally inspired me to write it today (on Veterans Day) was a tweet on Twitter:
It’s the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of press
It’s the soldier, not the speaker, who has given us freedom of speech
It‘s the soldier, not the organizer, who gave us freedom to assemble
We can‘t thank them enough, but we must try.
And this counter-tweet, "please PLEASE stop vomiting this nonsense all over social media every May and November."

So let's talk about how we achieved our freedom.  I do think it fair to say, by fighting against un-freedom.  But there are many kinds of un-freedom, some that soldiers can protect us against, and many they cannot.

The most obvious kind of un-freedom is foreign conquest.  If there is one definition of freedom recognized the world over and throughout all history, it is freedom from foreign conquest.  Our military does protect us from that kind of un-freedom, and for that we should be grateful.

Another kind of un-freedom is the un-freedom that is inevitable when a country lives under the shadow of constant menace.  Freedom and security are often spoken of as being opposed, but without a certain minimum of security, we cannot be free.  Our military protects us from any foreign menace that might force us to live in fear, or as an armed camp.  So, again, let us be grateful for that.*

But the military can only protect a country from external menaces and give the country the scope to create its own domestic institutions.  Whether the institutions that a country creates at home are free institutions or not is not something the military can control.  Or rather, when the military controls a country's domestic institutions, then that country by definition is not free.  It is a military dictatorship.  Once the military gives a country the scope to create its own institutions and agrees to step aside to allow civilians to create those institutions, it is the civilians who decide whether those institutions will be free or not. 

It isn't always easy.  In the countries that have free domestic institutions today, there are many heroic stories of how it was won, but the military plays a supporting role at most.  In other countries, it was the story of the majority rising up against a ruling elite.  In the U.S., the story has been one more of dissenting minorities standing up to the tyranny of the majority.  Freedom of the press was won, in many cases, as a struggle to resist wartime restrictions placed on what could be expressed.  It has its heroes, its villains, and even a few martyrs.  But it was not fought by soldiers on the battlefield, it could not be won on the battlefield, and it is most unlikely to be lost on the battlefield.  The same can be recounted any number of times, with freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and countless others.**

Nor are our soldiers overseas fighting for our domestic freedom at home.  Looking at the numerous wars we are fighting overseas, can anyone point to a single shred of evidence that we are any freer for fighting them, or that we would be any less free without them?  Or that fighting any more wars overseas would make us any freer at home?  Some may object that even if our wars abroad do not make us freer at home, they bring freedom to other people and therefore make our world more secure and allow liberty a better opportunity to flourish at home.  And it is true that we freed Europe from the Nazis and safeguarded them from the Communists and thereby allowed freedom and friendship to flourish.  It is also true that we freed Europe from the Kaiser, too, but Europe ultimately gave up its freedom between the wars and became a series of dictatorships. 

Korea is an even better example.  Our army saved South Korea from the Communists.  If we had not saved South Korea from the Communists, it would be just like North Korea today -- one of the least free countries the world over.  To this day our army (together with the South Korean army; must give credit where it is do) continues to protect South Korea from North Korea. But saving South Korea from the Communists did not, by itself, make South Korea free.  It merely made it possible for South Korea to be free.  For a long time, that country continued to be an unfree military dictatorship. 

And in the US today, the military contributes to our freedom somewhat by safeguarding it in places far from home, but mostly by staying out of domestic politics altogether and leaving it to the democratic process.  Our free government rests with politicians who concede defeat when they lose, or who win and make the sordid, squalid compromises that are necessary to get things done, instead of calling in the army to crush their opponents by brute force.  It rests with the whole brigade of volunteers and professionals who campaign for politicians but stay within proper bounds.  It rests with journalists who expose abuses by the powerful, and tipsters who give them leads.  It rests with lawyers who stand up for the little guy and judges who give them their day in court.  It rests with protesters who speak their minds and counter-protesters who speak theirs, and police who keep them apart.  It rests with the countless organizations, some political, some not, that make up a free society.  It rests with a public that understands the rules of democratic fair play, that accepts defeat when they lose and accepts that no win is final and absolute.

And the reason our democracy is starting to look imperiled today is not just that people are losing faith in our institutions.  It is because people are losing faith most of all in democratic institutions like Congress or their state legislature, and keeping most faith in the most authoritarian institutions, like the military.  Because democracy is government of the people, and if the people don't want it, it cannot endure. 

So let's give our honor to our veterans for defending national sovereignty.  And to the figures of the past who squeezed open old doors to give us the free institutions we have today.  And to the politicians, journalists and countless others who make the system work today.  And We, the People, who the whole system rests upon.  Because know that in the end, whether our freedom survives depends above all on us, and whether we maintain the habits and discipline that freedom and democracy require.

_______________________________________
*Of course, there may be other factors at work here, too.  Like the wide oceans that lie between us and either Europe r Asia, and our being so much more powerful than either Canada or Mexico that neither could possibly threaten us.  And, yes, our military might is at least partly responsible for this fortunate situation.  But so is the attractiveness of this country that brought over enough people that made our population so vastly larger than our neighbors'.  So is their energy that much us so much wealthier than our neighbors. So is the wisdom of our political leadership that managed to pursue friendly relations with our neighbors instead of making them enemies.
**The obvious exception is slavery, which was defeated on the battlefield.  But if there is one thing that the failure of the Reconstruction should make clear, it is that freedom cannot be imposed at gunpoint on an unwilling population.  The Army could end slavery; it could not create freedom.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

If Trump Shot Someone in the Middle of Fifth Avenue, Continued

OK, the latest development show that I have missed part of what would most likely happen if Trump shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. 

I still believe that he would begin by denying it, insist that the tape of him doing it was "fake news," the witness were paid Hillary shills, and that the forensic evidence linking the bullets to his gun were a violation of the Second Amendment. Once the evidence got too strong to deny, he would lock himself in the bathroom and send out whiny, petulant tweets explaining that it wasn't his fault the other guy stepped in front of the bullet and besides, the Secret Service saw him point the gun, so why didn't the wrest it away from him.  Not to mention than any elitist who hangs out on Fifth Avenue deserves to die anyhow.

But somewhere along the line people with who are more disciplined than Trump would figure out that Trump's tweets just wouldn't quite cut it.  So the whole right wing media complex, the Fox News/Breitbart/talk radio/Murdoch axis would come out with a new argument.  Actually the guy Trump shot fired at him first, so Trump shot him in self defense.  Although Trump would be surrounded by the Secret Service and the victim's failure to hit anyone or anything on a crowded street might be a bit much even for the Right Wing Noise Machine, so they might have to settle on saying that he was pointing a gun and about to shoot. 

A minimum of research would no doubt soon reveal that the victim was a registered Democrat and probably donated to the Clinton campaign or at least wrote something favorable to her.  This would put the alternative facts machine into high gear that they would start spinning out all sorts of conspiracy theories about how this assassination attempt was actually engineers by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.  (If right wing commentators were smart, or at least had smart lawyers, they would drop the subject of the victim as quickly as possible for fear of libel suits and instead focus on the imagined conspiracy, whose members would all be either public figures or figments of their imaginations).  The absence of a gun or any other evidence whatever to support this theory would simply be taken as proof of how well planned the conspiracy was, that the members were able to conceal all evidence of its existence.

At least we got a tax cut
Trump would learn about the whole thing from watching Fox and Friends and tweet out that he just learned that the guy he shot was was about to shoot him on behalf of the Democrats and call for an investigation.  House Republicans would say that they didn't think Trump shooting someone was important enough to call for an investigation, but would throw their energies into looking into the Democrat's dastardly plot to kill the President.  Eventually, toward the end of Trump's term, they would acknowledge that there was nothing to be found, but by then the effect would have been made and a sizable portion of the population would believe that Democrats attempted to assassinate Trump and only his sharp reflexes thwarted the plot.

And if anyone thinks this is an exaggeration, just look at what is happening now.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Liberal's Difficulty Telling Conservatives from Authoritarians

At least we got a tax cut
Here is where a liberal like me has trouble telling conservatives from authoritarians.  Recall my definitions.  A liberal favors breadth in moral and social commitments, even if it leads to a loss of depth.  A conservative favors depth in moral and social commitments, even if it leads to a loss of breadth.  An authoritarian sees social commitment largely in terms of solidarity in opposition to outside threats.  A liberal seeks to engage outsiders, though the engagement is usually superficial, and the superficiality is repugnant to conservatives.  A conservative focuses on deepening commitments at home and is indifferent to outsiders in a way that strikes liberals as bigoted.  An authoritarian is actively hostile and punitive toward outsiders.

So, Donald Trump has been desultory in his response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico.  And he is gearing up for possible war on North Korea, a conflict that would have disastrous consequences for South Korea and possibly Japan.  And his supporters are fine with both of these.  Many of them did not know that Puerto Rico was part of the United States and that Puerto Ricans are US citizens.  They have somewhat softened upon learning this, but basically oppose expending government resources on Puerto Rico.  And they want to see any North Korean nuclear threat to us destroyed and don’t much care what happens to South Korea or Japan as a result.

I would go one step further and say that Trump supporters see it as immoral to expend resources on Puerto Rico, or to care what happens to South Korea or Japan as a result of our actions because any concern for Puerto Rico, South Korea, or Japan shows an insufficient commitment to our own.

So the question is, is such an attitude compatible with conservatism, or is it purely authoritarian?  I don’t know. 

While I have suggested that a conservative is indifferent to outsiders and an authoritarian hostile, I don’t mean by this that authoritarians seek out outsiders to be hostile toward.  Authoritarians are hostile toward outsiders only to the extent that they somehow intrude on us.  Indeed, everyone reacts with hostility toward intrusion; some people’s activation level is merely higher than others.  Authoritarians’ level is extremely low.

Presumably authoritarians are hostile toward Puerto Ricans anyhow because they move here, speak Spanish, and immediately qualify for citizenship.  Wanting the U.S. government to help out and spend taxpayer resources on them is another such intrusion.  And it seems safe to assume that following the hurricane a whole lot more Puerto Ricans will be moving here and amp up authoritarian hostility to them even more.

On the other hand, I doubt very much that even the most aggressive authoritarians have anything against Japan or South Korea.  Yes, there have been trade dispute in the past, but those are mostly forgotten, giving way to disputes with China or Mexico.  And yes, Trump is trying to ramp up trade disputes and hostility toward both countries, but both seem fairly how down on the authoritarian list of people to hate.

On the other hand, South Korea and Japan are now being asked to be included in our moral calculations.  They are asking us to take into account just how devastating the consequences will be to them if we start a war with North Korea.  And that in itself may be enough of an intrusion to activate authoritarian hostility toward them.  At the very least, Trump supporters (a) don’t care if Seoul or Tokyo is destroyed in a war with North Korea, and (b) consider it immoral for the President to care because it would mean insufficient resolve to protect the US.

So fair question.  I think conservatives consider charity beginning at home versus charity ending at home to be a distinction without a difference because it is the depth, not the breadth, of charity that matters, and there is always room for deeper charity among one’s own.  Conservatives also tend to oppose broadening of moral and social commitment for fear of undermining depth, and this liberals do often have trouble telling this from bigotry.  Conservatives do not go out of their way to help outsiders, but neither do they have any desire to harm outsiders.


So speaking as a liberal, I really need to understand.  Are conservatives equally indifferent to harm to outsiders when it is the result of our own activity?  Do they consider it immoral to care about the harm we inadvertently cause to people who have never done anything to us?  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

How I Imagine Trumpcare Might Go Down

At least we got tax cuts
Here is my imagined scenario of how Donald Trump’s healthcare policy would go.  With the defection of McCain, Corker and Flake, as well as the firm opposition of Collins and Murkowski, no plan to shut down Obamacare can muster even a majority in the Senate, so Trump continues his policy of sabotage.  It succeeds.  Every increase in premiums, every reduction in options, every county that loses all coverage he proclaims victory and announces as proof that Obamacare is failing.  Failure begets failure, reports of failure in one county discourage people in other counties, which cause insurers to flee the exchanges, which discourage sign-ups, and soon the whole system comes crashing down. 

Trump declares victory.  He announces that Obamacare has finally failed and the people are freed from its oppression.  He calls a party of Congressional Republicans and Republican donors to celebrate.  They dance for joy.  They throw confetti.  They shoot off fireworks.  All over the country, Trump supporters join in.  They proclaim freedom of this monstrous oppression.  They dance in the streets for joy.  They throw confetti.  They shoot off fireworks.  They rejoice in their liberation from this monstrosity.

Then reality hits home.  People all over the country who lost their health insurance when the exchanges collapsed can’t find it anywhere else.  Many have serious medical problems.   Without subsidies, people in rural areas and older people, no matter how healthy, find that their premiums skyrocket.   If Trump is also successful in rolling back Medicaid enrollment, many rural hospitals may shut down as economically unviable.  Trump supporters are disproportionately affected.  Perhaps healthy young men, especially in urban areas, and possibly healthy young women with no plans to have a baby any time soon benefit.  But if Congress is unable to repeal the Obamacare regulations, the collapse of the exchanges may bring down the individual insurance market outside the exchanges as well.  

Trump supporters ask where is the much better plan that Republicans assured us they had ready in their pocket.  Where is the plan that will deliver awesome health coverage at a fraction of the cost?  And then they will be shocked to learn what everyone else knew anyhow.  Republicans don’t have a plan.  Or, at most, their plan is to repeal the Obamacare regulations requiring an essential health benefit and forbidding discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, or allowing insurers to compete across state lines.  This will make coverage cheap for anyone who doesn’t need it, but prohibitive for anyone with actual medical problems.  And the Republican leadership overall just won’t see this as a problem.  They will have gotten rid of that evil monstrosity, Obamacare, and nothing further is needed.   Freed of the malign tyranny of the government, the free market will come up with an optimal solution any day now (checks watch).  And if that ultimately means people with pre-existing conditions can’t get coverage and are left to die, well if that is what the free market wants, it must be optimal.

And then things get interesting.  Some Trump supporters continue to support him.  These include ones on Medicare and ones who get coverage through their employers, which is, after all, a majority of the population.   Others lose their health insurance and blame it on Obama and don’t blame Republicans at all for failing to do anything about it.  But others lose their health insurance or have family members or friends who lose their insurance or see their rural hospitals shut down and respond with anger and betrayal. 

Trump will be enraged.  He will lock himself in the bathroom and tweet out petulant, self-pitying  tweets.  He will denounce all reports of people losing coverage as “FAKE NEWS!”  He will blame it on “FAILED OBAMACARE” and a Republican Congress that can’t pass decent legislation.  He will say that it isn’t his fault, how was he supposed to know that deliberately crashing that system that provides healthcare to 10 million people would cause problems.  And he will be utterly unable to imagine that it isn’t all about him.  And in this case, since he was the one who deliberately crashed the exchanges, he will have a point.

I should add that this is a fantasy.  Although this is the logical outcome of the course Donald Trump is on, I don’t think it is what will actually happen.  Why not?  Because the exchanges won’t be here today and gone tomorrow.  Before the exchanges fail altogether, they will start to seriously malfunction.  Premiums will skyrocket.  (That is already beginning).  Entire counties will find themselves without insurers, particularly in rural areas where the most Trump supporters reside.   Some rural hospitals will fail.  And all of this will get ample coverage.  Of course, Trump will denounce this as “FAKE NEWS” and many of his supporters will agree.  (Fox, Breitbart, etc. either won’t cover it or will blame it all on the failings of Obamacare).  But that will be sort of like telling the people of Puerto Rico not to believe the stories about hardship in their country.  Residents of pro-Trump rural counties losing their coverage and possibly seeing their hospitals close will be aware of what is happening.  They may blame it on innate failing of Obamacare rather than deliberate sabotage by Trump, but in the end they will want someone to do something about it.  The pressure on Congress to do something will grow. 

And therein will lie the problem.  Republicans will be ideologically opposed to doing anything about it and, even if forced to act by political reality, won’t have any realistic plan to improve the situation.  Democrats will have plenty of plans, but will be in the minority and unable to pass any of them.  If they retake one house of Congress, they will be unable pass it in the other.  Even if they take both, they won’t be able to get any plan past a Republican filibuster.*   And even if they somehow manage to pass something by budget reconciliation or get enough Republican defectors, Republican donors will probably convince Trump to veto it and there is no way Democrats will have the votes to override. 

In short, Republicans have learned that it is easier to destroy than to build.  They are currently hard at work on it, destroying Obamacare with possibly major collateral damage to the insurance system, wrecking regulatory agencies, causing possibly irreversible damage to the environment, and destroying the State Department and, with it, our ability to engage in diplomacy.  And this is best seen as a warning to voters and Democratic politicians alike – do not elect Democrats and, if you do, don’t even think of doing anything once in power.  Because Republicans WILL destroy whatever Democrats may achieve, and they don’t care about the damage they cause along the way.

 _____________________________________________
*Democrats currently hold 48 seats in the Senate. Of the seats up for election in 2018, only eight belong to Republicans. That means that even if Democrats win every single seat up for election (a most unlikely outcome), they will only have 56 seats, and will therefore need four Republican votes to pass anything

What Do We Know So Far About Trump and Russia?

At least we got tax cuts
So, granting that so far no proof has emerged of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, what do we know?  

We know that Paul Manfort, who was Trump’s campaign manager from June to August, was an incredibly sleazy character who acted as a public relations consultant to dictators the world over, most recently to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, who he also served as an adviser.  We know that Michael Flynn, who one of Trump’s top foreign policy consultants and who he briefly considered as Vice President, was strongly pro-Russian and appeared on Russia Today (RT) and did a photo op with Vladimir Putin.  We know that Trump, who generally appears to have no concept of a mutually beneficial relationship or alliance, constantly made an exception for Russia.

We know that Trump’s campaign speeches often closely matched Russian publications such as RT and Sputnik, even to the point of repeating the same errors.  We know that these were open sources that anyone could cite, but most politicians do not.  

We know that the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee e-mails and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager’s e-mails and turned them over to Wikileaks.  We know that Wikileaks published the e-mails in a manner calculated to do maximum damage to Hillary Clinton.  We also know that Trump regularly and enthusiastically quoted material published on Wikileaks and made them central to his campaign, even after the intelligence community warned that they were stolen by the Russian government.

We know that numerous members of Trump’s campaign had unreported meetings with Russian officials, both before and after the election.  We know that meetings of this type are not normal.

We know that Trump made a major campaign issue of some 30,000 Clinton e-mails that she had deleted and constantly taunted her about them, urging her to release them.  We know that in a public speech he called on Russia to hack these e-mails and release them.  Trump claimed he was joking at the time, and the claim was not completely implausible, but since then we have learned that members of the campaign have sought those e-mails from the Russians in all seriousness.   We first learned of such a conversation by a low-level Florida staffer who Trump’s inner circle presumably knew nothing about.  We next learned about similar attempts by Peter Smith, a mid-level operative with contacts in the inner circle, but not a member, also attempted to obtain the missing e-mails from an unknown source, knowing that it might be Russian.  We also know that those missing e-mails never saw the light of day.

We know that Donald Trump’s son, Donald, Jr. received an e-mail from an associate with Russian ties, saying that a Russian official from the “Crown Prosecutor’s office” had some dirt on Hillary Clinton that was "obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump," and that Junior responded with enthusiasm.  We know that e-mails circulated among the very inner circle of the campaign all bearing the caption "Russia - Clinton - private and confidential."  We know both these inflammatory remarks were initiated from the other side, but that Junior never protested.  We know that such a meeting took place with Trump’s son, his son-in-law (Jared Kushner) and his campaign manager (Paul Manafort) attending.  We know that they were disappointed in the dirt offered, and that the Russians were more interested in lifting sanctions than anything else.  

We now know that the "dirt" being offered dealt with accusations that one of Hillary's donors invested in funds in Russia managed by a Kremlin foe and evaded taxes on the profits, and that the Russian Prosecutor General (the "Crown Prosecutor") had made the same pitch, much of it verbatim, to pro-Russian members of the U.S. Congress.  Needless to say, Junior found this to be very weak tea.  No American is going to care if a candidate accepts money from a donor who evaded taxes in Russia.  We don't know what Junior expected to get out of the meeting, but it does not seem too far-fetched to guess that he was expecting the missing e-mails.

We now also know that the Russian government circulated anti-Clinton stories, many of them fabricated, on social media.  And we know that that they carefully targeted their audience with a degree of skill one would not expect from Russians.  And we are now learning some very interesting things about Cambridge Analytica, the tech firm that the Trump campaign and Trump PAC's hired to do their data analysis, though not to provide the raw data.  We now know that Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, asked Wikileaks for Hillary's missing e-mails, intending to release them.  We know that this happened in  late July, 2016, around the time Trump became the official Republican nominee, Cambridge Analytica began working for him, and Wikileaks began releasing Democratic e-mails.  We know that in August, Cambridge Analytica offered to help Wikileaks make the missing e-mails more accessible.  We know that no such exchange took place.  Julian Assange, head of Wikileaks, says that he refused.  More likely, he did not have them.

Reportedly an intern and Cambridge Analytica left some sensitive information of voter targeting on line from March, 2016 to February, 2017, along with their Twitter user name and password.  That would provide a plausible and innocent explanation of how the Russians were able to target Americans so effectively.  I suppose it is possible.  It is also possible that somewhere there is a dog that loves to feast on homework.  Or this just might be the link that shows not only hard evidence of furtive collusion, but evidence that it was systemic and sustained as well.

I can't wait to see what the indictments have to offer.

Reflections on the Upcoming Indictments

But the tax cut!
I am not one who ascribes any method to the madness of Trump’s tweets.  He isn’t tweeting to distract us from anything; he is just giving free reign to an undisciplined rant.  On the other hand, the whole hoopla over Hillary and the dossier, Hillary and the uranium just has to be a deliberate distraction maneuver. 

Without claiming to know anything about the uranium deal (see here for a good rundown), I immediately distrusted it for reasons that I really don’t think were pure partisanship.   First of all, we’ve been over this umpteen times before.  The Whitewater scandal.  And Travelgate.  And the Vincent Foster suicide.  And the various other Clinton scandals, none of which turned out to amount to anything.  When the Republicans finally impeached it was over an affair with an intern and lying about it in a civil deposition.  And under the Obama Administration there was Operation Fast and Furious..  And the IRS flap.  And Benghazi.  And any number of other scandals, not one of which amounted to anything.  But the Benghazi investigation finally did uncover that Hillary had sent State Department e-mails on a private server, so this because the most heinous crime ever committed in the entire history of our Republic.  I kept an open mind to at least some of these scandals.  But you know the story of the boy who cried wolf?  Besides, if there was actually anything to this story, it would have come out during the campaign.  It didn’t.  Case closed.

And the claim that the Steele dossier indicated collision is just silly.  Suppose a political candidate were suspected of Mafia ties.  It would be something his opponent might legitimately want to look into.  And there would really be no way to find out without asking around  to informants.  These informants would have no way of knowing unless they had actual Mafia ties.  And people with actual Mafia ties by definition are not sterling citizens.  But to suggest that asking people with Mafia ties whether a candidate is in cahoots is not at all the same thing as being in cahoots oneself.  As for complaints that the dossier was used as the basis for search warrants against the Trump campaign, while using the resources of the government to investigate political opponents is certainly problematic, giving them an automatic free pass is troubling as well.  (Not to mention that the services that did the investigation claim to have relied on other sources anyhow).

Not to mention that the dossier and its contents were never so much as mentioned during the election, except in one Mother Jones article a week before the vote.  The article made no secret about where the information came from:
In June, the former Western intelligence officer—who spent almost two decades on Russian intelligence matters and who now works with a US firm that gathers information on Russia for corporate clients—was assigned the task of researching Trump’s dealings in Russia and elsewhere, according to the former spy and his associates in this American firm. This was for an opposition research project originally financed by a Republican client critical of the celebrity mogul. (Before the former spy was retained, the project’s financing switched to a client allied with Democrats.)
Furthermore the article did no more than darkly hint at the contents of the report.  It said that “[T]here was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.”  And furthermore:
The first memo, based on the former intelligence officer’s conversations with Russian sources, noted, “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.” It maintained that Trump “and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” It claimed that Russian intelligence had “compromised” Trump during his visits to Moscow and could “blackmail him.” It also reported that Russian intelligence had compiled a dossier on Hillary Clinton based on “bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls.”
The author gave no further information about the contents for the same reason that the contents were never even darkly hinted at during the election.  There was insufficient evidence to substantiate them.  

The right wing press is having a field day with these two stories.  There is a lot more going on here than merely a deranged tweet or even Twitter storm.  This looks like a coordinated effort at distraction.  

At the same time, I find this article convincing in that Trump insiders could not possibly have known that an indictment was coming down on Friday.  And they still don’t know who has been indicted.  But (as it points out) they do know who was called to testify in front of the grand jury, and what was being subpoenaed.  The witnesses presumably reported to the suitable authorities what they were asked about.  (The grand jury and prosecutor are sworn to secrecy, but witnesses are under no such obligation).   So people in the Trump Administration presumably had some idea what was coming down the pike and some idea that it would not be much longer, even if they did not know any exact dates.

So, as a mere Enlightened Layperson, I have as much right to speculate as anyone else.  What would I guess.  Most likely, the first indictment will be of small fry.  This is (as I understand it), fairly standard practice in investigation a large conspiracy – go after the small fry first in hopes of flipping them against the larger game.  My guess is that the first person indicted will probably be someone we have never heard of, playing a completely tangential role, but one whose guilt is beyond dispute.  But if it is someone we have heard of, my money would be on Carter Page, whose role in the campaign was minor, and who has at least once passed information to Russian spies.  I suppose Paul Manafort (sleaze personified) and Michael Flynn (Sleaze Personified in a uniform) cannot be entirely ruled out.  But there were a lot of working pieces here.  But my bet remains on one who we have never heard of.


Monday, October 2, 2017

Trump in a Crisis

From the start, my biggest worry about Trump was how he would perform in a crisis, of the kind that invariably strikes, regardless of who is in the White House.  Well now we know – sort of.  My assessment over this unfolding crisis has been, well, mixed.

I never for one minute believed that Trump would be any good in a crisis.  I suspected that the best way to deal with him in a crisis would be to handcuff him, stuff something in his mouth, and lock him in the closet till it blew over.  Then I started to wonder about the rally-round-the-chief effect and to fear that the worse he blew it, the more this effect would work in his favor.  (Shudder!).  But watching him a little more, it because clear that there was one thing he could be counted on to do in a crisis that would not rally public opinion in his favor – act like a petulant, whiny narcissist whose only response was to whimper that it wasn't his fault.  Because that certainly appeared to be Trump's response to any reversal of fortune, so it seemed reasonable to assume that that was how he would behave in a crisis.  Sure enough.

So now he has had to deal with a cascading series of crises – a severe hurricane and flooding in Houston, a bad hurricane and flooding in Florida, a catastrophic hurricane in Puerto Rico, failure of his Obamacare repeal, expiration of S-CHIP, and an escalating war of words with the leaders of North Korea.  Oh, yes, and his Cabinet being exposed as the swampiest in memory and the candidate he endorsed for Jeff Sessions’ seat losing the primary.  And he has responded to all that by – waging a feud with the NLF.  Sigh.

Look, it has been said that Trump sends out his deranged tweets to distract people for the real issues going on.  But I am beginning to think the exact opposite – that tweeting distracts Trump from addressing real issues.  To the extent that it keeps him from starting a war with North Korea or pushing for disastrous legislation, so much the better.  It didn’t seem to interfere with a perfectly good disaster response in Houston and Florida, so I was starting to think that giving Trump a Twitter account to distract him from creating any serious trouble was looking like a good idea.  He could feud with the NFL while everyone else rolled their eyes and got on with business. 

And then the full horror of the hurricane in Puerto Rico started coming out.  And the extent to which Trump’s Twitter feud with the NFL was taking his eyes of his real duties.  And reliable as clockwork,  he started whining that none of this was his fault, lashing out at anyone criticizing his actions, blaming the Puerto Ricans for their problems and even urging them not to believe their lying eyes the FAKE NEWS media.  He tweeted out to undermine his own Secretary of State in his negotiations with North Korea and even to threaten, "we'll do what has to be done!"  And just for good measure, when his candidate for Senate in Alabama lost the primary, he whined, "In analyzing the Alabama Primary race,FAKE NEWS always fails to mention that the candidate I endorsed went up MANY points after endorsement!"

The man has no concept that not everything is about him!

Look, I was hoping that it might turn out not to be necessary to handcuff Trump, stuff something in his mouth, and lock him in a closet during a crisis.  If we were lucky, it might be good enough to confiscate his phone, cancel his Twitter account, and spike his food with heavy doses of Thorazine.  But now I am starting to think that even handcuffing him, stuffing something in his mouth, and locking him in the closet is not enough. 

Can someone please just chop off this man’s fingers off?  I can’t think of any less drastic means of shutting him up!


Puerto Rico

Damage in the wake of Maria
Even as I post pictures of the damage Hurricane Maria has left in Puerto Rico, I can’t imagine what conditions must be like.  I can only go by what I have personally experienced. 

I was in Honduras about a year after Hurricane Mitch.  Mitch was a Category 5 hurricane with 180 mph winds.  I had assumed that those winds devastated Honduras, but I was apparently wrong.  The winds hit only an island offshore.  By the time Mitch landed, it had downgraded to a tropical storm.  The rain, not the wind, was what caused the damage.  By all accounts it was horrific, flooding everywhere, mudslide on the mountains, buildings shoulder deep in mud and so forth.  But there was no sign of it by the time I got there.  There were markings of how high the mud got, but it was all cleared off.  The bananas that had drowned were all replanted.  The buildings were still standing.  People had horror stories to tell, and there were many subtle signs that below the surface all was not well, but no signs to the casual observer that anything had happened.  Only the coconut trees were dying, of some disease spread by the hurricane.

More damage
I was in New Orleans about six months after Katrina, and it was obvious to even the most casual observer that there was a problem.  The airport looked normal enough, and so did the French Quarter and certain shopping malls.  There were places where the levies had breached on one side of the river but not the other.  On one side the lights would be on and all would be functioning; on the other all ruin.  Again, the damage was not the wind, but the flooding.  There were areas along the waterways and further down the river where everything was wiped out.  Houses in the Ninth Ward had obvious structural damage and were not salvageable. 

But where I was working the houses were still standing, soaked, but structures intact.  The people were (mostly) evacuated and the houses (mostly) empty.  But they were standing.  They looked OK from the outside.  Once we got in, they were soaked and dried out.   Items in closets, linen cupboards and the like were not dried out and stank.  Kitchens had water pooling in pots and pans and were growing black mold that smelled of sulfur.  They reeked of rotting food.  Drywall that had been soaked and dried was easy to pull off.  Throwing away the belongings gave a painfully intimate view of people’s private lives.  Occasionally a synthetic stuffed animal or oil painting survived surprisingly well.  But for the most part only the china was salvageable.  There was no electricity or running water.   When we worked in a neighborhood, FEMA management would leave a Port-a-Potty somewhere on the block.   

The trash service picking up all the debris we removed from the houses had run out its contract just before we arrived.  Huge piles of trash built up alongside the houses.  The owners who came back were not in their houses anymore, but in FEMA trailers parked in the driveway.  I can only assume the used batteries and tank water.  Their refrigerators were too small to hold any extended supply of food.  This meant having to shop every day, when the nearest grocery store might be miles and miles away, so many people ate in cafeterias set up by local churches and disaster relief agencies.  There was no running water, so people picked up bottled water daily from FEMA.

In commercial districts, stores were boarded up for block after block.  Churches were open, serving as relief centers.  I also saw a veterinary clinic that was open.   Home Depot was open, and doing a lot of business for people making repairs.  One of the cashiers commented that she went from home to work and work to home, trying not to look around and see what had become of her city.  We saw a Walgreen’s and a gas station open in the time we were there.   Each opening was greeted with great rejoicing.  The gas station had an ATM on the premises, the only one available for miles around because all the banks were closed.  It also used a Port-a-Potty because it had no running water.  There were shopping malls were everything was working.   They were extremely bustling, partly (I assume) because there weren’t many places to shop and partly (I assume) as part of the desperate attempt by people to distract themselves from the conditions all around.  Fire stations had re-opened.  Schools had not.

And recall that about 80% of the people had been evacuated and missed the worst.  The 20% who stayed were a manageable number to rescue.  But in the relatively short time that it took, with the lack of food, water, medicine and sanitation, social discipline started breaking down.

I have not been to Houston, but presumably conditions are similar, except that people are still living there.  I like to think that this means recovery will be quicker because there will be a large work force at hand to clean up.  And certainly it will not be all that far a drive to unflooded parts of Texas with plenty of resources at hand.

Now compare Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico did get the full force of Category 4 winds.  Numerous buildings are not just flooded, but destroyed.  Staying warm will not be an issue, since Puerto Rico is hot and muggy.  But how will people stay dry?  The power is out over 90% of the island.  This is a worse disaster than, say, loss of power in Haiti where many people never had electricity in the first place and society operated without it.  Loss of electricity where people depend on it is a formula for disaster.  Less than half the people have access to clean water.  Food supplies must be running out fast.  The roads and entire infrastructure is destroyed, preventing supplies from being shipped in.  People in the mountains can presumably at least come down to the cities looking for relief supplies.  But how does a city, itself in ruins, cope with such an influx?  Puerto Rico is an island, making overland evacuation impossible; everyone leaving must go by ship.  It has 3.5 million inhabitants.  Evacuation is impossible. 


This is what it looks like when a whole society is truly destroyed all at once.

What if Cassidy Graham Had Passed?

At least it pissed off liberals
The Cassidy-Graham monstrosity has now gone down to defeat, but let us take some time to consider what would have happened if it had passed.  Others have considered the policy effects, I am talking mostly about the political effects.

The policy effects for 2018 would be essentially none.  Insurance companies have put in their bids, proposals are up on the exchanges, and 2018 is locked in place.  That being said, there would be at least some damage, not from the bill, but from the Trump Administration’s attempts at sabotage.  Premiums on Oklahoma have gone up by 30% due to Administration neglect, and other states have seen premiums spike from deliberate uncertainty.  Enrollment times have fallen from three month to six weeks, and the Trump Administration has gone out of its way not to warn anyone.  As things stand now, with Republican legislation having conspicuously failed, Republicans can blame all these things on Obamacare and claim that if their legislation had passed these things would not be happening.  If Cassidy-Graham had passed, no doubt with great ceremony, people would automatically blame it for these problems.* 

I am not clear what would happen in 2019.

But it would be in 2020 that disaster would truly strike.  That would be the year that management of health insurance would be turned over to the states.  It is also, all experts agree, not time enough for states to get a system up and running.  And they would be required to do so at much reduced funding, that would continue to shrink over time.  Think of the mess that accompanied the opening of the exchanges in 2014 and raise it by a factor of many.  And just in time for the 2020 election!  I think it safe to say that the general explosion/implosion of the health insurance system during an election year would be a short-term disaster for Republicans.

The bad news is, I see no reason to believe that it would be a long-term disaster.  After all, one would think that a prolonged, highly unpopular war and the biggest economic crisis since 1929 would be a long-term disaster for Republicans, but it ultimately turned out to be a short-term lost, followed by an roaring comeback and unprecedented domination at all levels of government.  Why not turn disaster into victory once again?

The Republican course of action would be simple.  The minute Democrats won, any concern for the public good or attempt to save the healthcare system would be over.  The Trump Administration would spend the interregnum doing everything in its power to wreck the healthcare system beyond what it was already wrecked. 

The sabotage would continue once the Democratic President was inaugurated.  If Republicans retained enough votes in the Senate to mount a filibuster, they would block every attempt to save the healthcare system.  Republic interest groups everywhere would mount litigation to wreck the system in every way possible, and Trump-appointed federal judges would agree with them on every point.  Since many states time their gubernatorial elections to be in opposite years from Presidential elections, Republican governors would largely be protected from the 2020 wave election and would spend the next two years doing everything short of physically blowing up hospitals to wreck the healthcare system so they could blame the Democratic President.

Approximately two days after the Democrat was inaugurated, Republicans would start angrily demanding to know why he hadn’t fixed the healthcare system yet.  Approximately two weeks later, they would be taking out ads laying problems that clearly began before the election at his feet.  Approximately two months later, they would be angrily denouncing Democrats for introducing the disastrous Cassidy-Graham Act that caused that caused this mess.  And in 2022 they would win an unprecedented wave election by running against the healthcare mess that they had created.

And here is the scary thought.  It appears that every time Republicans lose, they respond by getting crazier.  It has proved a highly effective electoral technique.  When Clinton won in 1992, Republican responded by going crazy and won control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.  Although they lost the Presidential election in 1996, in 2000 they won with a candidate of dubious qualification who led this country into a serious mess.  When the country responded by electing a Democrat in 2008, Republican responded by going even crazier and electing a bunch of Tea Party candidates determined to blow everything up.  It proved highly effective in 2010.  When it failed to swing the Presidency to Republicans in 2012, they responded by shutting down the government and nearly causing a debt ceiling breach and were rewarded by a massive sweep in 2014.  And in 2016 they went for the craziest candidate possible and elected Donald Trump, of all people. 

So if patterns hold true and Republicans had gone down to historic defeat in 2020, they would have responded by coming back in 2024 with winning with someone even crazier than Trump!
 _______________________________

*And they would be only half-wrong.  The legislation not have any affect that year, but the same ideological forces driving the legislation would be behind all the problems in the exchanges, so wrong in the details, but right in the generalities.

Congressional Republicans' First Legislative Achievement

At least it pissed off liberals
Congratulations to the Republicans in Congress!   They finally have a legislative achievement!  Not that they actually passed anything, you understand, but they have made a significant achievement without passing any legislation at all!   

Although their repeated efforts to strip 20 to 30 million people of their health insurance have failed, by putting all their energy into the attempt they have managed to avoid funding the Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) program and thereby at least strip 9 million children of their health insurance.  Furthermore, Trump’s effort at sabotage of the exchanges continues apace.  Granted, he has not managed to crash them altogether, but give him time. Already neglect has managed to raise premiums by 30% in many states.  Any by shortening the enrollment period by half, cutting off all public announcement about it, and cutting off all federal attempts at enrollment, he should manage to significantly reduce the number of people enrolled.  Even if he only manages to cut enrollment in the exchanges by one million, that will raise the total number of uninsured by 10 million, and you will be halfway home in the first year of his administration.  Not bad, when you consider that it took Obama a full eight years to lower the number of uninsured by 20 million!  And if he does manage to crash the exchanges by the end of this term, then without passing any legislation whatever, you will have succeeded in stripping 19 million people of their health insurance, which is just one million short of the minimum goal.  Close enough for government work!

And if any Republicans object that they are not seeking to raise the number of uninsured, I can only answer that by their fruits ye shall know them.  Having universal health coverage has been a longstanding Democratic goal since Truman’s day.   Regardless of what form it has taken, Republicans have inevitably denounced it as an intolerable threat to liberty.  Ronald Reagan crusaded against Medicare as the end of all freedom.  Under the Clinton Administration, Republican strategist Bill Kristol warned Republicans not to agree to any form of universal coverage for fear of making is seem acceptable.  When Democrats finally got their opportunity under the Obama Administration, the moderate Republican Chuck Grassley made clear that Republicans would not vote for the proposal no matter what was in it.  Once Obamacare passed, Republicans made destroying this atrocity their top priority for seven years.  They filed suit to block it.  They voted countless times to repeal it, even though doing so would strip 20 million people of their health insurance.  They refused to set up exchanges.  They took down exchanges Democratic governors had set up.  They did their utmost to interfere with enrollment in the exchanges.  They rejected the Medicaid expansion.  They filed suit to prevent people in states with federally run exchanges from receiving subsidies.  And now that Republicans control all branches of the federal government, they have made repeated attempts to introduced repeal legislation that will strip 20 to 30 million people of their health insurance, while the Trump Administration does everything in its power to crash the exchanges and take insurance from at least 10 million.


After all this, only one conclusion is possible.  Republicans consider having a large uninsured population to be an important matter of moral principle.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Anti-Trump Paradox

At least it pissed off liberals
Trump's supporters like him because he shares their values, because he makes all the right enemies, and because they equate his style with "strength" and "toughness."  No complaint about his antics and offensive behavior will affect them because it is precisely his antics and offensive behavior that they like.  As for warnings about how dangerous he is, Trump supporters have an obvious retort.  He hasn't harmed them any.  Trump has been President for nine months now and, for all his opponents' warnings, nothing disastrous has happened.*

Of course, the reason Trump hasn't managed to hurt his supporters any is strong resistance to his harmful actions.  Three times now intense protests have beaten back Obamacare repeals that would strip 20 to 30 million people of their health insurance and disproportionately impact older voter, rural voters, and lower-middle income but not truly poor voters -- in other words, groups that are particularly strong Trump supporters.**  Members of his cabinet have dissuaded him rash or hasty protectionist measures that would disrupt supply chains and harm supporters in agriculture or manufacturing.  The support of Democrats will be essential to avoid a debt ceiling breach with untold damage to the world economy.  And if Trump really does cancel DACA his followers will not be harmed, but the harm to many highly sympathetic people with stir a backlash, perhaps even among his supporters.

Democrats and other Trump opponents have fought him mightily on all these things, and rightly so.  Republican actions, not limited to Trump, threaten to harm numerous innocent people, and we are absolutely right to fight to keep it from happening. 

And yet in the end, the only that will ever crack his support among the hard core is if he is actually allowed to harm them.  Such is the Anti-Trump paradox.

____________________________________________
*I mean, except for the hurricanes, of course.  But the hurricanes strike with utter indifference to who is in the White House, and FEMA seems to have done a good job in responding.  In fact, Republicans may have learned after Katrina that, much as they may want to destroy the federal government (at least in its mommy functions), extending that to FEMA is really bad politics.
**The latest bill is an exception, going out of its way to target states that have accepted the Medicaid expansion and benefit states that have not.  But many Trump supporting states have accepted the Medicaid expansion.

Is Trump a Conservative?

Plenty of Never Trump Republicans are quick to assure us that Trump is no conservative.  So it is fair to ask, is Donald Trump a conservative?  I suppose that depends on how you define conservative, and I, as a liberal, am not in the best position to do so.  Certainly he is not a conservative if you define conservative to mean cautious, prudent, looking before you leap, or taking an attitude of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  If it is broke, proceed with extreme caution.”  Nor is he conservative if you define that term as traditionalist, promoting moral restraint, favoring the rule of law, or relying on institutions rather than individuals for security.  And certainly he is no conservative if by that you mean conscious of the dangers of appeals to people’s worst instincts.

If you define conservatism as upholding the status quo of power, the answer is rather more complex.  Famously, he has boasted that he wants to “drain the swamp” in Washington, but what does that mean?  To a liberal, it means getting rid of the big money influence, and addressing the issue of regulatory capture, i.e., regulation operating to the benefit of the industries they are supposed to be regulating.  But that does not appear to be how Republicans understand the phrase.  To Trump supporters, it means getting Washington insiders all upset and disrupting the city’s ability to function at all.  And to the Republican donor class, draining the swamp means ending economic regulation altogether.  After all, they reason, if regulators just end up being captured by the industries they regulate then the only sure way to end the problem of regulatory capture is to end  economic regulation altogether.



And that is where things become awkward.  Because if you define conservatism as the priorities of the Republican donor class – wanting to massively cut taxes with a focus on the top and on corporate taxes, and to gut regulations – then Trump is very conservative indeed.  Most famously, he has required all regulatory agencies to eliminate two major regulations for every one enacted, and requiring the two repealed regulations to have a greater cost than the one enacted.  The result has been to bring new regulations to a virtual halt, with only fifteen (15) major regulations issued, all in areas exempt from the order, as opposed to 93 in a comparable time by Obama and 114 by the Junior Bush.  Many Obama era regulations passed in the last six months of his administration have been repealed as well.*  The Trump Administration has been skeptical of Obama-era workplace protections, rolling back restrictions on exposure to beryllium and silica and requirement for employers to keep records of workplace injuries.  It has thrown open public lands to coal mining.  

 It is true that he differs from the Republican donor class in on immigration, and plenty of the rank-and-file see this as a major break with traditional conservatism and a major victory over the donor class, which wants to bring in cheap labor.  But the Republican Party has a longstanding nativist tradition.  The anti-immigration faction of the party has been dominant ever since it beat back Bush, Junior’s proposed immigration reform.  The donor class might prefer more immigration, but ultimately the issue is not so important to them that they are prepared to split the party over it.  So long as fighting immigration does not mean imposing burdensome regulations on employers, they are willing to accept an anti-immigration party in exchange for tax cuts and regulatory rollback. 

It is also true that he differs from the Republican donor class on free trade.  This is a more complex issue.  On the one hand, conservatives (as generally understood), the Republican Party, and industrial capitalists (closely aligned since the 1870’s) have a traditional of protectionism to promote U.S. industry dating back to before the existence of the Republican Party and ending only after WWII, when protectionism was seen as contributing to the war by deepening the Depression.  But times have changed since then.  Since then industrial capitalists have become much more internationalist, building plants the world over and creating complex, highly integrated supply chains spanning national borders.  The Republican donor class may be willing to yield ground on the free flow of people across national borders.  They are unlikely to be so accommodating on the free flow of goods or capital.  But then again, thus far Trump has not undertaken any serious protectionist actions, at least in part because cabinet members from the Republican donor class have managed to talk him down by convincing him of the damage that disrupting supply chains would cause.

It is also true that Trump has not yet delivered any kind of tax cut, and that he does not favor mass cuts in entitlement spending, other than Obamacare.  But the Republican establishment is capitulating with unseemly haste on the matter of spending, rapidly discovering that their real opposition is not so much to government spending as to a Democrat doing it, and that so long as they get their tax cuts, deficits and spending aren’t really important.  Besides, tax cuts will either unleash such growth as to make cuts in spending unnecessary or else precipitate a future fiscal crisis and force future spending cuts (hopefully with a Democrat in office), so who cares. 

But what Trump has been able to deliver on appears to be what the Republican donor class really cares most about – massive regulatory rollback.  Even Steve Bannon, the least establishment of Trump’s appointees, has boasted about the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”  In short, if you define conservatism as economic royalism, then Trump is as conservative as you can get.**

The real difference is that Trump is the first Republican to make a populist case for economic royalism.  During the 2012 election, with Mitt Romney as the candidate, Republicans argued that business owners – “job creators” – were the only truly productive members of society, and that anyone willing to let someone else sign their paycheck were simply losers and failures who never worked a day in their lives and contributed nothing to the economy.  Unsurprisingly, that was not a winning argument.   Trump’s argument, famously, has been to blame the loss of good-paying blue collar jobs on foreigners – both immigrants stealing jobs from the native-born, and from plants that flee overseas to take advantage of cheap foreign labor.  The danger in this argument, from an economic royalist perspective, is that it might draw attention to who is hiring all those illegal immigrants and sending all those plants overseas.  But here Trump has the answer.  He doesn’t focus so much on immigrants lowering wages as on immigrants committing crimes.  And as for those plants fleeing overseas, it isn’t the employers’ fault.  It is the evil government, strangling our noble and honorable job creators with unconscionable taxes and regulations.  Repeal the taxes and regulations, and job creators will bring back all those good-paying jobs of old, just as they have always wanted if only the evil regulators had not interfered.  And to all appearances Trump has been successful at selling economic royalism as a populist philosophy.

______________________________
*Complex rules forbid simple legislative repeal of regulations more than six months old.
**And it should be noted that the economic royalist assumption that rolling back regulations "drains the swamp" by removing opportunities for regulatory capture ignores the potential for corruption and conflict of interest in the process of deregulation -- call it deregulatory capture.