The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question

Older readers may recall a quiz show that built to a finale in which the prize was $64,000. During the time the show was popular, when a difficult question would come up in conversation, someone was likely to say “Well, that’s the 64,000 dollar question!”

I thought of that when I read the results of several recent polls showing a majority of Americans disapproving of Donald Trump–with 46% disapproving strongly. (Obama’s “strong disapproval” never approached that number.)

Pew, of course, is the gold standard of polling. Daily Kos recently reproduced Pew’s poll, and its demographic breakout of approvals/disapprovals;  the breakout prompts me to ask that $64,000 question:

Now it’s clear that there’s a dramatic racial divide in our nation’s politics, but there’s a dramatic difference among whites based on whether they have a college degree or not:

                                        APPROVE      DISAPPROVE
WHITE                                51              48
BLACK                                12              80
HISPANIC                          25              72
WHITE, COLLEGE           38              61
WHITE, NO-COLLEGE    57             41

And that white, non-college-educated cohort is Trump’s firewall. He’ll bleed support among all those other groups, but there’s relatively not much room to drop. So if he’s going to end up in the low 30s or even high 20s, very possibly within six months, it’ll be because non-college whites start abandoning him. And if Trump loses those guys, there’s nothing else propping up the GOP. And 2018 will be a political bloodbath.

The question is obvious: What will it take to erode Trump’s support among the non-college-educated whites who still support him? What is it that they see that appeals to them? The easy answer–which may or may not be the correct answer–is that he has given them someone to blame for their discontents, “others” who can be held responsible for whatever economic or social injustices they experience. African-Americans, Mexicans, Jews, immigrants, elitists….

If that is, in fact, the basis of their approval, we may wait a long time for them to realize that his policies will deepen, rather than ameliorate, their distress. If there is one thing Trump is good at, it is blaming others for his own missteps and deficits; if the economic condition of those voters declines (as it is likely to do, given the policies that he and his cabinet choices embrace–policies that will benefit the well-off at the expense of the working poor), he will blame Congress for failing to pay billions for his wall, or the courts for failing to keep “those people” out, or the media for actually reporting what he says and does.

There’s an old saying to the effect that people cannot reason themselves out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place. There was no coherent, logical, reality-based argument for supporting Trump, and overwhelming evidence that he was monumentally unfit for the Oval Office. What will it take to weaken Trump’s support among those who voted for him because they hated Hillary,or would never vote for a woman, or because they thought wealth implied competence, or because they resented having had a black President, or because they always voted for the Republican?

How long will they continue to shrug off the mounting evidence of corruption and dangerous ineptitude as “fake news”? Will they convince themselves that the Russians are really nice guys, and Trump’s cozy relationship with Putin is no big deal? How embarrassing will his behavior have to get in order for them to recognize his mental instability?

What, exactly, will it take?

Carrots and Sticks

Yesterday, a climate-change denier was confirmed to head the EPA. This comes as Trump and the Republicans gut environmental regulations, including those preventing coal companies from dumping toxic waste into our rivers and streams.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal.

In the midst of the crazy that is the Trump Administration–in the face of Congressional Republicans’ stubborn denial of science and evidence in general and climate change in particular, three prominent conservatives-Martin S. Feldstein, Ted Halstead and N. Gregory Mankiw– have issued “A Conservative Case for Climate Action.” They explained their plan in an op-ed in the New York Times.

CRAZY as it may sound, this is the perfect time to enact a sensible policy to address the dangerous threat of climate change. Before you call us nuts, hear us out.

The three are forthright about the fact that Republican congressional opposition prevented Obama from addressing climate change as vigorously as he wanted; he was only able to enact a handful of measures through Executive Orders, and those are likely to be reversed by Trump, who (they say with delicious understatement) “seems much less concerned about the risks of climate change, and more worried about how excessive regulation impedes economic growth and depresses living standards.”

They note that

an ideal climate policy would reduce carbon emissions, limit regulatory intrusion, promote economic growth, help working-class Americans and prove durable when the political winds change.

Hard to argue with any of those goals.

After listing a number of other notable Republicans who participated in authoring their proposal, they proceed to outline it.

Our plan is built on four pillars.

First, the federal government would impose a gradually increasing tax on carbon dioxide emissions. It might begin at $40 per ton and increase steadily. This tax would send a powerful signal to businesses and consumers to reduce their carbon footprints.

Second, the proceeds would be returned to the American people on an equal basis via quarterly dividend checks. With a carbon tax of $40 per ton, a family of four would receive about $2,000 in the first year. As the tax rate rose over time to further reduce emissions, so would the dividend payments.

Third, American companies exporting to countries without comparable carbon pricing would receive rebates on the carbon taxes they’ve paid on those products, while imports from such countries would face fees on the carbon content of their products. This would protect American competitiveness and punish free-riding by other nations, encouraging them to adopt their own carbon pricing.

Finally, regulations made unnecessary by the carbon tax would be eliminated, including an outright repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

The authors assert that a carbon dividends program starting at $40 per ton would achieve nearly twice the emissions reductions of all Obama-era climate regulations combined. They also report that, if all four elements are put in place at the same time, the plan would be sufficient, all by itself, to meet America’s commitment under the Paris climate agreement.

Environmentalists should like the long-overdue commitment to carbon pricing. Growth advocates should embrace the reduced regulation and increased policy certainty, which would encourage long-term investments, especially in clean technologies. Libertarians should applaud a plan premised on getting the incentives right and government out of the way. Populists should welcome the distributive impact.

The appeal of this plan is obvious: as the authors note, simply repealing Obama’s measures would be immensely unpopular; unlike Congressional “deniers,” most Americans accept the reality of climate change and support measures to address it.

Recent polls show that 64 percent of Americans are concerned about climate change, 71 percent want America to remain in the Paris agreement, and an even larger share favor clean energy. If the Republican Party fails to exercise leadership on our climate challenge, they risk a return to heavy-handed regulation when Democrats return to power.

If the goal is to reduce carbon emissions–and that is the goal among people who accept the reality of climate change–Republicans and Democrats who share that goal should embrace any proposal that will demonstrably achieve it.

If carrots will do what sticks cannot, I’m all for carrots.

Fear–The Demagogue’s Friend

When people are afraid, they do unfortunate things.

As recent paper from the Brookings Institution points out, fear is a demagogue’s best friend. That’s why so many of Donald Trump’s actions in just the first few weeks of his disastrous presidency have been so dangerous.

President Trump’s Executive Order severely restricting visa-holders and refugees’ freedom to enter the United States is not only immoral and un-American—it’s also likely to fail on its own terms and lead to an increase in terrorist attacks against Americans. Yet if terrorism does increase, support for Trump and for harsh and self-defeating policies are likely to grow.

Although I doubt Trump is capable of that level of strategic planning, Actual-President Bannon clearly is.

The paper was written before several courts interrupted enforcement of the Order. As a number of observers have noted, should there be a terrorist attack during that interruption–or after the Order is finally invalidated, as I expect it will be–Trump has already telegraphed his intention to blame the courts and “so-called” judges.

The article reiterates many of the well-known criticisms of the Executive Order–the fact that zero terrorists have come from the countries subject to the ban, and –coincidentally, I’m sure (cough)–the countries that have produced terrorists and whose citizens weren’t banned happen to be countries where Trump has business interests; and the fact that refugee screening is exceptionally thorough, even draconian.

Refugees get the most scrutiny and Syrian refugees get the most scrutiny of all. So the vetting procedures are working. Refugees from other countries affected by the ban—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—have been involved in few plots since 9/11.

In different ways, all these countries have a terrorism problem, but that’s not the same as saying that the people visiting America are terrorists. Indeed, residents of these countries know first-hand the evils of terrorism and loath the groups accordingly. Some of the fiercest anti-Communists came from Cubans fleeing Castro or Russians fleeing Stalin: should we be surprised that Muslims who experience evil firsthand have a visceral loathing of it too? If you don’t believe me, go to an Iranian-American neighborhood in Los Angeles and praise the Iran’s ayatollahs and see what happens.

As the article also points out, saying a country has a terrorism problem is  not the same as saying that the people visiting America from that country are terrorists. Quite the contrary: people who have experienced the evils of terrorism are the people most likely to hate and oppose them.

Some of the fiercest anti-Communists came from Cubans fleeing Castro or Russians fleeing Stalin: should we be surprised that Muslims who experience evil firsthand have a visceral loathing of it too? If you don’t believe me, go to an Iranian-American neighborhood in Los Angeles and praise the Iran’s ayatollahs and see what happens.

And there’s those pesky little things…I think they call them “facts”–that suggest most terrorist attacks in the U.S. come from home-grown, white right-wing extremists.

So we have alienated the allies around the world on whom we depend for intelligence information, we have sent a message to moderate Muslims that we make no distinction between the millions of peace-loving adherents of that religion and the radical fringe, and we have dramatically increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack that can only help Donald Trump.

The horrible reality, however, is that a terrorist attack, especially one at home, is likely to “prove” that Trump is right. Terrorists’ successes are always a bit random, but at least some low-level attacks would be likely regardless of who was president. Trump, however, ran a campaign of fear and dishonesty about the terrorism threat and the attitudes of U.S. Muslims (for example, the false claim that thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks). Polls show fears of terrorism were at near-record levels before the election despite the small number of attacks and deaths in the U.S. since 9/11, and this fear increased support for Trump’s candidacy.

Once an attack happens, Trump will probably tweet that he called for vigilance and tough measures only to be opposed by bleeding heart liberals, the failing New York Times, and Muslim-lovers naïve to the true danger. The fact that his policies made the attacks more likely will be lost in the uproar.

Nothing will please President Bannon more.



Sorry to fill your in-boxes with an extra post this morning, but yesterday, Representative Milo Smith  demonstrated that Congress doesn’t have a lock on self-serving partisan behavior.

HUNDREDS of Hoosiers showed up at the Indiana Statehouse to support HB1014, which would end partisan gerrymandering. After a hearing that featured testimony from Republicans and Democrats alike, Smith–chair of the House Election committee–refused to take a vote.

That refusal was shameful and cowardly. The people who took time out of their days, who traveled from out in the state and demonstrated their support, deserved at the very least to know who on the committee supported the bill and who did not.

If you live in Indiana, please call Rep. Smith and let him know your opinion of this effort to avoid accountability. Also call Speaker Bosma, and tell him to support the hundreds of Hoosiers who showed up and demanded reform.

If we needed a reminder of why “safe seats” are so pernicious–how they allow “elected” lawmakers to ignore the public will–we got it yesterday.