Tag Archives: GOP

Random Thoughts About The Ryan Announcement

I was on the treadmill (ugh!) watching the news, when it was announced that Paul Ryan would not seek re-election.

Virtually all the talking heads, including former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, prefaced their reactions by noting that Ryan was a “policy wonk” who understood the economy.

Bullfeathers.

As Paul Krugman (whose Nobel Prize was in economics) has repeatedly pointed out, Ryan is an ideologue. A genuine policy wonk would adjust his economic prescriptions in the face of evidence they didn’t work; Ryan’s tax “reform” was a bigger version of the policies that have proved so disastrous in Kansas and Oklahoma. Rather than learn from those lessons, he doubled down. (It reminded me of the old communist sympathizers who explained that a communist system really would work–that Stalin just hadn’t done it right.)

It’s possible, of course, that Ryan isn’t a “true believer”–that his his tax “reform” was a return on his donors’ investment, and he’s not sticking around to suffer what he realizes will be the political consequences.

A couple of commentators reported that–despite all indications that his spine had simply been removed–behind the scenes, Ryan was critical of Trump and had been a restraining influence on our dangerous President. Color me skeptical; however, the remainder of Ryan’s term will offer an ideal test of that thesis. Since Ryan won’t be running again, he’s free to add his voice to those of the other GOP Trump critics (none of whom are running again).

If I were a betting woman, I wouldn’t risk my money on the likelihood of a Ryan eruption of moral outrage or defense of the rule of law.

In all fairness, Ryan didn’t want the job as Speaker, and for good reason. Thanks to the very successful national Republican gerrymander in 2011, the party won seats well in excess of its votes, but a significant number of those elected from districts that had been designed to be deep red were extremists determined to hew to a Tea Party/White Nationalist vision of America (and not so incidentally, intent upon forestalling primary challenges by candidates even farther to the right.) Estimates are that there are some 80+ members of the GOP’s “lunatic caucus” –and they feel no need to listen to the party’s leadership, which they scorn as the “establishment.” Herding cats would be simple by comparison.

Those of us who detest Trump and the feckless Republicans in Congress who have utterly failed to constrain him are tempted to cheer Ryan’s announcement. And I am certainly encouraged by its implications; without Ryan (not to mention the other 26+/- Republicans heading for the door) , it will be even more difficult for the GOP to hang on to its majority.

But there are six months between now and November, and Trump is increasingly unhinged. As Mueller’s investigation gets closer, as the legal and ethical lapses of his cabinet and cronies become public, and international events he clearly doesn’t understand pressure him to make decisions he is ill-equipped to make, he increasingly resembles a cornered animal.

A rational man would reach out to knowledgable people for advice, but Trump is not a rational man. He’s threatening to bomb Syria, to nullify the Iran accord, to start a trade war with China, and God knows what he’ll say or do when he meets with Kim Jong Un in North Korea.

As the rats desert his sinking ship, he’ll be perfectly willing to take us all down with him.

 

‘Job Creators’ and the Tax Bill

According to the Republicans pushing for its passage, the recent, massive overhaul of the tax code was a “middle-class” tax cut. Yes, they admitted that it bestowed largesse on the wealthy, and yes, they recognized that the benefits to corporate taxpayers dwarfed the pennies that the poor and middle-class will realize, but that, they assured us, was because the GOP is all about job creation. Give corporations tax “relief” (not that most of them had been paying at the going rate) and they would use those dollars to create jobs.

Right.

Opponents of the tax bill publicly doubted that corporate savings would be used to create jobs, or to raise pay levels. They predicted that the money would be used instead to buy back stock and “reward” management with bonuses. And they pointed out that the meager tax relief granted to the middle class will phase out, while the corporate cuts are permanent.

Once the bill passed–and the Koch Brothers had donated $500,000 to Paul Ryan (a contribution I’m sure was merely coincidental, despite coming a mere two weeks after the measure was approved)–there was an initial flurry of publicity suggesting that ordinary workers at several large companies had been given bonuses. (It later turned out that those payments went to far fewer workers than the original publicity had suggested.)

Now, it turns out that the cynics were right all along. I know–you’re shocked.

After President Trump signed the Republican tax cut into law, companies put out cheery announcements that they were giving workers bonuses because of their expected windfalls from the tax reductions. The president and Republican lawmakers quickly held up these news releases as vindication for their argument that cutting the top federal corporate tax rate to 21 percent, from 35 percent, would boost workers’ incomes even as it added $1.5 trillion to the debt that future generations would have to pay off.

Now corporate announcements and analyst reports confirm what honest observers always said — this claim is pure fantasy. As executives tell investors what they intend to do with their tax savings and their spending plans are tabulated into neat charts and graphs, the reports jibe with what most experts said would happen: Companies are rewarding their stockholders.

Businesses are buying back shares, which creates demand for the stocks, boosts share prices and benefits investors. Some of the cash is going to increase dividends. And a chunk will go to acquiring other businesses, creating larger corporations that face less competition.

It isn’t just liberal pundits making these claims. Morgan Stanley analysts have estimated that 43 percent of the savings realized by corporations will be used for buybacks and dividends and another 19 percent will fund mergers and acquisitions. They calculate that  17 percent will go into capital investments, and a mere 13 percent will be used for bonuses and raises. CNBC reports that stock buy-backs are at a record pace.  Axios  has reported that nine pharmaceutical companies have announced $50 billion in buybacks since the tax law was passed.

The open question is whether voters whose paychecks are marginally fatter under the new withholding tables will believe they were the beneficiaries of this “reform,” and whether that belief will influence their votes in November.

As Lincoln said, you can fool some of the people some of the time….

The New Powerlessness

Conservative pundit Bret Stephens recently had a column in the New York Times, cleverly titled “The Bonfire of the Sanities.”

Like Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” is often cited but less often read, which is a shame because the landmark 1964 essay helps explain our times.

As an example of contemporary paranoia, Stephens recounted a speech in which Senator Ron Johnson had gone full conspiracy theorist, before it turned out that a text message he had found so suspicious was an office in-joke between two FBI agents who were having an affair.  Johnson was also forced to admit he had no idea what a phrase within the message referenced, “not that it prevented him from painting it in the most sinister colors. Maybe there was a scavenger hunt for Hillary’s missing emails.”

I wouldn’t bother posting about this particular bit of GOP embarrassment–it is only one of  many, and Stephens lists several other “breaking news” items that later turned out to be equally bogus, but I was struck by this observation:

None of this would have surprised Hofstadter, whose essay traces the history of American paranoia from the Bavarian Illuminati and the Masons to New Dealers and Communists in the State Department. “I call it the paranoid style,” Hofstadter wrote, “simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.” What better way to describe a Republican Party that thinks America has more to fear from a third-tier F.B.I. agent in Washington who doesn’t like the president than it does from a first-tier K.G.B. agent in Moscow who, for a time at least, liked the president all too well?

Then again, Hofstadter might have been surprised to find that the party of conspiracy is also the party of government. The paranoid style, he noted, was typically a function of powerlessness. “Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed.”

As Stephens points out–and as we all know–the GOP currently controls all three branches of government, and then some: Robert Muller is a Republican. Jeff Sessions is a Republican. Etc. Surely the GOP is not powerless!

Except, it is.

Despite control of the government, the party cannot govern. It cannot head off standoffs like the recent shut-down. When its lawmakers make a deal–like the recent DACA agreement brokered by Lindsay Graham and Dick Durbin–they can’t predict whether their lunatic President will accept it.

Powerlessness, it turns out, is not solely a function of losing elections. There are a lot of reasons for the dysfunction that has turned the federal government into an exaggerated version of the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight–this blog has suggested a number of them. And although he has been a mighty contributor to GOP fecklessness, Trump is less a reason than a consequence.

When nothing is working properly, people look for a reason–usually, they look for someone to blame. When there is no one handy, they suspect conspiracies. They develop paranoia.

The principal lesson of paranoia is the ease with which politically aroused people can mistake errors for deceptions, coincidences for patterns, bumbling for dereliction, and secrecy for treachery. True conspiracies are rare but stupidity is nearly universal. The failure to know the difference, combined with the desire for a particular result, is what accounts for the paranoid style.

“Conspiracies are rare but stupidity is nearly universal.” Or, as a friend of mine used to say when we were all in City Hall: incompetence explains so much more than conspiracy.

Random Thoughts/Observations On Government Shutdown

Partisans are playing the blame game–pointing fingers and accusing the “other guy” of being responsible for the government’s inability to function.

It seems fairly obvious to me that those in charge–those in power– are most culpable; with the GOP dominating all three branches of Government, trying to lay the blame at the doorstep of the emasculated Dems reminds me of the divorce lawyer who told the judge that her client’s wife was so annoying, she caused  him to beat her. (That’s a true story, by the way.)

A few scattered observations–

  • it is absolutely unconscionable to use children as bargaining chips and hostages. Republicans’ willingness to keep the “Dreamers” in limbo and hold out funding for children’s health in order to play political games is simply despicable. (It’s also stupid: 87% of Americans want DACA reinstated.)
  • Republicans (and a few Democrats) who were willing to ignore the ongoing anguish of 800,000 DACA children in order to fund government for another couple of weeks were either naive (GOP promises to “get to” DACA “soon” were transparent bullshit–especially since Trump’s uninformed demands change daily) or more concerned about perceived political optics than justice for children who depend upon them.
  • Indiana Senator Donnelly was one of those Democrats. Donnelly has been a constant disappointment: he was willing to defund Planned Parenthood (he evidently believes his religious beliefs deserve government support but mine don’t), and he was willing to screw over the Dreamers, presumably because he is (theoretically) a Democrat running for re-election in a red state. Perhaps I’m the one being naive, but I think voters–red or blue–are more likely to reward principled behavior than political pandering. That said, I will vote for Donnelly in November because–acute disappointment though he is–he will cast his first vote to eject Mitch McConnell (aka the most evil man in America) from leadership, and because the Republican Trumpers who want to oppose him are even worse–and in Indiana, a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for the Republican. This will be a “lesser of two evils” choice.
  • If there is a bright spot to the shutdown, it should mean that–at least while government isn’t open for business–the demolition crew that Trump has installed in lieu of competent administrators won’t be able to work on destroying their agencies.

And finally….If we needed any more evidence that the federal government is broken, and that Republicans are disinterested in fixing it, or for that matter, doing anything other than enrich their donors, I think this last year–culminating in this Keystone Kos episode–should provide it.

I know it’s morning, but excuse me while I go pour myself a stiff drink.

 

Telling It Like It Is

Charles Blow has used two of his recent columns in the New York Times to address racism; more specifically, the racism exhibited by Donald Trump and his base.

Although there has been a great deal of ink (or, more properly, pixels) devoted to analysis of the most recent eruption by our Vesuvius in Chief, Blow’s observations are so incisive, so devoid of the unnecessary niceties (typically employed by writers trying desperately to be fair to people undeserving of their solicitude), that they deserve wide distribution.

In the first column–written before the “shithole” eruption–Blow makes an important point about racism and the people who will continue to support Trump no matter how often he betrays his promises to them:

Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.

It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man.

As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

The entire column is well worth reading–and pondering. Among other things, it explains Trump’s pathological fixation on erasing anything and everything that Obama did.

Trump supporters love to describe his most vile pronouncements as evidence that he “tells it like it is.” But it is Blow who actually tells it like it is, in the wake of Trump’s “shithole” episode.

He begins with a definition:

Racism is simply the belief that race is an inherent and determining factor in a person’s or a people’s character and capabilities, rendering some inferior and others superior. These beliefs are racial prejudices.

Blow then points out–as many others have- that Trump fits that definition, that he’s a racist,  a white supremacist, a bigot. (In the same issue of the Times, David Leonhardt provides an exhaustive list of Trump’s blatantly racist statements.) But– as Blow also says– pointing that fact out is the easy part. The need to make his tenure as short as possible is equally obvious.

Most importantly, this November, voters must

rid the House and the Senate of as many of Trump’s defenders, apologists and accomplices as possible. Should the time come where impeachment is inevitable, there must be enough votes in the House and Senate to ensure it.

I am going to bold these next paragraphs, because his point is really important–and because it is insufficiently appreciated:

And finally, we have to stop giving a pass to the people — whether elected official or average voter — who support and defend his racism. If you defend racism you are part of the racism. It doesn’t matter how much you say that you’re an egalitarian, how much you say that you are race blind, how much you say that you are only interested in people’s policies and not their racist polemics.

As the brilliant James Baldwin once put it: “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” When I see that in poll after poll a portion of Trump’s base continues to support his behavior, including on race, I can only conclude that there is no real daylight between Trump and his base. They are part of his racism.

When I see the extraordinary hypocrisy of elected officials who either remain silent in the wake of Trump’s continued racist outbursts or who obliquely condemn him, only to in short order return to defending and praising him and supporting his agenda, I see that there is no real daylight between Trump and them either. They too are part of his racism.

When you see it this way, you understand the enormity and the profundity of what we are facing. There were enough Americans who were willing to accept Trump’s racism to elect him. There are enough people in Washington willing to accept Trump’s racism to defend him. Not only is Trump racist, the entire architecture of his support is suffused with that racism. Racism is a fundamental component of the Trump presidency.

A commenter to this blog recently protested when I wrote that racism had motivated the majority of Trump voters. I based that statement on research that has emerged since the election, but my youngest son points out that we really don’t need academic researchers to tell us what we all know. Trump’s campaign was unambiguously racist, therefore, those who voted for him fell into one of the only two possible categories: either they responded positively to his racism, or his racism didn’t bother them enough to make them vote for someone else.

As Blow says, there were enough Americans willing to accept Trump’s racism to elect him.

As my son says, you are what you are willing to accept.

Just telling it like it is.