Tag Archives: GOP

Anticipating Unanticipated Consequences

These are horrific political times. It’s hard not to be depressed–every day, it seems, we wake up to a new assault on what we thought were American values, new evidence of deplorable behaviors and attitudes we thought we’d left behind, new efforts to roll back hard-won progress.

But.

We need to remind ourselves that the turbulence and upheaval we see around us is not a new phenomenon. Times of social transition are typically unsettled and contentious. (Think of the Sixties, not to mention the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War…). The question is: what comes next? What are we transitioning to? 

My own prediction–based on history and a lot of hope–is that the election of Trump will prove to be a turning point, that the resistance and increased activism we are already seeing will grow more pronounced, and the political pendulum will swing back toward sanity and concern for the common good. The problem is, in the meantime, Trump and the Congressional GOP are doing incalculable damage to the environment, to the rule of law, to the economy and to America’s place in the world.

Yesterday, McConnell finally unveiled the Senate’s Trumpcare bill, and it is even worse than the House version; it proposes to take health care from millions of struggling Americans in order to give a huge tax break to the rich.

Despicable as it is, I’m not the only person who sees potential for eventual progress lurking in short-term disaster. Take Ezra Klein’s recent article for Vox, “Republicans are about to make Medicare-for-All Much More Likely.”

On Friday, McConnell reportedly “delivered a private warning to his Senate Republicans: If they failed to pass legislation unwinding the Affordable Care Act, Democrats could regain power and establish a single-payer health-care system.”

History may record a certain irony if this is the argument McConnell uses to successfully destroy Obamacare. In recent conversations with Democrats and industry observers, I’ve become convinced that just the opposite is true: If Republicans unwind Obamacare and pass their bill, then Democrats are much likelier to establish a single-payer health care system — or at least the beginnings of one — when they regain power.

And if the GOP successfully unwinds Obamacare, the Democrats are far more likely to regain power in 2018. As Klein says,

The political fallout from passing the American Health Care Act — which even Donald Trump is reportedly calling “mean” — will also be immense. In passing a bill that polls at 20 percent even before taking insurance away from anyone, Republicans will give Democrats a driving issue in 2018 and beyond — and next time Democrats have power, they’ll have to deliver on their promises to voters. Much as repeal and replace powered the GOP since 2010 and dominated their agenda as soon as they won back the White House, if the American Health Care Act passes, “Medicare for all” will power the Democratic Party after 2017.

The bubble that Congressional Republicans occupy has become so divorced from the reality of American life and opinion–so in thrall to a (shrinking) base that is itself divorced from reality–that they no longer connect with most Americans. And presumably, the Democrats will have learned some important lessons from their experience with the ACA.

If Republicans wipe out the Affordable Care Act and de-insure tens of millions of people, they will prove a few things to Democrats. First, including private insurers and conservative ideas in a health reform plan doesn’t offer a scintilla of political protection, much less Republican support. Second, sweeping health reform can be passed quickly, with only 51 votes in the Senate, and with no support from major industry actors. Third, it’s easier to defend popular government programs that people already understand and appreciate, like Medicaid and Medicare, than to defend complex public-private partnerships, like Obamacare’s exchanges….

Obamacare was the test of the incrementalist theory, and, politically, at least, it’s failed. Democrats built a law to appeal to moderate Republicans that incorporated key ideas from Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts reforms, and it nevertheless became the single most polarizing initiative of Obama’s presidency. All the work Democrats did to build support from the health care industry has proven to be worth precious little as Republicans push their repeal plan forward. And the complex public-private design of the Affordable Care Act left the system dependent on the business decisions of private insurers and left Democrats trying to explain away premium increases they don’t control. The result is a Democratic Party moving left, and fast, on health care.

“I have been in contact with a lot of Democrats in Congress,” says Yale’s Jacob Hacker, who is influential in liberal health policy circles, “and I am confident that the modal policy approach has shifted pretty strongly toward a more direct, public-option strategy, if not ‘Medicare for all.’”

As bleak as our current political environment is, Klein and others see Ryan, McConnell and our clueless President unwittingly sowing the seeds of fairer and more cost-effective policies.

The accuracy of that prediction, of course, depends upon the strength, savvy and persistence of the Resistance.

Truth Or Power

One of the very few (inadvertently) positive outcomes of Trump’s election has been an eruption of public soul-searching by thoughtful Republicans. Pundits like David Brooks, Jennifer Rubin, David Frum and Michael Gerson have cut through the dissembling and hypocrisy of Congressional Republicans, and haven’t hesitated to point out the consequences of electing a spectacularly naked “emperor.”

A recent column by Gerson contained a scathing and utterly accurate summary of the man demanding (and receiving) Republican loyalty.

President Trump is remarkably unpopular, particularly with the young (among whom his approval is underwater by a remarkable 48 percentage points in one poll). And the reasons have little to do with elitism or media bias.

Trump has been ruled by compulsions, obsessions and vindictiveness, expressed nearly daily on Twitter. He has demonstrated an egotism that borders on solipsism. His political skills as president have been close to nonexistent. His White House is divided, incompetent and chaotic, and key administration jobs remain unfilled. His legislative agenda has gone nowhere. He has told constant, childish, refuted, uncorrected lies, and demanded and habituated deception among his underlings. He has humiliated and undercut his staff while requiring and rewarding flattery. He has promoted self-serving conspiracy theories. He has displayed pathetic, even frightening, ignorance on policy matters foreign and domestic. He has inflicted his ethically challenged associates on the nation. He is dead to the poetry of language and to the nobility of the political enterprise, viewing politics as conquest rather than as service.

Trump has made consistent appeals to prejudice based on religion and ethnicity, and associated the Republican Party with bias. He has stoked tribal hostilities. He has carelessly fractured our national unity. He has attempted to undermine respect for any institution that opposes or limits him — be it the responsible press, the courts or the intelligence community. He has invited criminal investigation through his secrecy and carelessness. He has publicly attempted to intimidate law enforcement. He has systematically alarmed our allies and given comfort to authoritarians. He promised to emancipate the world from American moral leadership — and has kept that pledge.

The Republican lawmakers who continue to support, excuse and enable this deeply disturbed man demonstrate where their values truly lie, and what their priorities truly are. For Ryan, McConnell and their obedient GOP minions in the House and Senate, clinging to power is far more important than serving the nation. Most of them know how dangerous Trump is, and how much harm he is doing, but they won’t desert his sinking ship until it costs them at the ballot box.

The irony is, the GOP is reaping what it very deliberately sowed.

From Nixon’s “Southern strategy” on, the Grand Old Party has been encouraging racial and religious resentments, rewarding “base” voters (in both senses of that word) with red meat rhetoric and divisive policies. It has colluded with rightwing media, supplying “talking points” to the talk radio ranters and Fox News, and defending racist and misogynist messaging.

As the party has become ever more cult-like, it has lost the so-called “country club” Republicans and the fiscally conservative, socially-liberal voters who used to make up a considerable portion of its membership. (When we see reports that majorities of Republicans still support Trump, we need to recognize that the percentage of Americans who identify as Republicans is far smaller than it used to be. Those supporters are the majority of a shrinking minority.) More recently, the party has lost the conservative pundits who genuinely care about policies and principles.

The question now is: how long will it be until the inevitable backlash–and how much harm to America will have been done in the meantime?

Even Toto Is Leaving Kansas

Not that it will make any difference to the ideologues for whom evidence is irrelevant, but Republicans in Kansas have now thrown in the towel on the nation’s most wholehearted effort to prove that lower taxes generate higher state revenues.

As the Washington Post headline put it, “Kansas Republicans Raise Taxes, Ending Their GOP Governor’s ‘Real Live Experiment’ in Conservative Policy.”

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is a supply-side “true believer,” who made draconian tax cuts after assuming office in 2010, and waited with anticipation for the state’s economy to grow in response. That growth failed to materialize during his first term, but he was re-elected, and he continued stubbornly waiting–still a true believer– as Kansas’ deficit grew to over a billion dollars and basic services were cut.  Education, mental health, healthcare–all took huge hits.

Members of his own party called for an end to the “experiment,” and joined Democrats in passing a bill to increase taxes. Brownback vetoed it. The legislature subsequently overrode that veto; in the end, eighteen of the state’s 31 GOP senators and 49 of the 85 Republican members of the House voted against the governor.

Under Brownback, as has been widely reported, the pace of economic expansion in Kansas has consistently lagged behind that of the rest of the country. What is particularly telling is the very different experience of Minnesota, where a Democratic Governor elected at the same time as Brownback raised taxes and substantially increased education spending, and where by 2015 there were multiple reports like this:

Since 2011, Minnesota has been doing quite well for itself. The state has created more than 170,000 jobs, according to the Huffington Post. Its unemployment rate stands at 3.6% — the fifth-lowest in the country, and far below the nationwide rate of 5.7% — and the state government boasts a budget surplus of $1 billion. Forbes considers Minnesota one of the top 10 in the country for business.

Despite the fact that Brownback’s experiment in Kansas has failed so spectacularly, its tax cuts remain the blueprint for the Trump Administration and for “true believers” like Paul Ryan. As the Post article puts it,

The principles Trump endorsed during the campaign and in the early stages of his presidency are broadly similar to those enacted in Kansas. As Brownback did, Trump has proposed bringing down marginal rates, getting rid of brackets and giving a new break to small businesses.

That is no coincidence, since Brownback is well connected to the Republican policymaking establishment in Washington. Trump and Brownback have shared economic advisers, and when Brownback was a U.S. senator, Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), now the speaker of the House, served as his legislative director.

There’s a pattern here.

Today’s Republicans–unlike the sober and prudential members of the party to which I once belonged–are simply impervious to evidence.

They continue to insist that raising the minimum wage will depress employment, ignoring the fact that cities that have raised the wage have seen job growth and increased economic activity.

They ignore rigorous studies by (genuine) conservatives showing that so-called “welfare reform”–far from being a great success, as they routinely proclaim –has diverted funds from programs to help struggling Americans (who are, if anything, worse off) and used the money to plug state budget holes and compensate for tax cuts for the wealthy.

They stubbornly insist that tax cuts will generate economic growth, and that their repeated, demonstrable failure to do so is because we just haven’t cut deeply enough, or waited long enough.

These are the same people who dismiss climate change as a hoax, but tell us that if it turns out to be real, God will take care of it. They’re the same folks who agree with Jeff Sessions that the drug war would work if we’d just increase the penalties for smoking weed.

With these people, ideology consistently trumps experience. (What are you going to believe? Conservative political doctrine or your lying eyes?)

I’m beginning to think these people would go to a doctor who told them what they wanted to hear even if that doctor’s patients all died…

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

In an article written for the Atlantic, James Fallows compares the current Administration’s Russia scandal with Watergate, and provides reasons for his conclusion that this one is actually worse.

Worse for and about the president. Worse for the overall national interest. Worse in what it suggests about the American democratic system’s ability to defend itself.

Fallows begins by deconstructing the adage that the coverup is always worse than the crime; as he points out, what Nixon and his allies were trying to do falls under the category of “dirty tricks.” It was a bungled effort to find incriminating or embarrassing information about his political enemies,  and the adage held: the crime really wasn’t as bad as the subsequent illegal efforts to cover it up.

And what is alleged this time? Nothing less than attacks by an authoritarian foreign government on the fundamentals of American democracy, by interfering with an election—and doing so as part of a larger strategy that included parallel interference in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and elsewhere. At worst, such efforts might actually have changed the election results. At least, they were meant to destroy trust in democracy. Not much of this is fully understood or proven, but the potential stakes are incomparably greater than what happened during Watergate, crime and cover-up alike.

Fallows enumerates other differences: As he points out, “even in his stonewalling, Nixon paid lip service to the concepts of due process and check and balances.” As I have previously posted, to the extent Trump even understands those concepts, he is contemptuous of them.

Nixon was “paranoid, resentful, bigoted, and a crook.” But as Fallows reminds us, he was also deeply knowledgeable, strategically adept and publicly disciplined. Trump…well, supply your own descriptors; Fallows is more reserved than I would be, settling for impulsive, ignorant and uncontrollable.

Most troubling, however, aren’t the differences between these two deeply flawed men. As Fallow’s notes, the social and political contexts within which they rose to power are dramatically different.

When Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox,

Within the space of a few hours, three senior officials—Richardson, Ruckelshaus, and Cox—had all made a choice of principle over position, and resigned or been fired rather than comply with orders they considered illegitimate. Their example shines nearly half a century later because such a choice remains so rare….

The Republicans of the Watergate era stuck with Richard Nixon as long as they could, but they acted all along as if larger principles were at stake…

On the merits, this era’s Republican president has done far more to justify investigation than Richard Nixon did. Yet this era’s Republican senators and members of congress have, cravenly, done far less. A few have grumbled about “concerns” and so on, but they have stuck with Trump where it counts, in votes, and since Comey’s firing they have been stunning in their silence.

Charlie Sykes, who formerly hosted a conservative radio call-in show,  recently summed up the reasons for that silence, and the differences between then and now.

If there was one principle that used to unite conservatives, it was respect for the rule of law. Not long ago, conservatives would have been horrified at wholesale violations of the norms and traditions of our political system, and would have been appalled by a president who showed overt contempt for the separation of powers.

Sykes gives a number of examples supporting his thesis that conservatism is being eclipsed by a visceral tribalism: Loathing those who loathe the president. Rabid anti-anti-Trumpism. Rooting for one’s “team,” not one’s principles.  As he concludes,

As the right doubles down on anti-anti-Trumpism, it will find itself goaded into defending and rationalizing ever more outrageous conduct just as long as it annoys CNN and the left.

In many ways anti-anti-Trumpism mirrors Donald Trump himself, because at its core there are no fixed values, no respect for constitutional government or ideas of personal character, only a free-floating nihilism cloaked in insult, mockery and bombast.

Needless to say, this is not a form of conservatism that Edmund Burke, or even Barry Goldwater, would have recognized.

Conservative political philosophy has been replaced with racist and classist resentments. Donald Trump is President because he is very good at exploiting those resentments. In that sense, and that sense only, he has channelled–and perfected–Nixon.

Truer Words Were Never Spoken

A column by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post is unkind, but deadly accurate.

Actually, the subhead says it all: Trump is crazy. What’s Pence’s excuse?

Cohen’s lede:

When history holds its trial to account for the Donald Trump presidency, Trump himself will be acquitted on grounds of madness. History will look at his behavior, his erratic and childish lying and his flamboyant ignorance of history itself and pronounce the man, like George III, a cuckoo for whom restraint, but not punishment, was necessary. Such will not be the case for Mike Pence, the toady vice president and the personification of much that has gone wrong in Washington.

On any given day, Pence will do his customary spot-on imitation of a bobblehead. Standing near Trump in the Oval Office, he will nod his head robotically as the president says one asinine thing after another and then, maybe along with others, he will be honored with a lie or a version of the truth so mangled by contradictions and fabrications that a day in the White House is like a week on LSD.

Those of us who have known Pence prior to his unlikely ascension to the Vice-Presidency aren’t surprised by his acquiescence; Pence is not particularly intelligent, thoughtful or self-aware. The adjective Cohen uses– “toady”– is entirely apt. (In fact, when I see him doing his “bobblehead” routine, or especially when he is proclaiming his Christian piety, I always think of Dickens’ Uriah Heep–the smarmy character who was always proclaiming his humbleness.)

What is worrisome about Mike Pence isn’t that he is, in Cohen’s words, “clueless.” It’s that he is entirely typical of today’s GOP officeholders.

I don’t feel an iota of sympathy for Pence. He was among a perfidious group of political opportunists who pushed Trump’s candidacy while having to know that he was intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit for the presidency. They stuck with him as he mocked the disabled, belittled women, insulted Hispanics, libeled Mexicans and promiscuously promised the impossible and ridiculous — all that “Day One” nonsense like how the wall would be built and Mexico would pay for it….

The president cannot be trusted. He cannot be believed. He has denigrated the news media, not for its manifest imperfections but for its routine and obligatory search for the truth. He has turned on the judiciary for its fidelity to the law and, once, for the ethnic heritage of a judge. Trump corrupts just about everything he touches.

From most of the Republican Party comes not a whisper of rebuke. The congressional leadership is inert, cowed, scurrying to the White House for this or that ceremonial picture, like members of the erstwhile Politburo flanking Stalin atop Lenin’s mausoleum. They are appalled, but mute. They want to make the best of a bad situation, I know, and they fear the voters back home, but their complicity ought to be obvious even to them.

This captures the situation perfectly. Here in Indiana, the Republicans we’ve sent to represent us in Congress are all doing their best imitation of Pence’s “bobblehead.” They’ve traded whatever honor and integrity they had (and in some cases, that wasn’t much) for more visible committee assignments and financial help from the RNC in the next campaign.

I don’t know how they sleep at night.