Tag Archives: Trump

Corruption And The Piety Party

Over the past few years, surveys have documented the growth of the so-called “nones”–Americans who have abandoned religion. Some are atheists or agnostics, others simply see religion as irrelevant to their lives. For many, that irrelevancy is the result of distaste for the hypocrisy and amoral behaviors of many self-described “pious” people.

I thought about the distance between ostentatious religiosity and ethical behavior when I read a Dana Milbank column in the Washington Post, titled “The Unimpeachable Integrity of the Republicans.”The GOP, as we all know, has become the piety party–Vice-President Mike Pence is its perfect, smarmy embodiment.

Milbank wasn’t addressing Republican faux religiosity–he was just marveling at the efforts of deeply dishonest Representatives to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. As he noted, tongue-in-cheek, the charges are serious: inappropriately redacting lines in documents turned over to Congress by the Justice Department, and explaining the legal basis upon which the department is declining to produce others. Horrific behavior! I may swoon…

Redacting the price of a conference table is clearly a far more serious offense than those committed by other members of the Trump Team: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been accused by former associates of stealing roughly $120 million; former EPA Chief Pruitt got a bargain condo rental from a lobbyist’s wife, used his job to find work for his wife and had taxpayers buy him everything from a soundproof phone booth to  moisturizing lotion.

Who else doesn’t merit impeachment?

Not the former national security adviser who admitted to lying to the FBI,not the former White House staff secretary accused of domestic violence, not the presidential son-in-law who had White House meetings with his family’s lenders, not the housing secretary accused of potentially helping his son’s business, not the many Cabinet secretaries who traveled for pleasure at taxpayer expense, not the former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director who bought tobacco stock while in office.

And certainly not the president, whose most recent emolument bath was poured by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince: Bookings by his highness’s entourage spurred a spike in the quarterly revenue at the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan.

None of these “public servants” generated the indignation being focused on Rosenstein the Redactor.

Milbank helpfully described the pious paragons so determined to expel this scofflaw from governance–the same Republicans “so above reproach” that one of their first votes was an attempt to kill the House ethics office. He began by identifying some who are regretfully  no longer available:

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), an obvious candidate, resignedover his use of public funds to settle a sexual-harassment lawsuit.

Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.), another ideal choice, resigned after word got out of a sexual-harassment settlement with a staffer the married congressman called his “soul mate.”

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) also can’t be of use. He resignedover allegations that he urged his mistress to seek an abortion.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) likewise won’t be available. He quit when a former aide alleged that he offered her $5 millionto have his child as a surrogate.

But never fear–as Milbank demonstrates, the GOP has a truly impressive bench.

There’s Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who remains “tentatively available” despite his arrest this week for insider trading, along with the five other House Republicans who invested in the same company but haven’t been charged yet. There’s also Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), “assuming he has free time”–he’s battling allegations that he covered up sexual misconduct when coaching at Ohio State.

Others who could judge Rosenstein: Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), who pleaded guilty to assault after body-slamming a reporter; Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who is retiring after a naked photograph of him leaked online; and Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), who is under investigation by the FBI over the alleged use of campaign funds for his children’s tuition, shopping trips and airfare for a pet rabbit.

Nunes himself is battling allegations that he got favorable terms on a winery investment and used political contributions to pay for basketball tickets and Las Vegas trips.

Eighty-one percent of white Evangelicals voted for Trump, and research suggests their support for him and his band of thugs and thieves remains strong. No wonder people who actually care about ethics and morality are repelled by “faith.”

The Politics Of Resentment

It doesn’t take a genius–or even a person of above-average observational skill–to understand what motivates Donald Trump’s policy preferences. If Barack Obama was for it, he’s against it. His seething resentment of his predecessor is as painfully obvious as his disinterest in (and ignorance of) public policy, or his blatant cronyism.

Did Obama want to protect the environment? Well, then screw the environment.

This week, the Trump administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which, if finalized, would cast aside the commitment made by President Bush and President Obama to increase fuel economy and reduce pollution. In doing so, the administration is on a path that could needlessly upend a settled regulatory framework that has brought together disparate interests, delivered predictability to automakers, improved cars, and reduced pollution. As such, the proposed new rules run counter to what Ford, General Motors, and others across the industry have consistently advocated. In fact, industry and the state of California appear largely aligned on how to proceed in resetting fuel-efficiency standards, and the only missing player is the Trump administration, despite the president’s prior direction to his team to negotiate.

Scholars with The Brookings Institution have called for a “dialogue” on the proposed rule making. They emphasize three “key points”: the proposed changes break with the bipartisan history of the program; the proposal will hurt the auto industry; and the administration has relied upon a range of very questionable assumptions that defy common sense (um..what else is new?), in order to justify its proposal.

They also point out that none of the stakeholders involved support the administration’s initiative.

The U.S. auto industry represents 3.5 percent of U.S. GDP and is responsible for 7 million direct and indirect American jobs. Freezing the standards will undermine investments by auto manufacturers and their suppliers, harming the competitiveness of the industry going forward. Research shows that when standards are set at aggressive but attainable levels, they immediately spur technological innovation, catalyze competitiveness, and support jobs. For example, a report published last year by Indiana University looking at the impact of fuel-efficiency standards estimated that investment in innovation could increase jobs by between 200,000 and 375,000 in the year 2025, and add between $138 billion to $240 billion in GDP between 2017 and 2025.

The Brookings scholars also point out that challenging California’s authority under the Clean Air Act would needlessly destabilize the consistency created by a streamlined national program.

Of course, none of this matters to an incompetent and needy President who is not only ignorant of policy (and science, and economics, and….) but who is motivated primarily by resentment of Obama, who once embarrassed him at a Correspondent’s dinner to devastating  effect.

What is undoubtedly even more galling to a man who wears his bigotry like a badge is that Obama has the effrontery to be an immensely popular black man whose personal, intellectual and cultural superiority to Donald Trump is glaringly obvious. The one and only consistent thread in Trump’s “policy agenda” is destruction of the hated black guy’s legacy.

If that destruction requires despoiling the planet, well, so be it.

 

 

Did Your Health Insurance Premium Go Up? Thank Donald Trump

There’s a reason the Republicans are frantically trying to load the federal bench–including the Supreme Court– with ideological conservatives: given Congress’ refusal to discharge its constitutional duty to oversee the executive branch, the courts are the only recourse for Americans opposed to the criminal enterprise that is the Trump Administration.

There are currently hundreds of challenges to that administration making their way through the courts, and a number of them are critically important. One of those involves the “take care” portion of the chief executive’s job description–the duty to “faithfully execute” the laws of the land.

People who depend on the Affordable Care Act–and all citizens who believe that Presidents have such a duty –should be rooting for the success of a lawsuit recently filed by four cities. 

Vox introduced its report on that lawsuit thusly:

Abbe Gluck argued, in October 2017, that President Trump’s “sabotage” of the Affordable Care Act violated his duty under the Constitution to ensure laws passed by Congress are executed. This week four cities — Baltimore, Chicago, Columbus, and Cincinnati —filed a suit making that very claim.

Here’s the essence of the argument:

Modern American history has never seen as full-scale an effort to sabotage a valid law as we have with President Trump and the Affordable Care Act — a law whose legality has been upheld twice by the US Supreme Court.

The president has a legal obligation, under Article II of the US Constitution, to “take Care that the laws be faithfully executed.” That means he must make sure that our laws are implemented in good faith and that he uses his executive discretion reasonably toward that end.

His agencies likewise have a legal obligation, under the Administrative Procedure Act — the statute that sets the rules for our entire federal regulatory apparatus — not to use their power to engage in arbitrary action.

The intentional, multi-pronged sabotage of the ACA that we have seen during Trump’s presidency — reaching new heights since attempts by Congress to repeal the law failed — violates both Trump’s constitutional obligations and quite possibly the obligations of his Department of Health and Human Services.

Like the pending lawsuits alleging violations of the Emoluments Clause, the take care clause has rarely–if ever–been the basis of a lawsuit.  At least in modern times, it certainly hasn’t been the basis of a case against a president, and that is entirely understandable: most legal scholars agree that presidents need a fair amount of discretion in enforcing the laws. Demonstrating that the person in the Oval Office is purposely undermining a law rather than exercising discretion is extremely difficult. Usually.

But this, of course, is Donald Trump–idiot extraordinaire. Far from masking his motives (making proof difficult),  he has trumpeted and tweeted them.

The ACA requires the federal government to support the open enrollment period — in which individuals must sign up for insurance or lose their chance to do so. The ACA requires the federal government to, among other things, maintain a website and work with local “navigators” and other groups to educate consumers and encourage them to sign up for insurance.

Trump instead set out to make open enrollment a failure.

He cut the enrollment period in half, from three months to six weeks. He shut down the federal enrollment website for nearly 12 hours every Sunday during the period — a crucial window when working Americans might enroll. He has canceled already- scheduled events in which federal officials had planned to visit states and help with enrollment. He cut advertising for enrollment by 90 percent, from $100 million to $10 million, even though his administration charged insurers on the exchanges user fees to generate money for that same advertising. (Those fees far exceeded $10 million.)

One day before the new budget year began on September 1, he announced a 40 percent cut to those navigator programs — after promising them $60 million in grants in May, and afterhis administration had said it would support navigators in order to partly offset the obstacles erected by the curtailed enrollment period.

Why would President Trump want to stifle open enrollment? Because that would seriously weaken the ACA’s insurance markets, which require a mix of healthy and sick customers to be stable. In line with that ambition, he also signed an executive order last week that directs his agencies to consider policies that would allow the sale of new group and short-term plans lacking many ACA protections. These alternative plans are likely to pull even more healthy individuals out of the insurance markets.

The same day, Trump announced his plan to cut off important cost-sharing payments that the ACA promises to insurers to compensate them for reducing what individuals have to pay in premiums…  creating extreme instability in the insurance industry… And Trump made clear that his goal in cutting off the funds was to harm he law. He tweeted the same day the policy was announced: “ObamaCare is causing such grief and tragedy for so many. It is being dismantled …”

Knowledgable observers calculate that premiums would have declined this year, rather than increasing, if not for Trump’s sabotage. That’s bad enough, but if a President can get away with eviscerating rather than enforcing valid laws with which he personally disagrees, the rule of law becomes meaningless.

 

Sinclair Media Encounters A Roadblock

In late July, the Washington Post ran a story that was tantalizing by virtue of what it omitted.

The paper reported that the FCC had raised substantial questions about Sinclair Broadcasting’s proposed merger with Tribune Media. In prior years, “substantial questions” by the FCC have been enough to derail proposals, and I was particularly surprised because up to this point, Ajit Pai, Trump’s appointee to head the FCC, has conducted himself precisely as one would expect a Trump appointee to behave, which is to say he has been a total tool of big telecom. For example, Pai engineered the repeal of Net Neutrality–despite the fact that his predecessor had strongly supported the policy (as do huge majorities of Americans) and despite the huge number of public comments protesting the move–an “accomplishment” that undoubtedly pleased Verizon, where he had been an executive before moving to the FCC.

Trump, of course, took to Twitter to express his disagreement, tweeting in his usual peevish and childish prose:

Trump said Tuesday that it was “So sad and unfair” that the FCC, an independent agency, did not approve the merger, a $3.9 billion transaction that would create a conservative television giant that originally hoped to reach roughly 70 percent of U.S. households.

In his tweet, the president stressed how the deal would provide a “conservative voice for and of the People,” though politics are not supposed to factor into merger considerations.

“Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!” the president tweeted.

Sinclair–dubbed the worst media company you never heard of by John Oliver--is a lesser known clone of Fox News; if it were allowed to become the country’s largest broadcaster, that would vastly increase the influence of its reactionary programming by adding millions of homes to its nationwide network. (Its original proposal had the company reaching 233 stations in 108 markets.)

So far, Pai has been a reliable Trump lackey, consistently siding with big business over the consumers whose interests his agency is charged with protecting.

Pai moved to allow more consolidation among TV stations last year by restoring an FCC accounting method known as the UHF discount. Under the discount, broadcast companies can own more stations before bumping up against a national audience cap limiting their reach to 39 percent of U.S. households. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court dismissed an effort by consumer advocacy groups challenging Pai’s decision.

That court ruling is a victory for Sinclair, even as its deal undergoes legal review. The company’s merger proposal depends on the UHF discount to stay compliant with the FCC’s national audience cap; after factoring in the discount, Sinclair has said, the combined company will reach 38.9 percent of U.S. households.

Some of Pai’s critics, including Democrats in Congress, have highlighted these and other policy moves in questioning the chairman’s relationship with the conservative broadcasting giant.

Sinclair has close ties to the Trump administration. During the campaign, according to Politico, the company made a deal with Trump in which it promised positive media coverage for preferred access. (Reputable journalists they are not.) Boris Epshteyn, who worked for Trump in the White House, is a company executive.

The FCC’s sudden concern about the merger raises two questions, one of which is: why? Has Pai suddenly discovered that the purpose of the FCC is not the empowerment of Big Telecom? Is he less of a pawn than he has heretofore seemed? Is there some history between him and Sinclair that might emerge to suggest a quid pro quo that would smear his reputation if he simply rubber-stamped the proposed merger?

Inquiring minds want to know!

When the “substantial concerns” were first announced, several media outlets asked: will the clear disapproval of the twit in chief cause Pai to back off? That question is now moot; yesterday, Tribune Media called off the merger and announced a lawsuit against Sinclair.

A good result, but a very, very curious chain of events….

Boiling The Frog

Charlie Sykes is a former conservative talk-show host. Very conservative. He is also the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind, and has been one of the most articulate voices criticizing Trump and the Republicans who have been willing to trash their conservative convictions in return for deregulation, tax cuts and ideological judges.

Sykes recently had a scathing article in Time, in which he made an important point.

Political parties do not lose their souls or their identities all at once. Usually, it is a gradual process of compromises that make sense in the moment, but which have a cumulative effect — like a frog being gradually boiled.

The analogy to the frog being boiled applies to more than the transformation of a once-serious political party into a cult of crazy.

What worries me–and a whole lot of political scientists–is increasing evidence that the democratic norms we rely upon to make government work are also being slowly “boiled.” Pleas against “normalizing” Trumpism are based upon the very reasonable fear that by the end of this very abnormal Presidency, the American public will have become accustomed to the petty outbursts and childish behaviors that have embarrassed and endangered us internationally and brought our national government to a screeching halt.

As Sykes points out, Congress’ failure to   discharge its constitutional duty as a co-equal branch of government is wholly attributable to the Republican Party. He understands why:

There are obvious reasons why Republicans have been so unwilling to stand up to President Donald Trump: political tribalism, transactionalism, anti-anti-Trumpism and, yes, timidity. While expressing dismay in private, GOP officials know that the Republican base remains solidly behind Trump. In a hyper-partisan environment, standing on principle can be dangerous for your political health

The problem is, in supporting Trump, they’ve betrayed the core principles that previously defined their party.

The price of the GOP’s bargain with Trump, however, has continued to rise. Republicans in Congress now not only have to swallow Trump’s erratic narcissism, but also his assaults on the very core principles that supposedly define their politics: fiscal conservatism, free trade, the global world order, our allies, truth and the rule of law.

They know that his crude xenophobia, his exploitation of racial divisions, his chronic dishonesty, sexism and fascination with authoritarian thugs pose a long-term danger to the GOP’s ethical and electoral future. But most remain paralyzed by fear of a presidential tweet. So even when appalled by the casual and calculated cruelty of a Trump policy like separating families at the border, few speak out. And despite expressions of dismay, it seems unlikely that Congress will take any meaningful action to confront Trump’s appeasement of Russia’s Vladimir Putin or to limit this President’s power to launch destructive trade wars. This reticence to challenge Trump is especially striking, given Trump’s propensity for caving on issues like paying for The Wall, when Congress refuses to budge.

Ultimately, as Sykes demonstrates, we’re back to boiling that frog:

Yet what Republicans in Congress have found is that rubber-stampism can be addictive and all-consuming; every time they allow a line to be crossed, it is harder to hold the next one, even if that next one is more fundamental. Republicans have made it clear that they have no intention of providing a meaningful check on Trump, and the next Congress could be even worse: from Georgia to Wisconsin, GOP candidates are vying with one another in their pledges of fealty to Trump rather than to any set of ideas.

This reality is what makes the upcoming midterm elections so critical. Whatever differences we may have with the various candidates running as Democrats, voting for Republicans who have pledged their fealty to Trump–or failing to vote– should be unthinkable. Whatever their deficits, the Democrats are still a political party. Today’s GOP is a dangerous, irrational White Nationalist cult.

As Sykes puts it:

Unfortunately, it’s hard not to see this as a watershed. Republicans have not only ceded ground to the President, they have done so at profound cost to the norms of liberal constitutional democracy. Power ceded is difficult to get back; moral authority squandered is often lost forever. (See: the acceptance of presidential lies, embrace of incivility and indifference to sexual misconduct.)

The problem here is not merely political, but also constitutional. The failure of Republicans to hold Trump accountable underlines what seems to be the growing irrelevance of Congress as a co-equal branch of government.

I have major policy disagreements with Charlie Sykes–and with Steve Schmidt, George Will, Jennifer Rubin, Peter Wehner, David Frum and the many, many other principled conservatives who have spoken out strongly against Trump and his corrupt and thuggish administration. But I respect their intellectual integrity.

If America is ever to have a responsible conservative party again, they will be the people who build it.