Tag Archives: damage

There’s Damage And Then There’s Damage

The damage being done every day by the Trump Administration falls into two categories: that which can be reversed relatively quickly if a Democrat wins the Presidency in 2020, and that which will take much, much longer–if it can be reversed at all.

For example, Betsy DeVos is the gift that keeps on giving to for-profit “colleges” and religious voucher schools, but once she has gone–and it can’t happen soon enough–her efforts to reverse the student-centered policies of the Obama years can themselves be wiped clean.

On the other hand, there’s climate policy. We can’t recover the years we’ve lost in the increasingly critical, time-sensitive effort to keep the planet habitable. A Democratic administration will have to spend time and political capital just reversing the reversals of previous efforts to keep air breathable and water drinkable, let alone measures to halt climate change.

Most long-lasting of all–at least domestically– will be the damage done by dozens of unqualified ideologues who will sit on our federal courts for many years.

It’s hard to know the extent of the damage to America’s global relationships and reputation. Optimists believe Trump will be seen as a temporary aberration; I’m not so sure. (It sure doesn’t help when other countries see him getting away with caging children and green-lighting war crimes.)

And then, of course, there’s the damage his insane tariffs have done to the economy–especially but not exclusively to farmers. CNBC is not a “liberal” news organ; quite the contrary. So it was sobering to read the following from the CNBC website:

President Trump announced a month ago that his administration had clinched a trade deal with China. Well, actually, the first in a series of deals, which the White House now refers to as “phase one.”

Since then, countless declarations of “winning,” but agreeing to a deal only “if the terms are right,” have added to the year and half long conflicting cacophony of rhetoric about the content of any trade agreement with China.

 Bottom line? The constant bluster has blurred the reality of what a deal would even accomplish, if anything at all. The only way to shovel away the pile of broken promises and contradictory comments is to analyze the flow of maritime trade.

Why? With 90% of all items in a house transported over water, it is the purest form of showing supply and demand. The flow of trade is agnostic. It moves regardless of who is “winning” or “losing.”

And what does that “agnostic” flow show? That a deal, no matter how good, will never make up for the losses sustained during this trade war.

For a perspective on the losses, look no further than the Port of Los Angeles, the largest port in the country. U.S. exports to China from the bustling harbor decreased for 12 consecutive months. It suffered a 19.1% drop in export volume when comparing October 2019 with the same month in 2018.

 China’s retaliatory tariffs hit 96.6% of the purchases of U.S. exports that traveled through the L.A. port complex, with a price tag of $19.9 billion.

Add on the additional retaliatory tariffs from the other countries the U.S. is sparring with on trade, and that brings the total of impacted export cargo to $20.2 billion, or 28.8% of all export value through the L.A. port system. Considering 95% of the world’s consumers are outside of the U.S., the tariffs imposed on American goods have priced them out of the global marketplace.

Add to this analysis other reports strongly suggesting that America’s farmers will never recover the soybean markets they’ve lost during this trade war (other countries, after all, can grow and supply soybeans), and the picture is grim. And agriculture isn’t the only sector hurting;  CNBC says China is expanding natural gas trade with Qatar and Australia “while essentially shutting off the United States.” The retail and technology sectors have announced losses in the billions.

So as the bluster blows and promises of winning mount, the actual flow of trade paints a very different picture.

A picture that looks increasingly long-term.


Power to the People?

As Americans hold our collective breath watching an increasingly deranged Chief Executive (did you see that Cabinet meeting?), political scientists ponder the short- and long-term consequences of this unprecedented Presidency. How much damage will he do, and how long will it last?

Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution has a recent article speculating on what happens next: she describes the possibilities as 1)Trump learning and his presidency becoming more normal or at least adapting to what she delicately terms his “impulsiveness;” 2) the chaos continuing and power moving away from the presidency as a result; or 3) Trump being forced to leave office.

I suppose the good news is that any of these scenarios spells doom for Dick Cheney’s wet dream of a “unitary executive.”

If I were a gambling woman, I’d put my money on #2. The chaos will continue, and the federal government–at least the Executive Branch– will no longer be the center of domestic or international policy. Power abhors a vacuum.

As Kamarck writes,

The second model involves little learning and no adaptation. This is a model for continuing chaos, with the likely result that power will begin to drain from the White House towards other centers. For instance, power can move from the White House to the states and to the private sector. In the area of climate change, California Governor Jerry Brown has already stepped into a leadership role. It is likely that governors and corporate leaders may begin to take action regardless of what the White House thinks. Power can also move to Congress where possibilities for a limited tax bill and some infrastructure spending can move more or less without White House leadership. And internationally, power can move to the heads of Germany and France in Europe and also to China, as the United States pulls back from the world or offers leadership that is too unstable to count on. It’s unclear whether turning the presidency into a sideshow would be permanent or not. But continuing chaos from a Trump presidency could do it at least temporarily.

During the turbulent Sixties, “Power to the People” was a popular slogan, but the scenario painted in Kamarck’s second model is hardly benign. Despite Americans’ longstanding distrust of central authority, numerous aspects of our national life require a measure of uniformity if we are to remain the United States.

In normal times, we would expect Congress to step in to fill the power vacuum. That would certainly be the best-case scenario–if we had a functioning legislative branch. But we don’t. One result of the Republicans’ exceedingly thorough 2011 gerrymander was the election of what has appropriately been dubbed the “lunatic caucus,” reactionary ideologues and culture warriors uninterested in the nitty-gritty details of governance and unacquainted with the concepts of pluralism or the common good. They are “led”–to the limited extent they are tractable–by men who have elevated party over country and power over the rule of law.

Devolving power to the states can help to ameliorate some of the immediate damage being done to American institutions, but the only real solution I see is a “wave” election in 2018 that gives us a Democratic Congress capable of containing Trumpism.

The 64 Thousand Dollar Question is whether the Democrats can get their act together, recruit responsible and attractive candidates, and forgo their usual intra-party fratricide.

The whole world is watching….