Tag Archives: diagnosis

And Now, COVID…

Reactions to yesterday’s announcement that the President and First Lady have both tested positive for COVID-19 have been mixed, to put it mildly. A significant number–noting that the President rarely utters anything related to the truth–suggested it was another attempt at disinformation and/or distraction.

For those who accepted the accuracy of the announcement, most of what I have seen–especially on Facebook–invoked the concept of karma. To say that reactions aren’t overwhelmingly sympathetic might just be the understatement of the century. This is, after all, a President who has shown absolutely no concern for other people, including his own supporters. He has ignored and ridiculed advice offered by medical experts, including those in his own administration, and he has touted unproven and frequently ridiculous “cures” (ingesting bleach, anyone?). All of that is on top of the fact that he is one of the least likable people on the planet.

But quite apart from whatever our personal reactions may be,  the diagnosis raises some thorny legal and political questions, and the answers to those questions are unclear.

With a month to go until the election, Trump will quarantine for two weeks. He probably will not be able to attend the second debate–no loss there, considering the spectacle he made in the first–a consequence that will require the debate commission to decide whether to simply cancel the remaining two, or allow Biden to appear solo (unlikely).

We can already predict that Trump will attribute an election loss to his inability to hold rallies and otherwise campaign for the requisite two weeks.

Those consequences are predictable in the event that he suffers a relatively mild case of the virus. Far less predictable is what happens if this morbidly obese 74-year-old with an unhealthy diet who is known to ingest quantities of “uppers” becomes critically ill or even dies–and if so, when.

Pence has evidently tested negative thus far (“Mother” probably wouldn’t let him get too close to Hope Hicks, who presumably was the source). How sick would Trump have to get before Pence assumed the duties of the Presidency? If Trump were to become critically ill after the election but prior to January 21st, that would be one thing (and arguably not a bad thing–as vacuous and smarmy as Pence is, he’s less flat-out nuts than Trump).

The most chaotic and unpredictable set of events would be triggered by Trump’s death from COVID prior to Election Day. Would Pence automatically become the Republican nominee? Would Republican defectors be more comfortable returning to the fold if that were the case?

In a Presidency characterized by daily distractions, is this the mother of all diversions? Or does the diagnosis bring voters’ attention back to the President’s horrendous incompetence in containing the pandemic, and his obvious lack of concern for the over 200,000 Americans who have already died?

If Trump proves to have only a mild case, does he then use his own good fortune to further minimize the danger and dismiss expert advice?

I am not a praying person, and if I were, I doubt I’d find enough grace in my heart to pray for a psychopath who has done so much harm–a man with absolutely no redeeming human virtues.

I would, however, pray that his spitting and yelling during the “debate” didn’t infect Joe Biden. In fact–just in case I’m wrong and there is a personal God–I may go ahead and offer up that particular prayer. Call it covering my bases.

 

Right Diagnosis; Wrong Prescription

I know that this blog tends to reiterate certain themes, but we all have our preoccupations. Those who are regular readers will recognize a couple of mine: the importance of “hiring” (electing or appointing) government officials who actually know something about government; and the critical difference between “what should we do?” and “how should we do it?”

The election of Donald Trump and his subsequent choice of cabinet officials has pretty emphatically made the case for my first premise. (There’s a Facebook meme to the effect of “If you think anyone can run  the government, I hope your next colonoscopy is performed by a plumber.”)

My second preoccupation–the difference between “what” and “how”– remains less obvious. I thought of it, however, when I read this column by Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post. As she points out, it’s one thing to correctly diagnose a problem. It’s quite another to devise a remedy that will solve the problem rather than inadvertently making it worse.

By all means, let’s raise the living standards of workers at Amazon, Walmart, McDonald’s and other employers of low-wage Americans.

And, by all means, let’s raise Jeffrey P. Bezos’s taxes, too. The founder of Amazon (and owner of The Post) is the wealthiest man in the world. He didn’t need the tax cut that Republicans just gave people like him.

But the sloppily designed Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act (a.k.a., ahem, the “Stop BEZOS Act”) is a terrible way to do either of these things. It’s virtually guaranteed to hurt the very low-income working families its sponsors want to help.

The bill Rampell is citing addresses an issue that I’ve written about several times: some of the nation’s largest companies (including Amazon) pay their workers so poorly that taxpayers make up the difference with food stamps and other social welfare benefits.. In effect, we are paying a portion of those workers’ wages. Meanwhile, the company’s  “savings” go to shareholders as additional profit.

It’s pretty despicable, and it should stop.

The “Stop Bezos Act” would establish a “corporate welfare tax” on firms with at least 500 employees. Companies would pay a tax equal to 100 percent of the value of safety-net benefits their employees receive, including Medicaid, housing subsidies, food stamps and subsidized school lunches.

That certainly sounds good. As Bernie Sanders, the bill’s sponsor, has said,

The working families and middle class of this country should not have to subsidize the wealthiest people in the United States of America. That’s what a rigged economy is all about.

Agreed. The diagnosis is spot on. The prescription, however, would be a disaster; it would hurt the very people it aims to help, because it would discourage firms from hiring workers suspected of drawing benefits.

These workers come, disproportionately, from some of the most vulnerable populations: families with children, older people and workers with disabilities.

Families with children are much more likely to use food stamps. Older Americans who are poor are much more likely to be on Medicaid. And workers with disabilities would face even more barriers to employment under this bill than they already do.

Under this bill, Medicaid-eligible workers with disabilities or other health issues would become thousands of dollars more expensive. Working-age people over 45, who cost Medicaid about twice as much as their younger counterparts, might face even more discrimination in the job market than they already do.

The bill tries to address these issues by barring employers from asking job candidates about benefits. But firms could easily infer which applicants are more likely to get them, based on their races, genders, Zip codes, etc. Such “statistical discrimination” would be difficult to police.

Moreover, employers get information about dependents and marital status when newly hired workers fill out their HR forms. Guess which workers would be at the top of the list when it’s time to downsize?….

Perhaps worst of all, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, the bill would ultimately create a new corporate constituency to push for cuts to social programs and stricter eligibility requirements. Suddenly, reductions to Medicaid or school lunches would be directly equivalent to a corporate tax cut.

This bill would also require new oversight, probably spawn multiple lawsuits alleging discrimination, raise equal protection issues (why treat companies with 500 employees differently than those with 480?) and generate numerous new regulations.

Simply raising the minimum wage would go a long way toward solving the problem without creating perverse incentives or requiring additional bureaucracy.

Stop Bezos is a great soundbite. We should do it. How we should do it, however, matters. A lot.

Is It Him, or Us?

One thing about Donald Trump’s candidacy–his obvious psychological problems have triggered all sorts of armchair diagnoses, most centering on “classical narcissism.” I recently came across a different theory, one that will be familiar to those of us who remember male teenage classmates who constantly boasted about their “conquests.”

According to Steven Marche, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times,

The most popular candidate among white American men is a parody of American manhood. By now, we have become used to the frat-boy performance that defines Donald Trump’s candidacy: the sexual boasting, the condescending or outright insulting treatment of women, the open discussion about the size of his penis. As we approach the general election, it becomes ever more clear that Trump’s flagrant and empty machismo is not a distraction from his campaign but its substance…

The theory of masculine overcompensation has been well-established for decades, going back to Sigmund Freud’s notions of “reaction formation” and “defense mechanisms:” When men think their masculinity is in doubt, they respond by emphasizing traditional masculine traits.

This new parlor game of “Guess Trump’s diagnosis” may be fun (or in the case of James Patterson’s analysis, both persuasive and terrifying) but what this man-child’s primary success suggests for our democracy is anything but entertaining. That issue was more soberly–and insightfully–analyzed by David Frum in a recent article for the Atlantic. Frum, as you will recall, was a speechwriter for George W. Bush, but he has refused to be a “team player” more loyal to his party than to his country. The article is long, but well worth reading. One paragraph:

The television networks that promoted Trump; the primary voters who elevated him; the politicians who eventually surrendered to him; the intellectuals who argued for him, and the donors who, however grudgingly, wrote checks to him—all of them knew, by the time they made their decisions, that Trump lied all the time, about everything. They knew that Trump was ignorant, and coarse, and boastful, and cruel. They knew he habitually sympathized with dictators and kleptocrats—and that his instinct when confronted with criticism of himself was to attack, vilify, and suppress. They knew his disrespect for women, the disabled, and ethnic and religious minorities. They knew that he wished to unravel NATO and other U.S.-led alliances, and that he speculated aloud about partial default on American financial obligations. None of that dissuaded or deterred them.

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times takes on the false equivalence of those who insist that Hillary and The Donald are equally distasteful/dangerous:

All lying in politics is not created equal…. What is grating about Hillary is that her prevarications seem so unnecessary and often insult our intelligence. But they are not about existential issues. As for Trump, his lies are industrial size and often contradict each other. But there is no theory behind his lies, except what will advance him, which is why Trump is only scary if he wins. Otherwise, his candidacy will leave no ideas behind. It will just be a reality TV show that got canceled.

Trump without power is easily dismissed; there is no “there” there.

What isn’t so easily dismissed, as Frum writes in his essay, is the fact that he won the Republican primary. What should give every thinking American pause is the existence of voters willing to support a blustering and cartoonish empty suit.

That is the condition that requires a diagnosis.