Tag Archives: Heather Cox Richardson

Balanced Budgets And Tax Caps

For years, it has been a GOP article of faith that the United States should pass a balanced budget amendment. Here in Indiana, Republican Governor Mitch Daniels was the driving force behind the “constitutionalization” of tax caps–adding a measure to the state’s constitution limiting state and local government’s taxing power.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed in Congress, and the federal government retained authority for the massive deficit spending needed to ease what will certainly be a major recession or a depression in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here in Indiana, we weren’t so lucky; Mitch Daniels successfully curried voter favor by decimating the ability of cities to adequately fund services and hobbling the state’s ability to meet unanticipated crises.

The average voter doesn’t recognize the different functions of constitutions and statutes, or understand why specific tax provisions of this sort don’t belong in the former.  Most Hoosiers thought it was a good idea to place tax caps in the state’s charter, making it difficult–if not impossible–to change direction if the need arose. Now, the state of Georgia–which has a similar restriction–is demonstrating just how short-sighted and damaging it is to elect people who are more concerned with politics than good policy.

From Heather Cox Richardson’s daily “Letter,”(no link, but her URL is heathercoxrichardson@substack.com) we learn about an investigation by George Chidi, a Georgia journalist and former staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Chidi examined Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbers, nail salons, restaurants, theaters, and massage therapists, among other businesses, next week.

Kemp said the businesses would be required to screen workers for illness, increase sanitation rules, separate workspaces by at least six feet, telework where at all possible, and have staggered shifts. He also said that more restrictive local rules could not override his order.

Kemp told reporters that his concern was to protect small businesses, hurt by the economic shutdown, but Chidi had a different interpretation. “It’s about making sure people can’t file unemployment,” he wrote.

The state’s unemployment fund has about $2.6 billion. The shutdown has made claims skyrocket—Chidi says the fund will empty in about 28 weeks. There is no easy way to replenish the account because Georgia has recently set a limit on income taxes that cannot be overridden without a constitutional amendment. It cannot borrow enough to cover the fund either, because by law Georgia can’t borrow more than 5% of its previous year’s revenue in any year, and any borrowing must be repaid in full before the state can borrow any more.

By ending the business closures, Kemp guarantees that workers can no longer claim they are involuntarily unemployed, and so cannot claim unemployment benefits. Chidi notes that the order did not include banks, software firms, factories, or schools. It covered businesses usually staffed by poorer people that Kemp wants to keep off the unemployment rolls. (Emphasis supplied.)

We already knew that Kemp was despicable; a man for whom the word “ethics” is clearly meaningless–as Secretary of State, he refused to recuse himself and oversaw the Gubernatorial election in which he was a candidate. By throwing out some 50,000+ registrations from African-American voters, he narrowly deprived Stacy Abrams of a victory in that race.

This effort to deprive low-income workers in Georgia of the ability to claim unemployment is equally contemptible, but it is also equally attributable to the restrictive provisions in Georgia’s constitution.

Indiana’s constitution requires a balanced budget. That requirement need not be debilitating–if the state and its subdivisions can raise taxes to meet unanticipated challenges. Thanks to Mitch Daniels, his successors in the Governor’s office are unable to do that. Governor Holcomb thus far seems like a pretty solid guy–a throwback to the kind of Republicans I used to know–so I am hopeful he won’t emulate Georgia’s Kemp.

When rightwing Congress-critters bloviated about a Balanced Budget Amendment, cooler heads pointed to the perils and prevailed. When Republicans in the Indiana statehouse crowed about putting tax caps in the constitution to “protect” taxpayers, warnings by fiscal and tax policy experts were pooh-poohed.

Politics won, sane and informed policy lost.

Isn’t there a song called “Georgia on my mind”?

Making Matters Worse….

If Trump and his sorry band of predators were simply inept–unable to govern (and certainly unable to govern in the public interest)–it would be bad enough, since  incompetence alone is causing hundreds–perhaps thousands– of unnecessary deaths.

But Trump can’t leave bad enough alone. As crowds of seriously stupid people protested “stay at home” orders in several states, he took to Twitter to encourage them–in language that has been interpreted as advocating “overthrowing” the (Democratic) governors of three of those states.

It’s never safe to attribute intent to Donald J. Trump, since most of his attempts at communication are incoherent. Nevertheless, it has been pointed out that encouraging the violent overthrow of the government may be a federal crime. (I’m sure Trump would reiterate his position that the President cannot be investigated for criminal behavior, let alone charged–a position he’s held only since becoming President. It certainly wasn’t his position when Obama–of whom he is clearly insanely jealous–was in office.)

However, as Heather Cox Richardson has written (link unavailable), there is more to it than Trump’s usual obliviousness.

Since the 1980s, the Republican Party has retained power by insisting that its leaders were defending America from dangerous “liberals,” who wanted to redistribute wealth from hardworking, religious, usually white, taxpayers, to “special interests.” In the years since President Ronald Reagan, there has been less and less nuance in that narrative and, by the time of President Barack Obama, no room to compromise. The division of the nation into “us” versus “them” has come to override any attempt at actual problem solving; Republican lawmakers simply address national problems with what their ideological narrative requires: cuts to taxes, regulation, and social welfare programs.

The coronavirus pandemic requires us to unite for our own safety, but members of the Republican Party can only see the world in partisan terms. Boston College political scientist David Hopkins notes that “The contemporary Republican Party has been built to wage ideological and partisan conflict more than to manage the government or solve specific social problems.” Republicans remain so consumed by their war on Democrats and liberals they cannot fathom working together to fight the pandemic.

Richardson sees Trump’s tweets in the context of that GOP narrative–and notes that it is a narrative constantly and wholeheartedly advanced by Fox News. As she points out, the relatively small protest against Governor Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan was not some eruption of grass-roots sentiment; it was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the DeVos family, and the reason anyone even heard about it was because right-wing media–especially Fox– hyped it.

FNC personality Jeanine Pirro said of the Michigan protesters: “God bless them, it’s going to happen all over the country.” FNC personality Laura Ingraham tweeted a video of it, saying: “Time to get your freedom back.” FNC personality Tucker Carlson interviewed a representative of the MCC on his show; the person got another interview on “Fox & Friends” the next day. Indeed, Trump’s “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” tweet came just after a program on the Fox News Channel ran a story on protests at the Minnesota governor’s office by a group called “Liberate Minnesota.”

The goal of this enterprise is to keep Republicans in office in 2020. The latest filing for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) leadership committee shows that four of the top five donors are executives for the Fox News Channel. Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch, Viet Dinh, FNC’s Legal Adviser and Policy Director, and the president of 21st Century Fox all gave $20,600.

Richardson identifies Trump’s “central political problem” as his inability to work with Democrats to implement the measures needed in a time of crisis. I think she’s being kind. I think his “central problem” is a combination of mental illness, narcissism, abysmal ignorance and stupidity. (Ignorance and stupidity are not the same thing; ignorance is an absence of information and can be remedied–stupid can’t be fixed.)

Be that as it may, however, the “central political problem” America faces is an administration composed of people with whom our mentally-ill and entirely self-regarding President feels comfortable. Its an assemblage that is both thoroughly corrupt and totally unfamiliar with the proper purposes and operations of government–  and it’s supported by a base in thrall to a “state media” that puts Pravda to shame.

We know Trump and his administration are stealing us blind; what is worse, between their daily rollbacks of environmental protections and their monumental incompetence in crisis management, they are literally killing us.

 

Politics As Identity

When the pandemic really started to hit home, Trump’s poll numbers improved–causing several commenters to this blog and friends on Facebook to express both mystification and fear.

I tend to agree with Paul Ogden’s March 28th response, analyzing this “panic bump.”  Agreement has also come from Nate Silver and from Rachel Bitecofer, writing at the Niskanen Center.  They have also  noted that Trump’s “bump” is considerably smaller than those that followed previous shocks to the political system, and that all previous examples had dissipated in fairly short order.

I worry far more about a different asset Trump enjoys–one that differs from previous situations and reflects a troubling phenomenon in American politics. As Rachel Bitecofer wrote, that “formidable asset” is today’s political polarization and hyper-partisanship, which provide Trump with a reliable (arguably unmovable) base of support, and–at least so far– has prevented a truly substantial erosion in approval ratings.

Now, the parties are largely ideologically homogenous and partisanship has evolved to become a social identity, an individual’s “ride or die,” which makes the prospect of red states breaking in favor of Biden seem unlikely, especially given the salience of white racial identity in contemporary Republican politics. In an America in which partisans are willing to inflict bodily harm on each other over politics, it seems unlikely that a mere recession, even an intense one, could move them off of their preferred presidential candidate in the ways it did prior to the polarized era, when the economic-fundamentals models, like the dinosaurs once did, ruled the Earth.

A similar analysis has made by Heather Cox Richardson, a professor of history at Boston College, in an essay comparing Trump’s “rhetorical strategy” to that described  by Eric Hoffer in 1951, in his classic book, “The True Believer.”  Hoffer argued that demagogues need “a disaffected population” composed of  people who feel they’ve lost power and status that they previously held– “that they had been displaced either religiously, economically, culturally, or politically.”

The disaffected will follow even obviously unfit leaders who promise them a return to their former privileged status.

But to cement their loyalty, the leader had to give them someone to hate. Who that was didn’t really matter: the group simply had to be blamed for all the troubles the leader’s supporters were suffering.

What is particularly chilling is the degree of devotion this strategy inspires. In an article for Salon, Chauncey DeVega interviewed a psychiatrist about Trump and his base.

Q: As in other cults, the members are in love with the leader. Trump’s followers are very damaged people. As such, whatever Trump commands them to do they will do, even if it means getting sick and dying from the coronavirus.

A: That is correct. Such a level of mass fanaticism is very disturbing, and is something that we have not seen in the United States on such a large scale. We have seen it with Jim Jones and other cults. People follow the cult leader to their doom. Of course, there was a similar type of fanaticism in Germany with Adolf Hitler. Trump’s followers really need a strong leader to make them feel safe. It could be a strong father figure, a god, anyone who is powerful enough to make them feel loved and safe.

Trump’s followers, like other cult members, also want someone who will accept their aggression and destructiveness as being good and normal. These people are devoted to Trump. That devotion is more important than anything else.

These descriptions are certainly consistent with what I have observed over the past three years. Trump’s supporters are disproportionately people who simply couldn’t abide having an African-American President, and who are terrified of being “displaced” by uppity women and detested minorities.

They will not desert him.

That means that the only way to defeat Trump and his Republican sycophants in November is to get out the vote. We cannot waste time trying to peel off damaged people from what has been accurately described as a cult. We must fight every effort at vote suppression and electoral rigging, and work like we’ve never worked before to get the majority of Americans– people who haven’t made fear and/or hatred part of their identities– to the polls.