Tag Archives: Trump

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.

 

I Just Don’t Get It

It’s really getting to me.

A week or so ago, a federal court ordered Donald Trump to pay two million dollars to charities he had defrauded by using his ostensibly charitable foundation as a personal and political slush fund. Veterans were among the causes from which he stole.

Veterans.

A Facebook meme I’ve seen several times since that court order says something to the effect that “what if you lived in a country whose leader stole from charity—and no one cared? You live in that country.”

Of course, that isn’t accurate. A lot of us care. But then, there are Americans who clearly don’t–Americans who continue to support Donald Trump no matter what despicable things he does– and for the life of me, I can’t understand why.

I realize that most people who support Trump neither follow nor understand public policy, and are basically unaware of the dreadful policies pursued by his administration. They also aren’t watching the Impeachment hearings–they’re just hearing about them from Fox.

Given all the data about civic ignorance, I can also believe that most of his “fans” don’t have the faintest idea how government works, what the Constitution requires, or how much of an assault on critical democratic norms his administration represents.

But here’s the thing.

According to polls, some 40% of voters still support Donald Trump. That’s despite an unending stream of disclosures that have been so widely reported that even people who watch Fox News could hardly have escaped hearing about them. It is virtually impossible to live in the U.S. and not know about the infamous “grab ‘em by the pussy” tape, or his payoffs to porn stars, or the numerous women who’ve accused him of sexual assault. They could not have avoided witnessing his crude, rude and ignorant behaviors, or reading at least some of the unending series of tweets in which he brags, lies and insults using ungrammatical English and misspelled words.

People who voted for him because they thought he was a businessman must now know about his multiple bankruptcies. Even if they dismiss those as “smart” strategies to avoid paying what he owed, surely his increasingly frantic efforts to hide his tax returns would have raised a question about what it is that he’s so determined to hide.

Voters and elected Republicans who still support him have rejected the Mueller Report. They’ve ignored pictures of refugee children in cages. They have refused to believe the testimony of war heroes and longtime diplomats. I could go on and on…but everyone reading this blog can supply additional examples.

Andrew Sullivan recently described the phenomenon:

“The GOP as a whole has consistently backed Trump rather than the Constitution. Sixty-two percent of Republican supporters have said that there is nothing Trump could do, no crime or war crime, no high crime or misdemeanor, that would lead them to vote against him in 2020. There is only one way to describe this, and that is a cult, completely resistant to reason or debate. The tribalism is so deep that Trump seems incapable of dropping below 40 percent in the national polls, and is competitive in many swing states. The cult is so strong that Trump feels invulnerable.”

The question is: why?

I understand partisanship, and the reluctance of people who have voted for someone to admit to themselves and others that they made a mistake. I understand the loyalty of the White Nationalists who see Trump as the Great White (Christian, male) hope. I’m even prepared to recognize that there are people who simply don’t read or listen to any news other than Fox.

But surely that isn’t forty percent of American voters.

I understood the people who wanted to have a beer with George W. Bush. He was personally pleasant, at least. Donald Trump, however, is personally repulsive—someone with no apparent redeeming characteristics. He’s a walking, bloviating example of everything American schools and churches and nonprofit organizations purport to reject. I can’t believe there are people who would want their children or grandchildren to model their behaviors on his.

So—why? Surely, 40% of our neighbors aren’t all bigots.  Could 40% of Americans actually believe Trump’s transparent lies?

My (formerly conservative Republican) brother-in-law thinks they do. He quotes Abraham Lincoln’s famous line  “you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time…”  and says that the 2020 vote for Trump will provide an exact count of the number of Americans who can be fooled all of the time.

Other theories are welcome, because I just don’t get it. I’m at a loss.

 

A Chilling Question

I’ve been mulling over a question posed by Garrett Epps in a New York Times column awhile back.

There were actually a number of questions raised by his column–can we really return to the political/cultural environment we occupied before the election of Trump? Could a Democratic president ever trust Mitch McConnell, et al, sufficiently to negotiate with them in good faith? Can voters learn to trust their government again? Have Americans believed a lie all these years? Have we bought into the “we are exceptional” rhetoric and absorbed a highly selective history in which–despite some unfortunate mistakes we needn’t dwell on– we were the good guys?

Epps starts by referencing a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorn in which “Goodman Brown” is visited by Satan, who opens his eyes to the sinfulness of Brown’s pious neighbors:

how hoary-bearded elders of the church have whispered wanton words to the young maids of their households; how many a woman, eager for widows’ weeds, has given her husband a drink at bedtime and let him sleep his last sleep in her bosom; how beardless youths have made haste to inherit their fathers’ wealth; and how fair damsels—blush not, sweet ones—have dug little graves in the garden, and bidden me, the sole guest to an infant’s funeral …

Brown is never sure whether what he has seen was a dream, or whether “the placid and pious life of his neighbors is merely a pretense.”

Epps proceeds to draw a parallel, suggesting that the admirable democratic norms we thought Americans live by have really just been a “shell game for suckers.”

As Trumpism took hold in the nation in 2015, it was regarded as a kind of temporary madness. But time has revealed that this vulgar spirit is no aberration. It was there all along; the goodly veneer was the lie.

Consider the devolution of Bill Barr, from an “institutionalist” who would protect the Department of Justice to a servant of Donald Trump. Consider the two dozen House Republicans who used physical force to disrupt their own body rather than allow government officials to testify to what they know about President Trump—because to follow the rules of the House, and the strictures of national security, would threaten their party’s grasp on power. Consider the white evangelical leaders who prated to the nation for a generation about character and chastity and “Judeo-Christian morality,” but who now bless Trump as a leader. Consider, if more evidence is needed, the unforgettable moment at the Capitol on September 27, 2018, when Brett Kavanaugh dropped forever the mask of the “independent judge” to stand proudly forth as a partisan figure promising vengeance against his enemies….

These are not victims crazed by “polarization” or “partisanship” or “gridlock” but cool-headed political actors who see the chance to win long-sought goals—dictatorial power in the White House, partisan control of the federal bench, an end to legal abortion and the re-subordination of women, destruction of the government’s regulatory apparatus, an end to voting rights that might threaten minority-party control, a return to pre-civil-rights racial norms. The historical moment finds them on a mountaintop; all the kingdoms they have sought are laid out before them, and a voice says, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”

Epps accepts that Trump is more likely than not to be defeated in 2020, and that in any event, he’ll leave office at some point. But then comes the chilling question–a question to which I still don’t have anything near a satisfactory answer.

What then? Like young Goodman Brown, can Americans unsee the lawless bacchanal of the past three years? Can they pretend it did not happen, and that the fellow citizens who so readily discarded law and honesty never did so?…Can we go back to the world before Trump—and before Brett Kavanaugh and Mitch McConnell, before Bill Barr and Rudy Giuliani, before an invasion of a secure facility at the Capitol, before babies were torn from their mothers and caged, before racist rhetoric from the White House and massacres at a synagogue and an El Paso Walmart—to a world of political cooperation, respect for norms, and nonpolitical courts?

How?

 

 

 

Old McDonald Had A Subsidy

Like many of you, I get all sorts of newsletters, from a variety of sources. A recent report about farm incomes, from this issue of Axios Markets, made me take a deep breath, because I’m old enough to remember the Republican Party that no longer exists.

That iteration of the GOP would have screamed bloody murder had a President imposed tariffs; defense of free trade was (forgive the pun) a party trademark. Those Republicans would have pointed to all the readily-available evidence of the negative effects of tariffs, including but not limited to the fact that they are paid for by consumers in the nation that levies them.

That GOP was also a champion of genuine capitalism, and an (admittedly selective)  opponent of corporate welfare.

That GOP did scream bloody murder when President Barack Obama “bailed out” American auto companies. Never mind that we were just coming off the “Great Recession,” or that thousands of American jobs were at stake, or that the funds were structured as loans, not giveaways. They continued to criticize the decision even after it was clear that the intervention had worked, and even after the companies completely repaid the loans.

But I haven’t heard a peep from any of today’s Republicans about the mounting subsidies to farmers–subsidies meant to compensate them for losses entirely caused by Trump’s tariffs. Those subsidies are now larger than the amounts lent to automakers.

Here’s the information from Axios Markets that set me off:

What’s happening: U.S. farmers have been suffering this year. Chapter 12 bankruptcies have risen 24% over the previous year and farm debt is projected to hit a record high $416 billion.

While farm income is expected to reach its highest total since 2014, 40% of that income will come from trade assistance, disaster assistance, the farm bill and insurance indemnities, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

What we’re hearing: That’s “definitely not the normal,” Farm Bureau chief economist John Newton tells Axios. The $28 billion bailout package for farmers that President Trump signed earlier this year has “increased the percentage to a level we’ve not seen in a while.”

So let’s see.  The party that believes in capitalism and markets–the party that counsels poor folks to suck it up and avoid ” welfare dependency”–is perfectly fine with government dollars supplying 40% of farm income.

The party of free trade has no problem with disruptive tariffs that interrupted farmers’ existing markets (many of which are unlikely to come back once this episode is over–other countries grow soybeans) so that their “leader” could look like the “tough guy” he clearly isn’t, and they’re hunky-dory with using billions of taxpayer dollars to compensate the people their idiocy injured.

Chinese imports of U.S. agricultural products totaled $24 billion in 2017 and peaked at $29 billion in 2013, according to U.S. government data. Imports fell to $9 billion last year as a result of the trade war.

Trump insists that he’ll make a new deal under which China will buy “40 to 50 billion”  dollars of American farm products annually. As the Axios report notes, we’ve heard that song about an impending “great deal” before–and each time, Trump has had to pull back.  Peterson Institute senior fellow Jeffrey Schott has opined that, even  if a deal is signed, it’s unlikely that either side could deliver on its bloated promises to sharply increase US farm exports to China to $50 billion annually, “or anywhere near that total.”

Of course not.

Sentient Americans understand that virtually all of Trump’s pronouncements are untethered to reality–that they come straight from the fantasy universe he inhabits. What we don’t understand is where all those free-trade, fiscally-conservative, pro-market Republicans have gone.

I guess those policy preferences were less important than supporting a “leader” who promised them the continued dominance of straight white Christian males….

 

Talk About Conflicts Of Interest….

A recent report issued by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) finds that President Trump has 2,300 conflicts of interest. (For some reason, I’m having trouble linking to the report, but it’s easily Googled.)

We see a number of vague accusations of this administration’s “corruption,” but that all-encompassing description doesn’t tell us what the improprieties are, or why the behaviors are unethical. As a result, we are in danger of normalizing them.

The most common definition of a conflict of interest is a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity. CREW puts meat on the bare bones of that definition. The report begins with an explanation of the importance of divestment and the reasons for it.

Prior to President Trump, every modern president divested their business interests before entering office. For decades, this norm of presidential conduct has served as an important signal for both Republican and Democratic administrations to show that, as the nation’s most powerful and prominent public servant, the president would not put personal financial interests before the interests of the country. Divestiture also served as an assurance to the public that the president would not open himself up to undue influence from special interests and foreign governments that might use his businesses as a way to curry favor with him and his administration.

And Trump?

The president has visited his properties 362 times at taxpayer expense during his administration, sometimes visiting multiple properties in a single day. The number of days he’s spent time at a Trump-branded property account for almost a third of the days he’s been president.

One-hundred eleven officials from 65 foreign governments have visited a Trump property.

CREW has recorded 630 visits to Trump properties from at least 250 Trump administration officials. Ivanka Trumpand Jared Kushner are the most frequent executive branch officials to visit Trump properties, other than the president himself. Jared has made 28 known visits, while Ivanka has made 23.

Members of Congress have flocked to President Trump’s properties: 90 members of Congress have made 188 visits to a Trump property.

President Trump has used the presidency to provide free publicity for his properties, which he still profits from as president. As president, Trump has tweeted about or mentioned one of his properties on 159 occasions, and White House officials have mentioned a Trump property 65 times, sometimes in the course of their official duties.

Political groups have spent $5.9 million at Trump properties since President Trump took office. In more than a decade prior to his run for president, Trump’s businesses never received more than $100,000 from political groups in a single year.

Foreign governments and foreign government-linked organizations have hosted 12 events at Trump properties since the president took office. These events have been attended by at least 19 administration officials.

There is much more.

Trump’s behavior has been a truly shocking departure from that of previous presidents, but in all fairness, the expectation that government officials will avoid both conflicts and the appearance of conflicts has been eroded over the years by practices in the Senate.

An article a few weeks ago in The Guardian focused on those practices.

As they set national policy on important issues such as climate change, tech monopolies, medical debt and income inequality, US senators have glaring conflicts of interest, an investigation by news website Sludge and the Guardian can reveal.

An analysis of personal financial disclosure data as of 16 August has found that 51 senators and their spouses have as much as $96m personally invested in corporate stocks in five key sectors: communications/electronics; defense; energy and natural resources; finance, insurance and real estate; and health.

The majority of these stocks come from public companies, and some are private.

Overall, the senators are invested in 338 companies – including tech firms such as Apple and Microsoft, oil and gas giants including ExxonMobil and Antero Midstream, telecom companies including Verizon, and major defense contractors such as Boeing – in the five sectors as categorized by Sludge.

As the article noted, this ownership is not illegal, but such investments raise real questions about lawmakers’ motivations.

We have a lot of work to do.

In 2020, Americans’ first priority must be delivery of an overwhelming, crushing defeat to Trump and the obsequious Republicans who continue to enable him.

Our second must be a wholesale “clean up” of government– reform of electoral systems and governmental structures that facilitate unethical behavior, from state-level gerrymandering and voter suppression, to Senate-level conflicts of interest.