Tag Archives: Trump

Well–For Once, He’s Been Honest, Even If Accidentally

As if being confined to our homes–or worse, going to essential jobs and worrying whether we were inevitably going to contract the Coronavirus–wasn’t stressful enough, those of us who follow such things watch in frustration as the Trump Administration reverses environmental protections and amasses powers the Constitution previously denied to the Executive branch.

Not to mention increasing worries about the upcoming election.

It is beginning to look as if  mandatory social distancing will extend right through what should be campaign season, and disrupt the ability of millions of Americans to vote in November. Republicans may have demonstrated their utter inability to govern in the public interest, but political observers are well aware of their consummate skills in vote suppression–their ability to use any disruption, any excuse, to keep people from the polls.

The one bright spot is the jaw-dropping idiocy of Trump himself. (As a friend frequently reminds me, just think how much more harm he could do if he had an IQ or was even minimally competent.) As the Guardian recently reported, 

Donald Trump admitted on Monday that making it easier to vote in America would hurt the Republican party.

The president made the comments as he dismissed a Democratic-led push for reforms such as vote-by-mail, same-day registration and early voting as states seek to safely run elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Democrats had proposed the measures as part of the coronavirus stimulus. They ultimately were not included in the $2.2tn final package, which included only $400m to states to help them run elections.

“The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump said during an appearance on Fox & Friends.

Talking Points Memo also commented on the admission.

You’re not supposed to say the quiet parts out loud, Mr. President!

On Monday morning, President Donald Trump told the co-hosts of “Fox and Friends” that House Democrats had tried to include “crazy” proposals in the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package that passed last week, including measures aimed at easing the voting process for Americans during the coronavirus outbreak.

It isn’t that We the People have been unaware that the country has millions more Democrats than Republicans. The Electoral College is fiercely defended by GOP operatives who know that it gives disproportionate influence to rural Republicans; thanks to GOP gerrymandering, Republicans dominated Congress after the 2016 election despite receiving a million and a half fewer votes than Democrats–in 2018, in order to overcome that advantage and retake control of the House, Democrats had to win by staggering percentages.

This isn’t new. The Guardian  went back to 1980.

“I don’t want everybody to vote,” Paul Weyrich, an influential conservative activist, said in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

In the wake of the Depression, Americans demanded changes to governance that shaped the America most of us grew up in. The GOP has fought most of those changes–especially those that strengthened the social safety net–and has relied heavily on voter apathy and the party’s ability to suppress the votes of minorities and poorer Americans to erase them.

There really is no debate about what sorts of policies the majority of Americans want–or about the tactics Republicans intend to employ to ensure that those policies never get implemented. Trump has admitted what every sentient person already knew.

The unanswered question is: will the current pandemic be as much of a wake-up call as the Depression?

 

 

 

Yang Was Right

The Guardian recently ran a headline that made me chuckle: “California Mayor Has Tried Universal Basic Income. His advice to Trump: Go Big.” The chuckle wasn’t due to the California Mayor’s conclusions about Universal Basic Income (UBI); it was a response to the demonstrably ridiculous idea that Trump would take advice from anyone about anything.

As federal lawmakers continued to squabble over the form of the zillion-dollar intervention(s) that are clearly required if we are to have any chance at all to avert a depression, the Mayor of Stockton, California was the latest to sing the praises of a UBI–the proposal that formed the centerpiece of Andrew Yang’s Presidential campaign.

Stockton launched a basic income experiment last year, and Michael Tubbs, Stockton’s mayor, has become an ardent advocate of providing direct cash assistance to people.

The idea of providing a universal basic income to citizens is not new, but it has found new supporters in recent years, as some tech industry leaders have embraced “UBI” as a possible response to rising inequality and a growing number of American jobs lost to automation. The Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is among the proponents of the policy; the Economic Security Project, which he co-chairs, is helping fund basic income experiments in Stockton and elsewhere.

Stockton is just the latest in a global string of experiments with no-strings cash assistance. Results of those experiments have been extremely positive, as is the early data from this one, according to the academic researchers  running the evaluation of the program.

“If you give people free cash, how do they spend it? They’re very rational about it, and they make great decisions,” said Stacia Martin-West, an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work and one of the lead researchers.

Labor leader Andrew Stern has pointed out that, with a UBI, in contrast to welfare, there’s no phase-out, no marriage penalties, no people falsifying information. And support for the concept isn’t limited to progressives. Milton Friedman famously proposed a “negative income tax,” and F.A. Hayek, the libertarian economist, wrote “There is no reason why in a free society government should not assure to all, protection against severe deprivation in the form of an assured minimum income, or a floor below which nobody need descend.”

In 2016, Samuel Hammond of the libertarian Niskanen Center, noted the “ideal” key features of a UBI: its unconditional structure avoids creating poverty traps; it sets a minimum income floor, it raises worker bargaining power without wage or price controls; it decouples benefits from a particular workplace or jurisdiction; since it’s cash, it respects a diversity of needs and values; and it simplifies and streamlines a complex web of bureaucracy, eliminating rent seeking and other sources of inefficiency.

Hammond’s point about worker bargaining power is especially important. Today’s work
environment is characterized by vestigial unions and the growth of the “gig economy.” Employee bargaining power has eroded; wages  have been effectively stagnant for years, despite significant growth in productivity. In 2018, Pew Research reported that “today’s real average wage (that is, the wage after accounting for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. And what wage gains there have been have mostly flowed to the highest-paid tier of workers.”

If the U.S. had a UBI and single payer health coverage, workers would have the freedom to leave abusive employers, unsafe work conditions, and uncompetitive pay scales. A UBI might not level the playing field–but it would sure reduce the tilt.

It is also worth noting that a UBI would have much the same positive effect on economic growth as a higher minimum wage. When poor people get money, they spend it, increasing demand.

This is all, of course, pie in the sky so long as we have a self-absorbed, monumentally ignorant, mentally-ill President, and a Republican Senate led by the irredeemably  corrupt Mitch McConnell. It remains to be seen how the Coronavirus pandemic will affect November’s election, but if these men–representing the utter detritus of humanity–are still in office in January, the lack of a rational social-safety net will be the least of our problems.

Anti-Intellectualism Will Get Us Killed

A friend sent me a Ted Talk given by Bill Gates in 2015.

If you haven’t already seen it–evidently, several million people have–you need to watch it before proceeding to the blog rant it triggered, below. It’s only slightly over seven minutes, and it’s worth it.

Are you back? Good.

As we are now learning, the Trump administration didn’t just ignore warnings from people like Bill Gates, who knows whereof he speaks because his foundation is deeply involved in issues of global health. The Trump Administration ignored alerts from medical experts, dismissed Intelligence briefings warning of the imminence of the threat, and failed to listen to warnings from Obama officials during transition briefings.

It was behavior entirely consistent with Trump’s war on intellect, science and expertise-the only war this disastrous “President” is winning, as he disassembles federal agencies retaining even a hint of expertise or effectiveness.

Talking Points Memo began a recent report with a sentence that should chill us:

The 20-year Capitol Hill veteran is gone. The 20-somethings remain.

The report detailed the abrupt resignation of Dale Cabaniss, the most recent director of  the Office of Personnel Management. (As with most agencies under Trump, senior officials change with the seasons…)

According to “several reports”garnered from the most leaky White House in most of our lifetimes, there were two reasons for the departure: first, Trump’s persistent efforts to eliminate OPM entirely, and second, the parade of seasoned officials who have been replaced with “a pack of mostly 20-somethings employed by the White House to, more or less, police political officials for loyalty to the President.”

Now, I have long maintained that it is time for generational change; I supported Mayor Pete before he dropped out of the Presidential race. But the “twenty-somethings” installed by Trump in the highest reaches of the administration are far–far–from the educated and talented members of the younger generation represented by Mayor Pete.

The “twenty-something” placed in charge of Presidential Personnel was John McEntee — a 29-year-old who used to be Trump’s body-man. (“Body man” is apparently polite-speak for “goon acting as bodyguard”) and who was only recently given his new title, more than a year after departing his previous job by Trump’s side.” The “skill” McEntee brought to his new gig? Making viral videos showing his football skills.

Axios reported in February that Trump had empowered McEntee to purge “bad people” and the “Deep State” — meaning, those who don’t sufficiently support Trump.

Since his hiring, McEntee has brought on an even less experienced coterie: First, 23-year-old George Washington University senior James Bacon.

Another temporary hire at the Presidential Personnel Office, per Politico, is John Troup Hemenway, who’s expected to graduate from the University of Virginia in December. Hemenway will reportedly help with paperwork for Defense Department political appointees.

And then there’s Anthony Labruna, an Iowa State student who was recently named a deputy White House liaison for the Department of Commerce.

And that’s where we’re left: In the midst of a global pandemic, a crisis that’s thrown the government into chaos, the experienced pro at the top of the government’s H.R. department is gone. But the shallow state that helped push her out remains.

Time to re-read Hofstadter’s classic Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, in which he investigated the roots of the deep and persistent animus toward knowledge and expertise displayed by  people like Trump–and for that matter, most of today’s GOP.

These people– who disdain as “elitists” the individuals most qualified by education and experience to address the issues we face, and who prefer to listen instead to talking heads who substitute loud certitude for knowledge–may end up being responsible for more deaths than history’s bloodiest tyrants.

 

 

 

Let Me Count The Ways…

On Facebook, Trump apologists are posting angry rebuttals to complaints about the administration’s incompetent response to the Coronavirus pandemic. You can’t blame a president for a disease! This could have happened during any administration! Your criticism is just an example of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Etc.

(I like to think of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” as an accurate description of the Dear Leader’s mental state, but I assume that isn’t what his base intends it to mean…)

Although it is absolutely true that no president can control the timing or severity of a pandemic, a paragraph in Dana Milbank’s column Thursday in the Washington Post actually, factually, described many of the ways in which the Deranged One has made this pandemic much worse for Americans than it should have been.

Milbank neglected to mention what was by far Trump’s worst decision; in his zeal to undo anything and everything his black predecessor had done, early in his administration Trump eliminated the team Obama had charged with preparing for pandemics–and he didn’t replace them, despite several warnings that such a pandemic was likely.

There was also no mention of Trump’s inexplicable–and unforgivable– refusal to accept test kits offered by WHO.

Milbank did remind readers that Trump has depleted the government of scientific expertise–something I’ve repeatedly blogged about.  He also noted that the President has done “little to heed warnings to prepare for a pandemic”– a needlessly gentle way of describing Trump’s hostility to people who know what they are talking about, and his absolute refusal to listen to anyone about anything, expert or not.

Milbank says that Trump blocked Congress from conducting meaningful oversight. That actually might be unfair; Trump is so inept when it comes to dealing with Congress, he could not have blocked oversight without the slavish assistance of Mitch McConnell (aka the most evil man in America) and the Congressional GOP. But Milbank is clearly correct about Trump’s repeated efforts to cut funding for public health and medical research, and about the way in which the chaos and constant turnover in the administration has eroded competence.

His reckless stimulus legislation during an economic boom and his badgering of the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates left few fiscal and monetary tools to stop the ongoing economic panic. His constant stream of falsehoods misled the nation about the threat of the virus and contributed to a delayed, haphazard response. His administration badly misjudged the impact of the virus and was claiming until just a couple of weeks ago that it would require no additional government spending.

Milbank is also correct when he asserts that the bungled handling of the virus is exactly the sort of mismanagement that should disqualify Trump from reelection. But tell that to the bigots and crazies who support him.

The Guardian recently had an article looking at the reaction of Trump’s far right supporters–titled, appropriately, “Disinformation and Scapegoating.”

Apocalyptic narratives – whether of societal collapse, biblical rapture, or race war – are the central way that the a spectrum of far-right movements draw in followers and resources. These narratives use fear to draw followers closer, allowing leaders to direct their followers’ actions, and maybe fleece them blind.

The article details the responses of people and groups on the fringes of politics and sanity–Alex Jones, the survivalists, the televangelists hawking “sure cures,” and Trump’s biggest fans, the Neo-Nazis.

Farther out on the neo-Nazi right, in the Telegram channels where “accelerationists” – who seek to hasten the end of liberal democracy in order to build a white ethnostate – overlap with “ecofascists” – who propose genocidal solutions to ecological problems – groups are openly talking about how to use the crisis to recruit people to terroristic white supremacy.

And of course, the far-right is feverishly concocting conspiracy theories about the causes and origins of the virus–theories that scapegoat immigrants, minorities and liberals. (Alex Jones, for example, claims that Covid-19 is a human-made bioweapon, produced by the Chinese government to bring Trump down.)

Most Americans are responding to this unprecedented challenge with generosity and kindness–looking in on neighbors, buying gift certificates from closed restaurants to provide owners with some much-needed income, sharing credible information and comfort. Then there are are the Trump apologists–those simply refusing to hold him accountable for the government’s delayed and incompetent response, and those inventing theories that absolve him of responsibility while further endangering the rest of us.

Maybe it takes a pandemic to show us who we are.

 

 

Radio, Television And Fake News

When Trump announced his ban on travel to most–but not all–European countries, commentators generally panned the move as irrelevant to containment of the virus, which is already spreading in the U.S. Whether Trump’s loyal cult will understand the uselessness of that move–or grasp the degree of incompetence being demonstrated in the face of the coronavirus pandemic–is unknown, but I’d guess it’s improbable.

What the cult won’t even see or hear about are aspects of the travel ban that certainly don’t surprise the rest of us. According to Politico

President Donald Trump’s new European travel restrictions have a convenient side effect: They exempt nations where three Trump-owned golf resorts are located.

Because of course they did.

This is what happens when stupid meets corrupt. As the article notes, residents of the exempted countries are free to live and work in the United Kingdom, meaning they could fly to the United States from a British airport as long as they hadn’t spent time in their countries of origin within the last 14 days. And as leaders of the EU have emphasized, pandemics are global crises. They aren’t limited to any continent and they require cooperation rather than unilateral action.

Meanwhile, His Idiocy has expressed an intent to continue the Hitler-like rallies where he feeds off the resentments and bigotries of the crowd. Until just the last few days, right-wing commentators had joined him in downplaying the risks and dangers of the coronavirus–which brings me to a recent paper by Yochai Benkler, a Harvard professor and co-author of Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics.

Benkler and his colleagues reviewed four million political news stories over the course of three years. They found that “the right wing media ecosystem is distinct and insular from the rest of the media ecosystem,” which hardly comes as a shock to most of us. But they also discounted the influence of the Internet, concluding (as many commenters to this blog have concluded) that radio and television are far more culpable in conveying misinformation.

“A critical implication of our findings is that it is highly unlikely that technology played a central role in causing this asymmetric media ecosystem,” he explained. “If anything, Democrats tend to be younger, and younger people tend to use online and social media more than older people. [Two separate studies found] that sharing of ‘fake news’ was highly concentrated in a tiny portion of the population, was largely done by conservatives, and interacted with age–primarily driven by people over 65. In other words, the problem of online dissemination seems to be driven by older conservatives–precisely the demographic of Fox News.”

And yet while there is plenty of sharing of fake news and other forms of deceptive propaganda online, Benkler explained, these stories only really “explode” once they appear on Fox News. If they remain solely online, the spread is limited.

Benkler attributed the phenomenon to Rush Limbaugh, whose radio show, starting in 1988, demonstrated that conservative “outrage-bait and propaganda” could generate huge profits.

By attacking the groups who sought to change society — feminists, civil rights activists — Limbaugh captivated white Christian men and tapped into their identities.

“The whole business model was not about informing, but creating a sense of shared identity,” he explained.

Despite right-wing efforts to paint false equivalencies, Fox has no leftwing counterparts–Democratic diversity defeats similar propaganda efforts on the left.

Benkler has a somewhat surprising antidote to the rightwing echo chamber.

The most recent Pew survey of news sources used and trusted by Democrats and Republicans suggests that, surprisingly, the most used and trusted sources by both centrist lean republicans and lean democrats are CBS, ABC, and NBC. It becomes critical that these outlets be particularly attentive to how they cover the news, what sort of frame they offer for propagandist pronouncement by the president, and so forth. The hard core of the Republican base who spend their days purely in Limbaugh-Hannity land are lost. But they are only enough to win a Republican primary, not repeated elections. And so the critical pathway to a more reasoned public discourse is for these core mainstream media, trusted by a substantial minority of lean-republican voters, to be ever more vigilant not to spread disinformation, not to stoke the fires, and to understand that professionalism and truth seeking do not mean neutrality when you are reporting in a highly asymmetric media ecosystem like ours. (emphasis mine)

When the pandemic is finally over, I wonder if anyone will compare coronavirus infection rates in the Trump cult to those in the fact-based population?