Memoirs of the Addams Administration 8 May 2019.

Can President Donald Trump be re-elected in 2020?

Well, according to a recent poll, 55 percent of voters claim that they will not vote for Trump.[1]  So, no, Trump can’t be re-elected.      Democracy may do what the Democrats could not: force Donald Trump out of the White House.  Still, count no man happy until he is dead.

There are “Never Trump” Republicans.  A recent poll reported that 15 percent of self-identified Republicans claim that they won’t vote for Trump in 2020.  These dissident Republicans can’t turn a Senate election, but “en masse” they might help to provide a margin of victory in a presidential election.  Arguably, the Democrats will need to mobilize every anti-Trump vote to win back the White House.  What if these Republican dissidents sit-out the election in disgust?  Many Republicans did just that in the special election held to replace Senator Jeff Sessions (R—Alabama).  A Democrat won.  Where is that sweet spot between winning some Republican votes and not driving many of them off the sidelines into the arms of Trump as the least-worst alternative?  Right hard to say at this moment.

One issue might be health-care.  About 160 million Americans have private health insurance.  According to one poll, a substantial majority of them (58 percent) oppose eliminating private health insurance in favor of Senator Bernie Sanders’ “VA for All” campaign platform.[2]  However, leaving aside my cheap shot at Sanders, the problem may be with the messaging.  Sanders needs to explain that co-pays and deductibles will disappear in return for tax increases.  He needs to explain that a national health insurance system will be able to drive down costs by bargaining with pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, and—most of all—doctors.  IF voters can be persuaded that government control will lead to better outcomes at lower cost, then they might well go for it.  IF government can stick with its plan, then voters might well stick with it.

Another might be the economy.[3]  One poll reported that better than to-thirds (71 percent) of people “rate the nation’s economic conditions favorably.”  In Spring 2019, it is booming.  Both inflation and unemployment are low, wages are finally rising, the trade deficit has narrowed, and productivity has started to increase.  In some minds, this promises rising living standards and low inflation.  The stock market is one, not very reliable, measure of economic conditions.  It has been rising.  Obviously, many facts and statistics can be interpreted in different ways.  Thus, the rise in housing prices is bad for buyers, especially first-time buyers, but it’s good for sellers.  Many of those sellers will be older Americans looking to down-size while realizing their capital gains.  These are the very people most likely to be put off by the leftward shift among some Democrats.

Divisions within the Democratic Party have opened between its “progressive” wing and its mainstream.  Which group better represents the mass of Democrats and is most likely to pull independent voters in a general election?  Joe Biden, but he has to get through the primaries.  By then his own positions may have become explicitly “progressive” as the price of admission.[4]

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 17.

[2] Richard North Patterson, “Single-payer could doom Democrats,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 12.

[3] “Economy: A business boom defies the forecasts,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 34.

[4] “Biden: Democrats’ best hope to beat Trump?,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 6.

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Memoirs of the Addams Administration 14.

The historian Fernand Braudel distinguished between long term trends and the “mere history of events.”  It’s a useful concept to bear in mind when analyzing political developments.  However, Braudel would be the first to admit that events can illustrate trends.

As early as the 1950s, Democrats turned to seeking changes in the law through the courts when they could not obtain them through the legislature.  Two can play at this game.  Both parties have spent a great deal of effort getting “their” judges on the bench while blocking the other guys’ judges from getting on the bench.  Polarization has only made the problem more obvious.  In 2013, when last in the majority, Senate Democrats chose to get rid of the filibuster for all judicial appointments below the level of the Supreme Court.  When Justice Antonin Scalia died, President Obama nominated a highly qualified Democratic replacement; Senate Republicans refused to even hold hearings on the nominee.  Now in the minority, Senate Democrats chose to filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court and Republicans chose to do away with the filibuster.[1]  This unhappy event is merely the most recent phase in the politicization of the judiciary.  The mind reels at possible future developments.

Human-caused climate change is a reality.  So, too, is the halting effort by industrial countries to limit the further emission of pollutants that cause that climate change.  So, too, are the social and economic costs of fighting climate change in industrial societies.  When interest groups resist the threats to their immediate well-being, governments can either bend before the resistance, or seek to off-set those costs, or seek to circumvent the resistance by other means.  Thus, President Barack Obama insisted that the Paris climate agreement to which his administration adhered not be a treaty.[2]  He knew he could never get such a treaty through the Senate, as required by the Constitution.  Nor could he get the policies needed to implement the Paris agreement through Congress.  So, he resorted to a “Clean Power Plan” issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The Trump administration ordered a re-write of the Plan and “requested” that the EPA lighten up on other regulations.[3]  Most observers found this to be ridiculous pandering to his core voters.[4]  In this view, coal is a dying industry, climate change has to be resisted with energy,[5] and renewable energy is a key technology of the future economy.

American social values and the deficiencies of the American education system have challenged the growth of the high-tech industries for many years.[6]  In brief compass, America doesn’t produce enough techies to meet the needs of growing industries.  The solution appeared in the hiring of many (85,000 new people a year) from foreign countries.  The granting of H-1B visas plays a key role in this process.  Now the Trump administration has issued orders intended to hinder the issuing of such visas.[7]  The empty spots aren’t likely to be filled by displaced coal miners.

[1] “Senate showdown over Gorsuch nomination,” The Week, 14 April 2017, p. 5.

[2] “Climate change: Can Trump revive coal?” The Week, 14 April 2017, p. 17.

[3] Relax the rules on emissions by power plants to be constructed in the future; allow new coal mining on public lands; and ease restrictions on the emission of methane in the course of “fracking.”

[4] As an employer, the whole of the coal industry ranks behind some fast-food chains.  Coal mine employment has fallen by almost 50 percent since 1990, long before the Clean Power Plan was even a twinkle in Barack Obama’s eye.  “The bottom line,” The Week, 14 April 2017, p. 35.

[5] HA!  Is joke.

[6] See Bruce Cannon Gibney, A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America (2017).

[7] “Tech: More scrutiny for skilled-worker visas,” The Week, 14 April 2017, p. 35.

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 13.

Once upon a time, old people depended upon their savings and their families to cover the living costs of their few last years.  Then, people started to live longer and the individual safety net eroded.  We got Social Security.  Once upon a time, the business cycle visited prosperity and hardship on people in varied measure.  Then came the Great Depression.  We got Keynesian counter-cyclical spending.  Once upon a time, doctors couldn’t do much to cure illness.  Then, the combination of science and medicine opened an Aladdin’s Cave of health solutions.  These cost a lot of money, so we got Medicare and Medicaid.  Once upon a time, America was a meritocratic society and poor people had to take their lumps.  Then came the Sixties and Seventies, which altered assumptions.  The Forgotten suffered in misery, so we got the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Lots of people didn’t like the ACA.  Moreover, the ACA has problems all its own.  Those problems appear not to be fatal or crippling.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that, left to its own devices, the ACA will “naturally stabilize” in most of the country in a few years.[1]  President Trump, or the Republicans in Congress acting without President Trump, can shove the ACA downhill if they want it to fail.  They can do this most easily by just not enforcing the individual mandate.  That would allow about 14 million younger-and-healthier people to drop out of the system.  The loss of their premiums might fatally destabilize the ACA.

The first major step in the Trump Administration came in the effort to co-operate with the real Republicans in the legislature.  Republicans campaigned against the ACA for seven years, then got the chance to repeal-and-replace.[2]  In contrast to the Democrats’ year-long construction of the ACA and disciplined passage of the bill, the Republicans adopted a “Hey, we can put on a show, we can use my dad’s garage!” approach.  The Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) repealed the unpopular and nonsensical individual mandate, substituted limited age-related subsidies for open-ended income-based subsidies, and cut down the Medicaid expansion.  Public opinion—especially among Trump’s core supporters—disliked the AHCA.

Well, that didn’t work.  In the House the “Freedom Caucus” didn’t like it; in the Senate moderate Republicans didn’t like it.  The two Republican factions could not agree, so the AHCA got pulled before a vote.  (See: Face, egg on.)  The ACA survived.  Bitter recriminations ensued.

The stock market’s Trump Rally turned into a slump once the AHCA went up in flames like the Hindenburg.  The botched handling of the bill’s passage revealed that the deep fissures inside the Republican Party during the Obama years have not been healed.  It also raised suspicions that neither Trump nor House Majority Leader Paul Ryan have much understanding about how to manage their business.  Those revelations, in turn, cast a pall over the prospects for the other elements of Trump’s agenda that have real relevance for business conditions.  Tax cuts, renegotiated trade deals, infrastructure spending, and sweeping deregulation now seem in peril.[3]

Is the new “realism”/”pessimism” justified?  It is if you ask Democrats, but less so if you ask Republicans.  Having messed-up one thing right off the bat, Republicans have a strong motive to do better with the next project: tax reform.[4]  They had the same motive to pass AHCA.

Democrats chortled that people like the ACA.  The like Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security too.  With defense, such entitlements are driving the growth of the deficit.

[1] “Obamacare: Will it collapse on its own?” The Week, 7 April 2017, p. 16.

[2] “The GOP’s failed Obamacare repeal,” The Week, 7 April 2017, p. 4.

[3] “Markets: Health-care failure rattles Wall Street,” The Week, 7 April 2017, p. 36.

[4] “The GOP: can ‘the party of no’ learn to govern, The Week, 7 April 2017, p. 6.

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 6.

Any way you look at it, President Donald Trump has had a bad couple of weeks.  Democrats glory in every one of his spectacular mis-steps, while mainstream Republicans insist that he has to be just like them to survive.[1]

After President Donald Trump dropped the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) from the National Security Council, America’s intelligence agencies leaked information that compromised the National Security Adviser (NSA), Lt. General (ret.) Michael Flynn.[2]  Apparently, the leaks included actual transcripts of the conversations between Flynn and Soviet–sorry, Russian–ambassador Sergey Kishlyak.[3]  Flynn resigned as NSA.  On the other hand, Steven Mnuchin was confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury.[4]  The Trump administration now has in place the secretaries of Treasury, State, Defense, and Education

Trump is already at the head of the enemies list of a diverse group.  The New York Times, which had criticized the EffaBeeEye for releasing news of a new investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail messages shortly before the election, reported that the national police force had launched an investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russian organs of the state.  Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who has been attacked by Trump on many occasions, said that “It’s a dysfunctional White House.”  Fred Kaplan (D-Slate.com) said that the scandal “could conceivably oust Donald Trump from power” if further revelations show that he is “secretly beholden to a foreign power.”

All the same, if you leave aside the whole are-we-sliding-toward-a bureaucratic/military-coup issue, the pressing issue of the moment is what course President Trump will adopt on the dollar.[5]  A strong dollar allows American consumer to buy lots of stuff on the cheap.  A strong dollar also makes American products more expensive on foreign markets.     Trump’s “America First:” bumper-sticker doesn’t provide any guidance on the correct policy to follow here.  Consumer America loves a strong dollar; Producer America hates a strong dollar.  “Which will you have?”[6]  It isn’t clear which America is “Consumer America” and which is “Producer America.”  The revolt by tech workers against the “Not-A-Muslim-Ban” suggests that much of the economy of the future is against Trump, while much of the economy of the past is for him.  Of course, the mechanization of manufacturing that has destroyed so many jobs means that manufacturing still needs export opportunities.

The mainstream Democrats found themselves confronted by their own “Tea Party,” in the guise of the “Resistance” movement.[7]  Odds are that this is an authentic revolt by the Democratic equivalents of the Republican idiots of 2009.  Maybe its get-out-the-vote ardor will just help Democrats regain some seats in 2018.  However, the enthusiasm and support for the “Resistance” shown by mainstream Democrats will come back to haunt them if zealots gain the upper hand in party policy-setting.  The question is whether the white working-class voters who abandoned Hillary Clinton in November 2016 can be won back by an emphasis on racism, LGBT issues, and abortion.  (Well, that one answers itself.)

[1] “Trump: Can he regain control of his presidency?” The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 6.

[2] “Flynn resigns amid growing Russia scandal,” The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 4.

[3] JMO, but if this happened in a Third World country, the New York Times would be all over the story of a looming coup.

[4] “Washington: Mnuchin takes top Treasury job,” The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 32.

[5] “Issue of the week: President Trump’s dollar dilemma,” The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 34.

[6] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtTBykcnjX4

[7] “’The Resistance’: A liberal Tea Party?’ The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 17.