Post-inaugration takes

Plenty of good ones out there on Trump’s absurd (though, not at all suprising in that regard) speech, that I’m sure I’m missing.  “Carnage”?  WTF?  Anyway, of those I’ve come across, Jon Cohn:

Forget, just for a moment, about the quality of the prose in President Donald Trump’s inaugural address. Don’t get caught up in the idealism, or lack thereof. And put aside whether its dark portrait of “American carnage” resembles the reality of America today.

Focus instead on some of the promises Trump made to the American people ― to smash the business and political establishments, to rebuild America’s manufacturing economy, to fix schools, to stop crime and even to fight poverty.

“Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another,” Trump said. “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American people.”

There are many reasons to be skeptical that’s how Trump will actually govern.

Some of the best ones were right up there on the stage with him…

In his speech, Trump warned, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.” But Adelson’s presence was a reminder that the self-interested elite will carry plenty of influence in Trump’s Washington.

Trump himself has seen to it by filling his administration with moguls, donors and representatives of the very Wall Street firm, Goldman Sachs, that he vilified on the campaign trail. The new president wants to turn the Education Department over to Betsy DeVos, who appears unfamiliar with some basic education policy issues but just happens to be among the GOP’s biggest donors. He wants to hand the Commerce Department over to Wilbur Ross, an investor who specializes in corporate restructuring and was also a major GOP donor…

Another reason to doubt that Trump can deliver on his promises were a group of people sitting right near Adelson at the inauguration: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republican leaders from Congress.

They’re already hard at work on an agenda that will feature massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, coupled with the slashing of social programs that benefit the poor and the middle class. Congress is starting with repeal of the Affordable Care Act, through which something like 20 million people get health insurance.

What these initiatives have in common is that they would tend to concentrate wealth at the top, among the elite, rather than distributing it more broadly ― in short, the opposite of what Trump promised in his speech…

It’s always possible that appearances are misleading, that over the next four years Trump will actually deliver the policies and changes he promised from the stage on Friday.  But the odds seem long.

Either way, the challenge for the next four years will be keeping those promises in mind ― and holding Trump accountable for them.

And EJ Dionne:

In his inaugural address, he offered no outreach to those who had opposed him. There was no acknowledgment of the achievements of any of his predecessors, and he spoke as if he were taking over a country on the verge of ruin. He blamed an ill-defined “establishment” for all of the nation’s troubles, and pretended that the progress of the last eight years, from the Great Recession to recovery, had never occurred.

Instead, he put forward an unrelievedly bleak view of current conditions, casting the richest nation on Earth as a victim of the rest of the world. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” he said. He would rescue us from this horror. “This American carnage,” he said, “stops right here and stops right now.”

Trump invoked a radical nationalism not heard from any president of either party in the post-World War II era. His doctrine owes far more to the ideology of European far-right movements favored by his senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon than to the views of American presidents from Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, both George Bushes and Barack Obama…

The relatively small gathering at Trump’s inauguration was a hint of how shallow his movement’s roots might be. It’s true that Washington and its surrounding area stood solidly for Hillary Clinton in November, so there was no nearby crowd for Trump to mobilize. Still, a man who said his inauguration would break all records once again found his boasting refuted by reality.

And, of course, Ezra:

Obama took office trying to fight the rising tide of polarization. He spent months, even years, negotiating with congressional Republicans for votes that never came. Trump is not going to waste that time. He is under no illusions that he’ll ever be a unifying figure. He does not think he needs his opponents to like him, and he does not try to win their favor.

Instead, Trump thrives on heightening the divisions in American politics. It’s why he tweets out attacks on Meryl Streep and John Lewis and Hillary Clinton and the “Crooked Media.” The fights he creates are bitter and unnecessary, but they serve to rally his supporters to his side.

If Obama’s contention was that there’s no “them,” only “us,” Trump’s contention is that there really is a “them” — a “them” of immigrants and Muslims and terrorists and Black Lives Matter activists and elites and crooked journalists — and so it’s all the more important for the “us” to stick together.

This is how he won the primary. It’s how he won the election. It’s how he intends to govern. If Obamaism was about strength through unity, Trumpism is about power through division.

I was hoping for better from Trump, but not the least bit surprised in what we got.  He had never shrunk from showing us who he is– a shallow, incurious, ignorant, unserious, bullying, multi-phobic/ist, demagogue– and that’s what we’ve got to fight against for the next four years.

Peaceful transition of power = low bar

Loved this great take from Frum:

Every presidency is different, but inaugural coverage is always the same. Commentators congratulate Americans on the peaceful transition of power and intone solemn sentences about democratic renewal.

There is something unnerving about these reassurances, something overstated, even hysterical. When a British prime minister loses the confidence of the House of Commons and must suddenly trundle out of 10 Downing Street (as some six dozen of them have done since the job was invented in the 1740s; a few more than once), nobody marvels on television how wonderful it is that he or she doesn’t try to retain power by force of arms. Nobody in Denmark thinks it extraordinary when one party relinquishes power to another. Ditto New Zealand or Switzerland—all of them treat peaceful transfers of power as the developed world norm, like reliable electricity or potable water.

Americans so insistently celebrate the peaceful transfer of power precisely because they nervously recognize the susceptibility of their polity to violence…

The message will be stated and restated this day: For the 58th time, the system has worked, and power has smoothly transferred from one heir of George Washington to another. The truth is not so happy. With full advance notice, and despite the failure to gain a plurality of the nation’s vote, the United States will soon inaugurate someone who owes his office in some large part to a hostile foreign intelligence operation. Who is, above and beyond that, a person whose character that leaves him unqualified to hold the presidency, and threatens the country with an impending sequence of financial and espionage scandals—a constitutional crisis on two legs.

The real message of today is that the system has failed. The challenge of the morrow is to know what to do to save the remainder. [emphasis mine]

Thanks Obama

I must say, I’ve really enjoyed the evolution of the “Thanks Obama” meme over time (nice explanation in this Post article).  That said, sincere thanks to Obama for being a helluva president.  Perfect?  Far from.  Did he fall well short of goals and expectations?  Sure  But damn did he try hard and try to do the right thing and invariably try to do it in a thoughtful, ethical matter.  I’ll take it.

Image result for thanks obama

We know what we’re getting today

Excellent David Remnick:

Since Election Night, as the arrow of electoral favor wandered from Hillary Clinton to Trump and stayed there, Americans have been counselled and admonished, by voices sincere and mocking, earnest and derisive, that despite losing the popular ballot by three million votes, despite every extenuating and unnerving circumstance, “Donald Trump is our President now.” “He must be given a chance.” “We are all Americans.” And so on. Under normal circumstances, there is truth in these civic homilies. In a divided country, no side is going to win every election.

But how can these circumstances count within the bounds of normal? Many of those same soothing voices allowed that, sure, Trump had been full of outrageous abandon as a campaigner, he’d say just about anything, you know the Donald; and yet, they argued, the gravity of office would soon occur to him, settle and focus him, make a serious, tolerant man of him. Trump would surround himself with competent, knowledgeable, steady, ethical, decent counsellors; he would plunge into his briefing books and acquire a keener sense of the issues and the world; he would recognize the incompatibility of his business entanglements and the ethical demands of the Presidency; he would concentrate, reach out, embrace, replace the limited language of Twitter with the fuller rhetoric of conciliation, complexity, and selflessness. He would become someone else.

As if wishing would make it so.

Where is the slightest evidence of this magical transformation? Where are all the sober counsellors, the newfound ethics? Where is the competence, the decency, and the humanity? The reality is that the Donald Trump of birtherism, of Mexican “rapists,” of Muslim registries, of “grab them by the pussy,” of bankruptcies and lawsuits and colossal conflicts of interest—this is the same Donald Trump who, with his hand on Lincoln’s Bible, is taking the oath of office, vowing to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The reason so many people are having fever dreams and waking up with a knot in the gut is not that they are political crybabies, not that a Republican defeated a Democrat. It’s not that an undifferentiated mass of “coastal élites” is incapable of recognizing that globalization, automation, and deindustrialization have left millions of people in reduced and uncertain circumstances. It is not that they “don’t get it.” It’s that they do.

Since Election Day, Trump has managed to squander good faith and guarded hope with flagrant displays of self-indulgent tweeting, chaotic administration, willful ignorance, and ethical sludge. Setting the tone for his Presidency, he refused, or was unable, to transcend the willful ugliness of his campaign. He goes on continuing to conceal his taxes, the summary of his professional life; he refuses to isolate himself from his businesses in a way that satisfies any known ethical standard; he rants on social media about every seeming offense that catches his eye; he sets off gratuitous diplomatic brushfires everywhere from Beijing to Berlin. (Everywhere, that is, except Moscow.) [emphasis mine]

His appointees, in the meantime, are too often amateurs in the fields they now pretend to lead or determined opponents of the realms they are intended to safeguard: civil rights, the global environment, public housing.

It is a virtual guarantee that Donald Trump will be a bad president by any meaningful metric.  At this point, it’s just hoping he won’t be a disaster.

Government by the… nobody?

Okay, not quite, but not at all surprisingly, Donald Trump is clearly not taking this whole governing thing very seriously.  Jonathan Bernstein:

Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? It is one of two departments (along with, bizarrely, Commerce) where Trump has selected a deputy secretary. But no solicitor general, no one at civil rights, no one in the civil division, no one for the national security division.

And the same is true in department after department. Not to mention agencies without anyone at all nominated by the president-elect.

Overall, out of 690 positions requiring Senate confirmation tracked by the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service, Trump has come up with only 28 people so far.

The Atlantic’s Russell Berman had a good story two weeks ago about how far behind Trump was. Since then? If anything, it’s getting worse — he’s added only two of those 28 since Jan. 5. As Berman reported, the Partnership for Public Service suggested a president should have “100 Senate-confirmed appointees in place on or around Inauguration Day.” At this pace, he won’t have 100 nominees by the end of February, let alone having them confirmed and hard at work.

The likely consequences?

First of all, the government actually does things, and without all the jobs filled it’s not apt to do them very well. Even if there’s no catastrophic failure, lack of leadership will, as should be no surprise, yield inertia and low morale, leading to steadily worse performance… 

If I had to guess, however, I’d say that the failure to get his administration up and running on time isn’t a deliberate choice by Trump; he just has no idea what he’s doing, and hasn’t surrounded himself with people well-equipped to translate his impulses and his campaign commitments into a full-fledged government. This isn’t exactly a surprise. Recall that the Trump Organization has never had a large bureaucracy and that his campaign didn’t staff up the way campaigns normally do, so he doesn’t really have any relevant management experience. And, of course, he’s never demonstrated any significant knowledge in how the government actually works. The results are likely to be damaging to his presidency, and to the nation.[emphases mine]

Also, made me think of this tweet:

Trump certainly has his interests.  Running an effective government just isn’t on that list.

The logic of ACA (and illogic of its repeal)

This Ron Brownstein piece is ostensibly about how Trump’s core voters stand to lose as much as anyone from an ACA repeal.  But what I really like about it is that it explains the logic of ACA (and the illogic– or at least, every person for themselves appeal– of the Republican alternatives) as well as anything I’ve read.  Very good stuff:

Though few subjects may seem more arcane than health-insurance regulation, these contrasting approaches illuminate a core philosophical divide between the parties. The ACA prizes solidarity: It is an intricately interlocked mechanism for sharing the financial risks of medical needs in two respects. First, it shares risk across generations—with today’s young subsidizing today’s old. Second, it spreads risk across any individual’s lifecycle: Under the law, people pay more for health coverage when they are young so they can pay less when they are old. “In many ways under the law the young and healthy are subsidizing the older and sicker on the theory that eventually all of us get older and sicker,” [emphases mine] said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University. “A key policy driver of the ACA is to pool risk as much as possible on the theory that will make coverage more affordable to a greater number of people.”

By contrast, the GOP plans all prize autonomy. They would allow individuals more choice in whether to buy insurance at all or what kind to purchase, and allow the healthy to pay less unless and until they have significant health needs. The price, in policy terms, for that flexibility is accepting wider divergence between the healthy and sick in both the availability and cost of care. Under the Republican plans, “There’s a scenario where people get a cheaper premium and they have more out of pocket cost sharing and more benefit exclusions,” said Christine Eibner, a Rand Corporation senior economist who studies health care. “And if they have a healthy year they look at it and say this is better. But then they could be in for a surprise if there is a catastrophe or they get really sick and they find something is excluded and the cost sharing is really high.”

Plenty more good explanation of how the ACA marketplaces work and what it would mean to end them.  Want to better understand how the ACA really works (and why repeal is such a bad idea), just read the whole thing.

Stiglitz: pay up rich people

Enjoyed this piece from Joseph Stiglitz at CNN.com

At session after session at Davos, executives have been grappling with the question: Is there anything that the world’s corporations can do about this scourge that threatens the political, social, and economic sustainability of our democratic market economies? The answer is yes.

It begins with a simple idea: pay your taxes. This is the first element of corporate responsibility. Don’t resort to shifting taxes to lower tax jurisdictions. Apple may feel that it has been unfairly singled out on this score; it only did a slightly better job at tax avoidance than others.

Don’t make use of the secrecy and tax havens, onshore or offshore, whether it’s Panama or the Cayman Islands in the Western hemisphere or Ireland or Luxembourg in Europe. Don’t encourage the countries in which you operate to engage in tax competition, a vicious race to the bottom where the real losers are the poor people and ordinary citizens around the world.
It’s shameful when the president-elect of a country appears to boast that he hasn’t paid certain taxes for nearly two decades — suggesting that smart people don’t — or when a company pays .005% of its profits in taxes, as Apple did. It’s not smart: it’s immoral…
A second idea is equally simple: Treat your workers decently. A full-time worker shouldn’t be living in poverty. In Scotland, 31% of households where one adult works full time are still in poverty.
Top executives in large US corporations now take home around 300 times what the same corporation’s median worker receives. That’s far more than in other countries or at other times — and the disparity can’t be explained simply by productivity differentials. In many cases, corporate CEOs take home so much simply because they can — doing so at the expense not only of their workers but of the long-term growth of the company. Henry Ford understood the idea about good pay, but his wisdom seems to have been lost on some of today’s corporate executives.
A third idea is equally simple but seems increasingly radical: Invest in the future of the company, in your employees, in your technology and in capital. Without such investment, there won’t be jobs in the future and inequality will only grow. Yet today, rather than investing profits back into the company, an ever-greater proportion is siphoned off to shareholders. In the UK, for example, 10% of profits were returned to shareholders in 1970; this figure is now 70%…
Around the world, there are many corporations, led by enlightened leaders, who have long understood these maxims. They have understood that it is in their enlightened self-interest for there to be shared prosperity.
Rather than lobbying for policies that increase rent seeking — with their corporate gains coming at the expense of others — they have realized that the only sustainable prosperity is shared prosperity, and that in those countries afflicted with ever growing inequality, the rules will have to be rewritten to encourage long-term investment, faster growth and shared prosperity.
That sounds good to me.  Alas, re-writing the rules means changing the laws in the direction Stiglitz smartly advocates for.  Not exactly going to happen under Trump and the Republican Congress.
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