Friday, January 20, 2017

Oh, Bama! Can this really be the end?

Forget Caligula and Commodus; the best model for the Emperor Trump reign would be Alfred Jarry's fictional Ubu, as suggested here in a poster for a 2013 production of the play by Colorado's Tin Roof Productions (which I think never actually took place, wheels within wheels, poster via Cargo Collective)
Now the senator came down here
Showing ev’ryone his gun
Handing out free tickets
To the wedding of his son
An’ me, I nearly got busted
An’ wouldn’t it be my luck
To get caught without a ticket
And be discovered beneath a truck
I thought months ago I'd be using this headline today, just for fun, without imagining we'd be living in the anxiety-dream dread of "Memphis Blues Again". Now here we are, the day after the president-elect signaled his intention to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and cut the budgets of the Transportation, Justice, and State departments, Commerce and Energy, The Hill reports, in the aim of reducing federal spending by $10.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

Wait, really? Given that those five departments spent something $69.7 billion, $35 billion, $27.7 billion, $9.4 billion, and $24.5 billion in 2016 respectively (the NEA at $148 million and NEH $147.9 million are practically invisible in this breakdown, less than 0.02% of the budget as a whole), cutting them out completely wouldn't get close to savings like that—more like $1.6 trillion over the ten years. And they're not getting cut to anywhere near that extent, so any savings there are going to be basically trivial. Of course the plan doesn't touch the big-spending agencies (Defense, Medicare, and Medicaid). Meanwhile the tax plan adds $7 trillion to the 10-year accumulation of debt (according to that leftist organ Forbes Magazine). This is not going to work, folks.

It's not Trump math, it's standard Republican math, under the direction of the Heritage Foundation, of the type that's been around since 1980 (Reagan was dissuaded from zeroing out the NEA and NEH by his arts-loving buddy Charlton Heston). That is, it's entirely bogus, though that doesn't mean it's not serious: the purpose isn't to save money, though, it's to cripple those agencies, alongside the nomination of uninformed and incompetent people to head them. And "Reagan proved deficits don't matter" until next time the Democrats get into power, when deficits will magically become important again and stop us from bringing those programs back up to speed.
They all fall there so perfectly
It all seems so well timed
An’ here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice
At the same time, you know, the Republican thing is just half of what's happening here, and the other half, the Trump thing, looks like a real constitutional crisis, in which we are unable to stop a president from receiving foreign emoluments and violating statute by giving jobs to relatives, owning a hotel business in complete violation of the hotel lease (with the federal government), and who knows what other kinds of blatant illegalities. The fact that Donald J. Trump is being inaugurated today is a sign that the Constitution has failed in a really serious way, not just because he's stupid and tasteless and corrupt and personally violent and unable to concentrate on anything other than his own bottom line, but also because the public doesn't even want him: he gets an approval rating of around 40%, 37% from registered voters. It's 34% in one Monmouth University poll.

According to Trump's son-in-law's personal newspaper The Observer (which Kushner has shown no signs of divesting himself from in spite of promises that he will do something about it), that's OK:
But there is some good news for Trump and the GOP. On an MSNBC program (see video here), a Republican pollster pointed out that 47 percent of Americans support the GOP agenda, while only 41 percent back the Democrats on policy.  And he claims fewer Americans think the country is on the wrong track, no doubt fueled by the stock market boom.
Weirdly, that link doesn't lead to video of an MSNBC program, so I can't find out which crappy and deceitful Republican pollster they're talking about. I assume it's an editorial error and there really is some piece of video arguing this, but it's pretty funny that in fact the link is to a HuffPost article about how devastating for Trump the polls are, not mentioning any upside at all.

I don't see how this leads directly to the end of the Republic over the next four years. I don't even see any more how it leads to the breakdown of the New Deal. The cabinet is as characteristically Republican, not Trumpist-whatever-that-is, as the Congress (see today's episode of WNYC's Money Talking). The congressional Republicans are showing cold feet about their own portion of the agenda; they're clearly not going to eliminate the Affordable Care Act or break Social Security and Medicare in the way Paul Ryan has been planning over the years, and I'm pretty sure they won't be able to come together on an immigration plan either.

But it's not going to be a very pleasant time either. Trump's incapacity will leave him with very little power to accomplish anything systematic, but he'll have plenty of ability to create random mischief, and the antics of our Emperor-elect may get a lot more embarrassing, and dangerous too. And the Republicans will do what they can to make government less effective.

It will be very hard, and expensive, to find our way partway back to where we are today.

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