Saturday, March 18, 2017

What part of "deconstruction of the administrative state" don't you understand, Brooksy?

Age of Wonders 3, just right for Yale Professors of Grand Strategy, screenshot.
Former New York Times columnist David Brooks (his formerness may not be obvious as he continues to drool down the Times pages twice a week, but the evidence remains) has the hottest of hot takes on Emperor Trump's endorsement of the Ryan tax cut health care bill and the "skinny budget" proposal the White House released yesterday. He thinks he sees a pattern in the devastating cuts proposed in more or less everything constructive the government does, and it's that working-class hero Stephen Bannon has lost all his influence on the Emperor ("Let Bannon Be Bannon!"):

[Bannon's] governing philosophy is being completely gutted by the mice around him. He seems to have a big influence on Trump speeches but zero influence on recent Trump policies. I’m beginning to fear that he’s spending his days sitting along the wall in the Roosevelt Room morosely playing one of those Risk-style global empire video games on his smartphone.
Because instead of doing what Brooks heard the No True Conservative say he was going to do, sticking it to the "hedge-fund guys" taxwise, insuring everybody, and mounting that trillion-dollar infrastructure plan ("Many of us wouldn’t have liked that agenda—the trade and immigration parts—but at least it would have helped the people who are being pummeled by this economy"), Trump seems to have signed on to the most reactionary agenda you can imagine, as if—as if he were some kind of Republican!

the Ryan health care plan punishes the very people Trump and Bannon had vowed to help. It would raise premiums by as much as 25 percent on people between 50 and 64, one core of the Trump voter base. It would completely hammer working-class voters whose incomes put them just above the Medicaid threshold.
The Trump budget is an even more devastating assault on Bannon-style populism. It eliminates or cuts organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that are important to people from Tennessee and West Virginia up through Ohio and Michigan. It cuts job-training and road-building programs. It does almost nothing to help expand opportunity for the working class and almost everything to serve defense contractors and the national security state.
I know right, what a surprise! Who could have predicted this startling neglect of working-class voters in an administration in which that warm-hearted populist Stephen Bannon serves as chief political strategist? Why, I'm starting to think they might not be leftists at all!

It's really almost kind of endearing how committed he is to the fantasy of Trumpism as some exotic variety of a leftist ideology devoted to passing around goodies to your (white) working class, confounding the democratic populism of Fightin' Bob LaFollette or the old Social Credit movement or something with the anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-parliamentary populisme of Pierre Poujade, Stephen Bannon's intellectual ancestor, representing the rage of the small-town shopkeeper (#NotAllShopkeepers) who's found his customers don't recognize his bourgeois superiority and probably thinks it's because the Jews (or the Catholics or the Coloreds or the A-rabs—choose your decade) have taken over.

That is, even Brooks has understood by now that Trump is a complete nullity, whose views are purely reactive, mostly to what he sees on TV or reads in the clippings on Ms. Hicks's tray or what his handlers manage to whisper to him in the course of a given day. But he's kept the No True Conservative hypothesis alive by displacing it onto Bannon, and when the administration keeps leaping on these ultrareactionary positions all he can think to say is that somebody must have kidnapped old Steve, gagged and cuffed him and stuck him in a closet somewhere,

Why is Bannonism being abandoned? One possibility is that there just aren’t enough Trumpians in the world to staff an administration, so Trump and Bannon have filled their apparatus with old guard Republicans who continue to go about their jobs in old guard pseudo-libertarian ways.
I'm sorry, no. In the first place, because they haven't filled it at all, and in major part they haven't filled it because their criterion is loyalty to Bannonism-Trumpism, as you'd think Brooks would have heard by now:
Many federal agencies and offices are in states of suspended animation, their career civil servants answering to temporary bosses whose influence and staying power are unclear, and who are sometimes awaiting policy direction from appointees whose arrival may be weeks or months away....

In the weeks since, the problem has been compounded by roadblocks of his own making: a loyalty test that in some cases has eliminated qualified candidates, a five-year lobbying ban that has discouraged some of the most sought-after potential appointees, and a general sense of upheaval at the White House that has repelled many others.
They hired Mike Pence, Reince Priebus, Jeff Sessions, Tom Price, Mick Mulvaney, Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, Ben Carson, and the other inhabitants of this clown car months ago. They all passed the loyalty test, and they're all reactionary Republicans of familiar types.

So is Bannon! It's Brooks's usual bad luck that when he finally gets ready to say a thing is when the evidence comes overwhelmingly out to show he's wrong, and Jane Mayer's New Yorker article out today clarifies the exact extent to which Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway, are creatures of mystery libertarian New York hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer and Mrs. Mercer, who have given millions to Bannon's old wingnut welfare outfit Breitbart News, and who switched from Cruz to Trump last year around the same time as Bannon was installed as Trump's campaign manager. Bannon is of that same libertarian coinage as the Kochs, except his patrons the Mercers think the Kochs are too timid.

So no, Brooksy, Bannon is not off in a room sulking with his phone. He's not doing very well, as far as the implementation of policy is concerned, because they're all incapable of getting any constructive work done, but that doesn't necessarily even matter to them. Destruction is what they're into—not simply making government "small", but making it impotent (leaving us with a fairly comical paradox, since they want to exercise power within government at the same time as they claim to be anxious to turn the power off).

See Steve M and Driftglass for some alternative emphases.

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