Politics

What to expect from the Trump years, and why.

Summary: The media overflow with hysterical predictions about the next four years, but few well-grounded visions. Here is a brief look at  some of what we can expect, and why, and what these events reveal about ourselves.

What makes America great? Great for whom?

Trump: Make America Great Again

Investors have pushed US stock to near-record valuations (record valuations on price to growth basis) on the belief that the Trump administration will enact a massive fiscal stimulus — tax cuts (mostly for the rich) plus infrastructure and military spending — resulting in another round of fantastic fiscal deficits. Just as hard-rock conservatives Reagan and Bush Jr. did.

Skeptics’ rebuttal points to the eight years of Republican criticism of Obama’s deficits — deficits which prevented the 2008 crash from starting a depression and supported the economy during its long, slow recovery. How could the GOP justify massive deficits now, during an expansion? Conservative’s beliefs and history help us better predict how the conservative majority in Congress will vote. Start with their beliefs about deficits, easily stated.

  • Vast military spending and tax cuts are good; the resulting deficits are bad.
  • Tax cuts are good in both booms and busts, no matter how large the resulting deficits.
  • Deficits don’t matter for Republican Administrations, only for Democratic Administrations.

To see how this works we turn to one of America’s most influential presidents, whose administration radically changed America and set the patterns we still live by: George Bush Jr. The pivotal moment when fiscal policy change is described in this excerpt from The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill by Ron Suskind (2004, p291). Cheney is the key mover, as in most things during the Bush Jr. years.

“The package of post-Waco tax proposals, led by a 50% cut in the individual tax on dividends, had been all but buried since O’Neil took his stand in early September. It came up infrequently, and always in the past tense — what we were thinking of doing but couldn’t afford. After the {2002} midterms, though, {Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil} could sense a change inside the White House, from Rove, Lindsey, and others. … Now Cheney mentioned them again … O’Neil jumped in, arguing sharply how the government was ‘moving toward a fiscal crisis’ and ‘what rising deficits will mean to our economic and fiscal soundness.’

“Dick cut him off. ‘Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,’ he said.  O’Neil shook his head, hardly believing that Cheney — whom he and Greenspan had known since Dick was a kid – would say such a thing. He was speechless.  Cheney moved to fill the void. ‘We won the midterm elections. This is our due.'”

The magic of tax cuts for the rich is quite bogus, as explained by economic theory, as shown repeatedly in history — definitively by the Bush Jr. tax cuts. But conservatives have come to power in America, waging a slow revolution, by creating a new form of politics. Dick Cheney Karl Rove understood events more clearly than the rest of us.

”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors …and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

— From “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush” by Ron Suskind, New York Times Magazine, 17 October 2004.

Now the Republicans have gained control again. Even stronger this time than during the Reagan and Bush Jr. years, with a president even bolder and less bound by expert opinion. So we might get a repeat of the Reagan and Bush Jr. deficits. But there are alternative paths. The GOP majority in Congress might have other priorities – such as tax cuts for the rich and cutting services to the middle and lower classes. Or Team Trump might over-reach and destroy the confidence of both America’s elites and citizens in their leadership.

An MIA bracelet. Call if you find it.

An MIA bracelet. Call if you find it.

What about public opinion?

How does the GOP plan to deal with public opinion? That’s a trick question! Why should they care? Americans will believe what we are told and do as we are told. Just we as passively accepted the Reagan and Bush tax cuts for the rich — financed by massive debts — by Republicans who have hysterically warned for decades about government debt.

Just as Republicans will ignore public opinion in pursuit of another of their major policy goals: repeal of Obamacare, stripping or reducing health care coverage for tens of millions of Americans. Slightly more than half of Americans approve of Obamacare. A larger majority believes that the government should make sure that all Americans have health care coverage. Big majorities, both Republicans and Democrats, support Obamacare’s key features. None of that matters to Republicans, any more than it mattered during the original debate about Obamacare.

“…coverage of the actual content of the bill is by necessity more favorable to the bill than the hokum that’s dominated the conversation thus far. After all, most of what people have been talking about is either straight-up lies — death panels — or hysterical mewling about the death of freedom and the gulag. Any time you have medical doctors on television talking about new insurance rules, or newspaper writers drawing up charts showing what kinds of people will be impacted in which ways, you’re into the universe of sober-minded discussion of an importance series of tweaks to people’s existing care, and the expenditure of a bunch of money to make insurance affordable to those who don’t have it. …{but} the evidence suggests that once misconceptions get into people’s heads they’re hard to dislodge.”

— “The changing tide“, Matthew Yglesias, posted at ThinkProgress, 22 March 2010.

What will slow the destruction of Obamacare are the vested interests that benefit from it, most especially hospitals, doctors, and drug and medical device corporations.

Why should they listen to us? They have seen our gullibility (see the Big List of Lies by Our Government). They have seen our passivity, show by reaction to the increasingly intrusive but pointless “screening” by the Transportation Security Administration. We patiently wait in long lines, like sheep, with our shoes off. We, especially pretty women, have their breasts and genitals “patted down”. Now that we have become accustomed to this indignity, TSA plans to make the pat-downs “more invasive”. They are warning police to expect (and ignore) complaints about “abnormal” frisking.

Just imagine what comes next, as TSA works to teach Americans their place in this New America.

Why should the elites ruling a powerful nation listen to such people? We have become a rabble, as shown by the contemptuous crushing of Occupy’s peasant protests. We should expect to be treated as such.

Citizenship in New America

What comes next?

Left and Right will continue to move against us. Eventually one side will tip the balance enough to made substantial changes to the American political regime — as FDR did in the New Deal. My guess is that time comes near. It might be like a singularity in astrophysics, beyond which we cannot see. But we can prevent it.

Being a peasant is a choice in America, as is being a citizen. Look to our past for inspiration. Look at this post for ideas about things to do.

“Choice. The problem is choice.”
— Neo, in The Matrix Reloaded.

For More Information.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about politics in America, about Trump and the new GOP era, about reforming America: steps to new politics, and especially these…

  1. Four views of America (Left & Right) showing that we’re ripe for realignment.
  2. Trump’s win revealed the hollowness of US politics. Stronger leaders will exploit this.
  3. Politics in modern America: A users’ guide for journalists and reformers.
  4. 2016 revealed the true nature of America’s left & right. It’s bad news.

Recommended books about the weakness of the Republic.

Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism by Wolfgang Streeck.

Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred by John Lukacs.

 

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11 replies »

  1. The quote that starts “”We’re an empire now…” has always jarred me since I first read it. It shows either a remarkable lack of understanding of how reality works (not normally a problem for Dick Cheney) or a faith in himself and the rightness of his cause that borders on insanity.

    My best guess (key word) is that the Republicans have reached the end of their ability to work with themselves. The Republicans are composed of at least 3 factions (Mainstream, Tea Party, and Trump Progressives (who are not real progressives but they don’t seem to understand that yet)) and they are beginning to suffer from major internal disagreements.

    The “fund the military at the cost of everything else” theme appeared and disappeared with startling speed. The Obamacare replacement bill seems to be dead in the water because of a temporary alliance between Democrats and key Republicans. It does not help the Republican cause that Trump is burning through his political capital at a record pace with absolutely nothing to show for it.

    Any idea of what is happening with the Supreme Court vacancy? Gorsuch appeared a month ago, seemed like a pretty sure bet, and vanished from the Washington scene. It appears that the efforts to enact the Republican agenda are easily derailed by “the crisis of the moment” and there are always a lot of crises in Washington DC.

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    • The Democrats also have their factions with simmering tensions, as has been observed often, but the knives are starting to come out a bit more explicitly, e.g. in this Vanity Fair piece “WHY THE ALT-LEFT IS A PROBLEM, TOO” by James Wolcott in Vanity Fair — “Much of the media spotlight has been on the “alt-right.” But the “alt-left” provides a mirror image distortion: the same loathing of Clinton, rejection of “identity politics,” and itch for a reckoning.” (I don’t endorse the analysis in that piece by the way! It just illustrates the tensions.)

      I recognize four factions on the contemporary left, but maybe there are more: Old School Marxists, Identitarian SJWs (cultural Marxists), Climate Eschatologists, and Rawlsian Corporate Technocrats.

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    • sflicht,

      Both parties in America are coalitions. We have a two-party system to force building of coalitions before the election — with the necessary trade-offs and strange bedfellows — so that people can vote on the coalition they prefer to govern. Political Science professors prefer systems that generate countless small parties, so that people vote on the representative they most like — with coalitions built in the dark, in back rooms. That’s quite daft, and explains why those multi-party systems prove so unstable. (Political science is not physics; I doubt it is even as good as alchemy).

      So that there are factions is the system working as it should. What matters is how the factions pull together. It’s a major factor in how well they do.

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    • Pluto,

      “My best guess (key word) is that the Republicans have reached the end of their ability to work with themselves.”

      Perhaps so. Or this might be the disorganization following a change of government. That’s a common pattern in history, an internal struggle to determine which faction or factions dominates the coalition. Usually there are clear winners, and the team plays on. Sometimes, but rarely, they collapse into confusion or outright civil war. I’ll be on the former as the outcome now.

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  2. It would be interesting to find out if Cheney actually said the quote attributed to him.
    Also, would it not be useful to point out that last Administration grew deficits and debt at a far faster rate than any prior Administration? As to Republicans being “even more powerful now”, that does not seem to be the case at all. Majorities are narrow, a former moderate democrat is President and is disliked by much of the republican leadership, and the President’s proposals so far include cutting other areas of budgets to pay for much of defense funding increases.

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    • Edward,

      “would it not be useful to point out that last Administration grew deficits and debt at a far faster rate than any prior Administration?”

      First, that’s false. The peak deficit was 9.8% of GDP during post WWII-era was during fiscal year 2009 (1 Oct 2008 – 30 Sept 2009) — under Bush’s budget, during Bush’s crash. Under Obama it recovered in the usual slow way, shrinking to 3.2% in fiscal 2015 — close to the average level since 1975 (excluding the years of the Clinton boom).

      Second, that is historically false. The WWII fiscal deficits were far larger, peaking at 27% in 1943. The deficits during the Revolutionary and Civil wars were also gigantic — creating debts of roughly 1/3 of GDP.

      Third, the claim about “being useful” is absurd. The deficits under Bush Jr. and Obama prevented the crash from becoming another great depression. The 2008-09 period closely resembled the early stages the GD, but this time our response was better. Which was logical, as we should do better the second time.

      (2) As to Republicans being “even more powerful now”, that does not seem to be the case at all. ”

      That’s false. The GOP dominates State governments on a scale not seen in the US for generations (see this WaPo analysis). Ditto at the local level. They have majorities in both Houses of Congress, control the White House, and have a functional majority on the Supreme Court (which will soon become a hard majority).

      I recommend upgrading your sources of information. The far-right sources you appear to rely on lie to you.

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    • Edward,

      “It would be interesting to find out if Cheney actually said the quote attributed to him.”

      Thank you for flagging that. I wrote this at midnight, and said that wrong. It was Karl Rove who said that. The source of the identification is Mark Danner in What Orwell Didn’t Know: Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics (2007), edited by Andras Szanto — see his essay here. Others have confirmed it. Rove has not, to my knowledge, denied it.

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  3. Gullibility is a transactional situation. Linguistically and actually.

    “….these words descend from the verb gull, meaning “to deceive or take advantage of.” The verb “gull” was borrowed into English from Anglo-French in the mid-16th century. Another relative is the noun “gull,” referring to a person who is easy to cheat.”

    It would seem quite reasonable to address the Other in gullibility. The deceivers, the cheats are an essential element here. The dawning of a new day would involve some sort of reorientation of your assumptions when viewing your Public Servants. Politicians, technocrats, bureaucrats and the employees thereof.
    You would be close, you would be on the road to ameliorating your naïveté to assume that by omission or intention, they are dead set on cheating you, somehow.

    Today take heart you Gullible Sheep!
    You will shock them when you reveal how little you trust them. Your representatives, your financial advisers, your insurance Agents and even your Doctors!
    Arise. Trust them only as much as they show worthy of such a Thing.

    Get rid of the Cheaters and Gullible will once again become an Anglo-French antiquated term.

    All else is noise…..and fake news.
    Trust not.

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    • Breton,

      “The deceivers, the cheats are an essential element here.”

      To bastardize economics for illustration of this issue — The common belief is that we’re victims, and the deceivers are at fault. This is like Say’s Law: supply of lies creates demand for lies. More deceivers creates an audience of gullible people. That not only strips us of agency — casting us as helpless puppets — but it makes no sense.

      Keynes rejected Says Law, looking instead at demand. We have come to prefer pleasing lies — matching our biases, flattering ourselves — to harsh truths. Seeing this, our elites have learned to lie to us to gain political advantage. This puts responsibility where it belongs — on us as citizens — and points to effective solutions.

      It’s something to remember if we every start looking for solutions to our political problems.

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  4. The Rove quote always interests me since I have never seen what I think is the most relevant response. There’s this assumption that the reality created is one that more closely matches that envisioned by the actors when the results point to a new world that is worse than what came before.

    I also like pointing to the last two times the Republicans held both houses and the presidency. Both G W Bush and Hoover oversaw the largest economic crises of the last century. Lots of complicating factors but not a ringing endorsement.

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