On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Kuttner
January 17, 2018

Want to know why Democrats are failing to optimize their role as the true economic populists against the purely symbolic faux-populism of Donald Trump? Consider the bill to weaken the Dodd-Frank Act, now working its way through the Senate.

The bill would exempt financial institutions as large as $250 billion in assets from many of the safety and soundness regulations of Dodd-Frank. In a world of multitrillion-dollar banks like Goldman, that sounds like a medium-sized operation, but it includes giants such as American Express.

Pure Republican mischief, right? If only. The bill’s lead sponsor is Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, who chairs the Banking Committee. But the bill has 11 Democrats as co-sponsors.

They include Dems from swing states up for re-election such as Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana—but also Wall Street Dems with safe seats such as Mark Warner of Virginia. Moreover, the idea that Democrats in purple states should posture as “moderates” is hogwash. Maybe they need to be moderate on some social issues, but they would do much better channeling the grievance of regular people and running as populists.

If ever there was a moment not to blur differences between Republicans and Democrats, this is it. Truth to tell, this is not about campaign tactics. It’s about campaign finance.

Meyerson
January 16, 2018

For those still groping for a precise characterization of today’s Republican Party, minus any profanities, I submit the following mots justes: neo-Confederate.

The neoconservatives of the Reagan-George W. Bush era may be estranged from today’s GOP (hello, Bill Kristol), but the semi-abbreviation “neocon” need not be discarded. Only henceforth, it means “neo-Confederate.”

The fundamental ideology of today’s GOP is white racism, with all its historic trimmings. In one particular after another, the party’s program is a compendium of the bigoted, sectionalist, xenophobic, patriarchal, anti-paid-labor, anti-empirical, anti-majoritarian, and violent organizing principles of Jefferson Davis’s South.

The strength of today’s Republican Party is its success in winning adherents north of the Mason-Dixon line. The spread of what previously had been largely Southern beliefs and practices to the Northern GOP—restrictions on the franchise, “right-to-work” laws, the fear and loathing of immigrants, the attachment of punitive hurdles to those seeking Medicaid, and other forms of government assistance—has been enabled by the complete flight of racial moderates from the GOP’s ranks and the efforts of Fox News and kindred outlets to depict whites as an endangered species.

The new War Between the States is as virulent as it’s ever been—excepting, of course, the years 1861-1865. As in the decade immediately preceding the Civil War, the Republicans are using federal power to impose their warped beliefs on the states that do not share them. The immigrant deportation policies of Jeff Sessions and ICE are latter-day variants of the Fugitive Slave Act, which sought to require Northern legal authorities, and, indeed, anyone residing in Northern states, to participate in the hunting down and re-enslavement of escaped slaves. The GOP’s new tax law is an attack on Democratic states and their model of government, which features a more adequate level of public support for education, social spending, and all that today’s GOP and yesterday’s Confederates disdain.

This isn’t to gainsay that “white racist,” “white nationalist,” or “batshit bigoted” can’t also be used to describe today’s Republicans. But for the more decorous and historically minded among us, “neo-Confederate” will do just fine.

Kuttner
January 15, 2018

The New York Times recently reported that more and more employers are considering hiring people with criminal records, as unemployment falls and labor markets tighten.

As Keynes and the Keynesians have long argued, all the compensatory programs in the world are no substitute for full employment. We can support “ban the box” and other efforts to prevent discrimination against formerly incarcerated people who’ve paid their debt to society, but they just don’t work well when unemployment is high and employers have their choice of applicants.

But there is one big flaw in the happy story of low unemployment. It is doing very little to change the deeper patterns of lousy jobs and career paths.

Tight job markets have begun to raise wages modestly. Walmart recently announced with great fanfare that it is increasing its base wage to $11 an hour. That sounds swell, but it adds up to just $22,000 a year. Care to try living on that?

At the very least, we need a $15 minimum wage and tight regulation against the needless or fraudulent use of gig and contract work.

 Once upon a time, 4.1 percent unemployment—the current rate—equaled significant worker bargaining power. But that was in the context of stable payroll employment, career ladders, powerful unions, and a strong industrial base.

Today, the norm is increasingly contingent work, which deprives workers of the bargaining power that would ordinarily flow from tight job markets. Add that to the high cost of housing, and you can understand why the deep economic distress, that produced Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side and Donald Trump on the Republican side, is still there.

On Martin Luther King Day, let us never forget that Dr. King was assassinated while he was in Memphis, in solidarity with striking sanitation workers. He understood better than anyone that justice and jobs went together.

New circumstances demand new forms of struggle. A low unemployment rate is essential, but it isn’t what it used to be.

Happy MLK Day.

Kuttner
January 12, 2018

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

—Emma Lazarus, inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty, 1903

Why do we want all these people from shithole countries coming here?

—Donald Trump, 2018

We know that Trump is an oaf, a buffoon. But if you go into bars in places not far from the Mexican border, or in parts of Suffolk County, Long Island, where members of the MS-13 gang from El Salvador  not only torture other Salvadorans but menace the locals, you will find similar sentiments. That’s why he hits political pay dirt with his pledge to take care of Americans before admitting the wretched refuse of the world.

If Trump is to be thrown out of decent society, progressives need to find a way to build better lives for America’s own forgotten people, who have been sacrificed on the altar of Trump’s cronies on Wall Street. Otherwise, they will take out their frustrations on the most tempest-tossed of refugees.

To be our best self as a nation, we need to be a better self to our own as well as to the world.

Meyerson
January 11, 2018

When the president of the United States is guided solely by self-interest, politicians of all stripes will just have to figure out how to enhance his material gains. Is that so hard to figure out?

Apparently, it is. Consider the bipartisan outrage we’re hearing from elected officials in coastal states over the decision of Donald Trump’s Interior Department to allow coastal drilling, quickly followed by an exemption from the rule change for the state of Florida.

Both Democrats and Republicans have suggested that the Florida exemption may have something to do with a piece of property Donald Trump owns. “Are they putting Florida off-limits because President Trump has a vacation property—Mar-a-Lago—on the Atlantic coast of Florida?” Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat, wondered.

Likewise South Carolina Representative (and former Governor) Mark Sanford, a Republican. “You can’t say, ‘I don’t want to see an oil rig from Mar-a-Lago’ as you look out from the waters of Palm Beach,” said Sanford, “but it’s okay to look at an oil rig out from Hilton Head or Charleston, South Carolina.”

What we have here is a bipartisan failure of imagination. If the public officials of the 20 states still affected by the rule change want to prohibit oil rigs off their shores, the solution is simple: Build a palatial mansion on the beach, deed it in perpetuity to the president (maybe even offer to cover the property taxes), and voila! You, too, can win a Florida-esque exemption.

Was that so hard?

Kuttner
January 10, 2018

As Robert Frost famously wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Does Donald Trump agree? Is Trump really about to make a deal with Democrats to preserve the right of undocumented Dreamer adults who were brought to this country as children to remain here under DACA? It sure seemed so at Tuesday’s White House bipartisan love fest.

But other officials were quick to walk it back, giving Trump room to change his mind or demand a wall that hardly anyone in either party wants. On NPR’s Morning Edition, White House legislative director Marc Short redefined a “clean DACA bill” as including the administration’s other three top priorities. These are an end to “chain migration,” otherwise known as reunification of families and an end to the visa lottery—and, inevitably, “border security,” defined as a “physical barrier.” Short conceded Trump’s wall could be a “fence” in some places, because it’s actually useful to see what’s on the other side.

So what’s Trump really up to? Nobody really knows, not even Trump, whose moods change faster than the weather. On Tuesday it looked as if he wanted to posture bipartisan and humanitarian. Viewers were treated to the kind of live negotiating session that usually goes on behind closed doors.

But the end game is anyone’s guess. Conceivably, Democrats could trade permanent normalization under DACA for an end to the visa lottery and even for a toughening of rules on reunification of families. But the wall continues to be a nonstarter, and if Trump’s idea of a deal is DACA for the wall, it’s no deal.

One other detail: The adviser who was absolutely obsessive on the subject of the wall as a symbol of Trump’s tough anti-immigrant posture was … you guessed it: Steve Bannon. Maybe, with Bannon gone, Trump can give up the wall. With his embrace of the Dreamers and his declaration that he’s willing to take the heat from the far right, he’s already given up his pose as pure immigrant-basher.

Of course, that could change tomorrow depending on what Trump sees on cable TV and in Twitter world, and on Trump’s mood. Even Frost ended that celebrated and ambiguous poem with the words, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Meyerson
January 9, 2018

California’s thin red line—so thin that in much of the state, it’s barely discernable—crumbled a little more yesterday with the announcement from Orange County Republican Representative Ed Royce that he wouldn’t seek re-election. Royce, who has served in Congress since 1992 without anyone really noticing, holds one of the four Orange County seats that Hillary Clinton carried last year, and had already drawn a passel of Democratic challengers.

Of the four Orange County Republicans in the Democrats’ crosshairs (the other three are Darrell Issa, Mimi Walters, and Dana Rohrabacher), Royce represents by far the most racially diverse district, home to a notably large Vietnamese community. His ability to win re-election for so long despite the district’s diminishing white slice of the electorate is partly due to the fact that Vietnamese refugees from communism—like virtually all refugees from communism—largely aligned themselves with Republican cold warriors (see: Miami, Cubans) at election time. As with Miami’s Cubans, however, that alignment weakened a bit among the children of the refugees, and weakened a great deal among their grandchildren, most of whom are now of voting age.

The Orange County Four were already electorally endangered before any particulars of the recently enacted GOP tax bill were released. The new law’s elimination of the ability to deduct from federal income taxes any sum greater than $10,000 on one’s state taxes endangered those Republicans even more, as it promised to sock it to more than one-third of their voters, and in Rohrabacher’s and Issa’s districts, almost one-half. Issa and Rohrabacher had sufficient survival instinct to vote against the bill. Not so Walters and Royce.

Smelling victory, Democrats are restless. And now, Republicans are Royce-less.

Kuttner
January 8, 2018

When the other memoirs come out—and they will—Michael Wolff’s book will feel tame. Just imagine how serious people around Donald Trump, like General H.R. McMaster, or General John Kelly, or former Goldman chief Gary Cohn, or even Jeff Sessions feel about the idiocy of Trump, and the stories they have to tell?

The great disgrace of the Republican Party is to deny the appalling reality (or unreality) that is Donald Trump, and to indulge his lunatic behavior because he can be used for their ends—the gutting of regulations, the cutting of taxes, the savaging of workers’ wages and social supports. Even worse, the trampling of democracy itself.

By now, Republicans should have concluded that the king is mad, a chronic liar, and an infantile personality; that catastrophic consequences could easily result. That they did not pursue impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment is to their eternal shame.

One would like to believe that some divine or human retribution is the inevitable result—the collapse of the Republican Party or a massive wave of voter revulsion against corporate elites and the governing coalition. But this is not how history works. Democracies fail. Dictators govern for a long time.

Absent a lot of hard work and a good dose of luck, it is just as likely that the U.S. will descend deeper into corruption and oligarchy. Alternatively, voters could rise up against both Trump and Republican corporate Trumpism. Or they could just remain mired in cynicism.

The results of the 2017 elections in Virginia, Alabama, and elsewhere, plus Trump’s continuing pratfalls, give some cause for guarded optimism. But the election of 2020, and the run-up in the congressional midterm election of 2018, will be the most momentous since the fateful election of 1860.

That election, won by Abraham Lincoln, came in the wake of the collapse of the Whig Party, and very nearly sundered the American Union. In 2018 and 2020, either we will begin the long and painful process of healing American democracy, or our liberties could be irrevocably lost.

Kuttner
January 5, 2018

If a liberal strategist or screenwriter had scripted the Bannon-Trump crack-up, it would be hard to improve on events now unfolding. Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, is only a more detailed version of what the world knows all too well. Donald Trump is an undisciplined mess, unfit to govern. His cabinet knows all too well what a total idiot he is, and says so.

As for Bannon’s comments, don’t forget that he made these remarks to Wolff several months ago, since it takes that long for a book to gestate. The comments are totally in character with Bannon’s own narcissism and recklessness. He made the same kind of casually devastating assessment of Trump in his August conversation with me, which turned out to be the last straw that led to his dismissal from the White House.

A few weeks after he was fired, Bannon took my phone call and met with me at the Breitbart townhouse. There, he told me that he and Trump continued to talk regularly. Apparently, even after Bannon was too radioactive to work at the White House, Trump still felt he needed Bannon.

This latest spate of published remarks, however, led to a final breach with Trump and a display of presidential impotent rage. Trump, preposterously, tried to get a court to block publication of the book. Presumably, Trump has never heard of the Pentagon Papers. Courts never back prior restraint of publications, and this issue becomes totally moot in the internet age, when the text could simply be posted and go viral.

Even more pathetic is Trump’s effort to go after Bannon on the premise that Bannon is bound by a non-disclosure agreement more characteristic of the entertainment industry than of politics. Trump has probably never read a political memoir either.

Bannon and his home base, Breitbart, have been uncharacteristically quiet since this latest blow-up. But it will help further fragment the Trump coalition.

Bannon, a hero to the right-wing populist base, is basically telling Trump voters that they have been played for suckers; that Trump is in bed with the billionaires, and not delivering for regular people. In this respect he helps progressives get that message out. The Tea Party diehards will be torn between their support for Trump and their affinity for Bannon.

Meanwhile, the GOP mainstream in Congress will be even more worried that Trump is not only a lunatic, but a flagrant, obvious lunatic. Financial backers of Bannon are already jumping ship.

In a petulant rage, Trump abruptly shut down the Pence-Kobach commission on voter fraud, a Bannon idea. Vice President Pence, despite his fawning loyalty to Trump, was collateral damage.

Support in Republican ranks is likely to grow for getting rid of Trump before the November elections. This will come to a head when Robert Mueller tenders his report. At that point, GOP leaders could well warn Trump that the time has come for him either to resign or to face the risk of a bipartisan impeachment inquiry.

Steve Bannon turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving. People ask what his game is. Based on my experience, his game is the greater glory of Steve Bannon, the ideology of racializing economic grievances, and total war on the establishment press and what’s left of the Republican establishment. If Donald Trump is a useful instrument to Bannon, then Bannon will use him, ridiculing him while professing loyalty. When even Trump sees through the game, Bannon jettisons Trump and moves on.

Both men are crackpots, whom history has thrust into positions of alarming influence. Let us hope they continue to do each other in.

Meyerson
January 4, 2018

Does Donald Trump want his voters to move someplace else? This past summer, when asked about the dearth of jobs in regions like upstate New York, he opined that “Americans are going to have to start moving” to places where the jobs are. That, of course, would decimate his political base, but, as Washington Post reporter Heather Long noted in Wednesday’s paper, a number of policies Trump’s administration and the congressional Republicans are expected to roll out could have that effect nonetheless.

“In many of these struggling towns,” Long writes, “where few, if any, major corporations remain, the tax cut is unlikely to do much to transform them. But the next steps Republicans take could have a deeper reach. Scaling back welfare, especially Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance, and housing subsidies might force people to finally move.”

It’s important to note that this is Long speculating: She’s not quoting an administration source here (indeed, she’s not quoting anyone). Nor is it clear that the evisceration of our semi-demi-welfare state would be any easier for the recipients of its meager benefits in big cities than it is in devastated towns. But it is certainly possible that whatever further immiseration such cuts would bring to the economically abandoned heartland would drive more of its residents to cities—as has been the pattern of American life ever since industrialization began in the decades following the Civil War.

Think of it as a kinder, gentler version of Stalin’s war on the peasantry—forcing them off the land, sometimes through starvation, in the 1930s to produce the workforce for the Soviet Union’s forced-march transformation into an industrial powerhouse. It would be inadvertent Stalinization, of course—where Stalin clearly intended to drive the peasants off the land, that wouldn’t be the Republicans’ intention at all: They need our beleaguered hinterlands to have enough voters to sustain their congressional majority. The refugees from non-metropolitan America would just be the unintended innocent victims of the GOP’s war on social decency—just as its Republican authors would also be its unintended victims, only far from innocent. Indeed, guilty as hell.

Pages