On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Kuttner

Trump’s Huddled Masses and the Politics of 2020. Here’s a hard question for progressive advocates of refugee rights. Did Trump just get perversely lucky?

 

Until a few months ago, critics of Trump’s wall, his caravan obsession, and his claim of an invasion had a foolproof rejoinder. His story was a fantasy. Immigration from Mexico was notably down over the past several years.

Now, however, border crossings from refugees are way up. And Trump’s story of what draws refugees from Central America is not entirely wrong. They’ve heard from friends and relatives that parents with kids and credible accounts of persecution are sometimes allowed into America and released in short order.

None of this excuses Trump’s brutal policies of separating parents from kids. Nor could the U.S. bar such refugees without violating treaty commitments that the U.S. has entered into.

But if you follow interviews from reputable media like NPR with refugees explaining how it works, or even listen to the reasoning of immigration hard-liners from outfits like the Center for Immigration Studies, you have to appreciate that the politics just got a little harder for liberals.

Basically, it’s true that refugees come with kids, knowing that they have a decent shot at being allowed into the country and then being released by immigration authorities and melting into the population. It’s also true that some are mainly economic refugees fleeing destitution, rather than “a well-founded fear of persecution.”

On a humanitarian basis, one has to be compassionate. America can well afford to let a lot of such people in. But the politics can play into the hands of Trumpian hard-liners.

Even as we abhor Trump’s cruelty, it’s a little tricky if the debate breaks down like this:

Liberal: It’s barbaric to separate parents from kids, to set up tent cities on the border, to back up thousands of refugees onto the Mexican side of the border. And besides, our treaty commitments require us to admit and screen refugees.

Conservative: The more people we let in, the more people come. We are going to enforce the law against illegal aliens working, taking jobs from law-abiding Americans. We are also going to be a lot tougher so that we aren’t taking “economic refugees.” Americans are a compassionate people, but we can’t take in all of the world’s poor.

Liberal: Conditions along the border are brutal. Trump’s policies of denying aid to Central America will only worsen conditions and bring more flows of refugees.

Conservative: Not if we don’t let them in. And America has already given a lot of aid to Central America, and conditions are worse than ever.

Liberal: Well, a lot of the corruption and brutality in Central America is the result of U.S. policies in earlier times.

Conservative: There you go, blaming America first.

Gentle progressive reader, I’m not saying we should give up one whit of our humanitarian concern or our demands that Trump cease his brutality. But neither should we pretend that this issue will be a cakewalk for liberals in 2020.

Kuttner

Trump Paints Himself into Yet Another Corner. With great fanfare, Trump went through the motions of carrying out a campaign promise when he negotiated a revised NAFTA. Supposedly, this would be better for the United States, and would appeal to the same blue-collar workers who deserted the Democrats to support Trump in 2016. It might even peel off some union support.

But the devil turned out to be in the details. While some the provisions of the so-called U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) deal looked good, including the one requiring Mexico to uphold its own labor standards and the rules increasing the North American content in tariff-free manufacturing, most of the deal was a stinker.

Informally, chief trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer has offered to go back to the drawing board on some aspects of the deal—if Democrats will commit to supporting a revised deal. But there are simply too many moving parts, and no such commitment has been forthcoming, and none is possible.

There are enough provisions not to like that there is a negative majority in the House against approving the deal in its present form, or in any conceivable revised version. One of the worst provisions gives big drug companies even more power to extract exorbitant prices. The major environmental groups view the deal as far worse than the status quo.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has gone out of her way to throw cold water on the plan, partly to deny Trump bragging rights, but mostly out of objection to a lot of the content. Trump’s ace in the hole was labor support, but unions have come out in opposition, too.

Trump’s other gambit was his threat to withdraw from NAFTA if his new agreement is rejected. But on Monday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka trumped that ace.

“Any sovereign nation has the right to withdraw,” Trumka taunted Trump in a phone call with reporters. “I think that actually can be helpful right now.”

If Trump does act on his threat to withdraw from NAFTA, he will get little resistance from labor, and his business and farmer constituents will be apoplectic. And he would do even more severe damage to the Mexican economy, producing an even larger flow of economic refugees.

Actions have consequences. In conducting complex and delicate diplomacy, it helps to actually know what you’re doing. Trump keeps proving that he doesn’t.

Kuttner

Britain’s Unlikely Grand Coalition (Don’t Mention the War). What on Earth are we to make of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s latest Hail Mary pass—her attempt to work with her arch-enemy, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, to save the British economy from crashing out of the EU, and possibly save her own neck.

The Brits, unlike the Germans and other continentals, tend to avoid grand coalitions. The U.K., has had only one such successful  coalition, Winston Churchill’s wartime government, which included Labour leader Clement Attlee as deputy prime minister, and several other Labour figures in key positions. This was done only because of the wartime emergency.

The one Labour prime minister who agreed to govern with the Conservatives, Ramsay MacDonald in the 1920s and 1930s, is widely remembered as a traitor and a failure. Reliant on Tory votes, he pushed austerity cuts in the face of depression, and presided over a collapse of Labour support.

May, of course, is not proposing a literal coalition government with Corbyn. She is only working to see if Corbyn and the Labour leadership will join her to save Britain from a rapidly escalating catastrophe. But the analogy is all too real, since this is Britain’s most dire emergency since World War II.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that British manufacturers have been engaged in panic stockpiling of materials (“hoarding like it’s wartime”) for fear of massive disruption of supply chains if Britain were to crash out of the EU. 

May, who never really liked the Brexit hard liners but joined their cause out of sheer opportunism, blinked first. It’s bad enough that she will be remembered as the second successive Tory prime minister who crashed her career on the fantasies of Brexit. It would be that much the worse to be remembered as the leader who destroyed the British economy.

As May’s negotiations with Corbyn conclude their third day, the most plausible deal would be for Britain to stay in the customs union with the EU, and follow most EU rules, but not allow free movement of migrant workers, as the EU treaty requires. But even if May were to agree to that deal, it’s not at all clear that EU leaders would go along.

Both Labour and the Tories are really two parties each when it comes to Brexit. The commercial, global wing of the Tories want to stay in; the nationalist, anti-immigrant conservatives want to get out. And on the labor side, cosmopolitan London feels part of Europe, while battered industrial Britain can’t see what the EU has ever done for them except to loose a plague of low-wage workers from Eastern Europe. 

Hard-liners in both parties are wary of a May-Corbyn deal. This shift also represents a role reversal and a risk for for Corbyn, who has been anti-EU through his career. Yet if he can save the day, that achievement would pave his way to Downing Street.

It does look as if Britain has pulled back from the brink. The end game of all this could well be a second referendum, and then a new general election. 

And that could also follow a precedent of Churchill’s wartime grand coalition. Churchill saved Britain from Hitler, but in July 1945 the grateful Brits tossed the old bulldog out, in favor of a Labour government that won the greatest landslide ever. 

Kuttner

Orwell Watch: “Redacted”. When the government censors a document, reporters and editors should stop using the evasive word, redacted. They should use the right word—censored.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, redacted has been around since the 15th century. It’s proper meaning is “edited, or prepared for publication.” But in the past couple of decades, government bodies have used “redacted” to mean defensible censorship, and the press has played along all too willingly.

But of course, “redactions” are often far from defensible or legitimate. They are often in service of cover-ups. Viz. the “redacted” version of the Mueller report, which Attorney General Barr proposes to fob off on Congress.

It’s bad enough when the government plays these games. The press should not conspire in Orwellian euphemisms. Indeed, more than anyone, the media should be resisting government censorship and calling it by its name. 

Meyerson

Who’s More Inept Than the British Tories? The never-ending Brexit follies in the U.K. have made unmistakably clear just how ragingly dysfunctional, divided and dumb that nation’s venerable Conservative Party has become. In the nearly three years since voters narrowly decreed a withdrawal from the European Union, the governing Tories have been unable to come up with a plan to put through or modify Brexit, or to mandate a re-vote.       

So are they the most incompetent long-established right-wing party on the planet or what?

Actually, what.

The championship cup for the most dysfunctional, divided and dumb long-established rightwing party on the planet goes to our very own Republicans. (GOP Convention cheer: We’re Number One!) 

Why do the Tories come in second (and not even a close second)? Consider: They’ve had only two-point-something years to fail to come up with a Brexit Plan. But here in the U.S.A., President Trump announced today that Republicans would wait until after the 2020 election to unveil their substitute for the Affordable Care Act, which passed over vehement and unanimous Republican opposition in 2010. 

That’s a full decade during which Republicans have continually promised to come up with an alternative to the hated (by them) Obamacare but have failed to do so. Among the many reasons for this decade-long drought of ideas, there’s the fact that the ACA includes almost universally popular standards for private insurers (must not charge extra for pre-existing conditions, must permit parents to include kids up to 25 on their policies), the fact that its Medicaid expansion is also very popular, and, that in its reliance on private insurers to offer publicly subsidized (when necessary) policies, it is modeled after longstanding conservative plans. Hence, the available policy space to create a rival plan that still includes the ACA’s popular standards and expansions, and relies on private insurers as the ACA does, is all but non-existent. 

Nonetheless, Republicans voted close to a gazillion (by actual count) times to repeal the ACA between 2011 and 2017, never mind that they never came up with their much-promised replacement. And as they never abandoned their commitment to repeal, Democrats clobbered them in the 2018 election for the threat they posed to coverage of pre-existing conditions. Chances are Democrats will still be able to do that in 2020, since there’s no chance Trump will abandon his quest to undo everything that Obama accomplished.     

So, the feckless, divided, brain-dead Tories? Get in line, bubs. The GOP is way ahead of you. 

Kuttner

Expect Trump To Be Back on the Defensive Soon. Some commentators contend that Mueller’s non-finding of criminal wrongdoing on Trump’s part paradoxically “did Democrats a favor.” In this view, the door is now closed on further investigations of Trump’s misdeeds, and Dems can now focus on the 2020 election, the surest way of removing Trump. 

This theory is nonsense. Trump’s misuse of office has to be a major issue in 2020. And the aftermath of Mueller’s report is far from over.

Attorney General Bill Barr’s summary is a cover-up, pure and simple. It’s now up to key Congressional committees to get the details out, either via Mueller’s testimony or by doing their own investigative follow up, or by doing whatever else it takes to get the full report.

Despite the fact that Barr managed to charm some Democrats during his confirmation hearings, it was all to clear from his prior statements of executive power that he had been appointed for one reason—to protect Trump from Mueller’s findings.

Even if Trump’s flagrant footsie with Putin doesn’t rise to the level of criminal activity, it was a disgrace, and those details need to come out as well. It was good to see Nancy Pelosi take a hard line when she declared

"No thank you Mr. Attorney General. We do not need your interpretation. Show us the report and we can draw our own conclusions. We don't need you interpreting for us. It was condescending, it was arrogant and wasn't the right thing to do. The sooner they can give us the information, the sooner we can make a judgment about it." 

The idea that Dems need to choose between focusing on other election issues, or continue pursuing Trump’s misdeeds as president is preposterous. Trump will be back on the defensive soon. 

Meyerson

The Spurious Claims of Democratic Purplehood. “We’re actually a more purple caucus today than we were a year ago,” Rep. Jim Himes says in a story in today’s Washington Post. Himes’s own purpleness is beyond question: H’s a past chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, and is, to my knowledge, the sole Democratic House member who worked at Goldman Sachs. He also represents the Connecticut congressional district just over the line from New York, home to flocks of Wall Street mega-millionaires.

But is it true that the caucus is more purple? It’s certainly true that the caucus attained majority status by winning formerly Republican seats in the suburbs. At the same time, however, following the leftward movement of Democratic voters, many Democratic House members now support proposals for such leftwing policies as Medicare for All and a Green New Deal that they wouldn’t have supported in years past. 

That’s the problem with the purpling narrative: While it’s true that new members like AOC are outnumbered by new members from more moderate districts than hers, the claims for Democratic purplehood gloss over the fact that the vst majority of House Democrats today support progressive policies and ideas that weren’t even on their radar before 2016. 

Himes’s narrative has a cautionary function: It is intended to warn the Democrats not to go too far left. Depending on how you define “too far,” of course, it’s an unexceptionable narrative. But there’s another caution the Democrats need to heed: The share of rank-and-file Democrats who describe themselves as liberal today is nearly twice that of the share in the 1990s. A majority of Democrats have told pollsters that they prefer socialism to capitalism. There is a social democratic tide within the party that Congressional Democrats would be foolish—and self-destructive—to ignore. 

Recently, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has instructed all political consultants that they’d be blacklisted if they worked for primary challengers to incumbent House members. No such strictures, we should recall, were imposed against the Democrats who worked for Senators Eugene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy when they challenged incumbent Democratic President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, or who worked for Senator Edward Kennedy when he challenged incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980.     

Those challenges arose because a many Democrats opposed those two presidents on policy grounds—the Vietnam War in the case of LBJ, the rightward tilt in economic policy in the case of Carter. In 2018, in deep blue urban districts, several young progressives—AOC and Ayanna Pressley in particular—ousted longtime Democratic House members in primaries. Given the surge of young progressives into Democratic politics, it seems the height of arrogance and folly to try to retard any such efforts in 2020, particularly in safe blue districts. At a moment when the Democratic base is shifting leftwards, such an effort appears chiefly to be an effort to set the ideological composition of the current Democratic congressional delegation in stone, the leftward movement of rank-and-file Democrats to the contrary notwithstanding. 

The role of the DCCC shouldn’t be that of King Canute, standing on the shore, seeking to hold back the tide. 

Kuttner

Connecting the Dots in the Catastrophe that is Europe. There is a direct connection between the three core elements of Europe’s deepening calamity. Those would be (a) the failure of the EU leadership to prevent the Greek financial crisis from crippling the EU economy as a whole; (b) the popular backlash in a worsening economy against refugees; and (c) the rise of the far right; and in the case of Britain, the interminable mess that is Brexit. What connects all three is the utter default of leaders to lead.

Happily, the BBC is out with a superb three-part documentary connecting all of these dots, and it is the best explainer I’ve seen or read on what actually occurred. The documentary, which I’ve previewed, will be shown in the U.S. tomorrow (Thursday) evening on the Smithsonian Channel. 

The series producer is Norma Percy, whose trademark is getting every major player in world events to talk for the camera or to use rarely seen footage that does the job as well. This documentary features original interviews with everyone from French President Sarkozy to the radical Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and dozens more. 

It’s not a happy story, but a cautionary tale full of insights. Disclosure: Norma is a longtime friend, and a friendship I cherish.

Kuttner

Mueller Punts to Congress. By leaving open the question of whether Donald Trump obstructed justice, Robert Mueller fairly begs Congress to pursue it. We may or may not learn from the full text of Mueller’s report why he chose neither to charge Trump nor to exonerate him. It would be useful to know, but either way the duty now falls to Congress.

The Constitution states that a president can prosecuted for crimes after he leaves office, but uses impeachment as the sole remedy while the president is in office. Hamilton, in three separate entries in the Federalist Papers, Numbers 65, 69, and 77 defined the nature and purposes of impeachment. 

In Federalist No. 77, he wrote that impeachable offenses were “those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” That surely describes the Trump presidency.

The Constitution makes no mention of a special prosecutor or of criminal prosecution while a president is in office. So the remedy, and Congress’s duty, are unmistakable—a full investigation and if warranted, an impeachment. 

And even that doesn’t quite get Trump or his family off the hook for criminal prosecutions. The nature of the Trump organization, as a criminal enterprise, was not within Mueller’s remit except to the extent that it corrupted his presidency. But several prosecutors are still on that case.

Trump has had a good weekend. He still looks to have a bad year.

Meyerson

Conservatives: Fighting the Blowback from Their Own Idiocies. Back when American conservatism was actually a body of thought, and not just an apologia for Donald Trump’s racism and narcissism, conservatives liked to warn against the unintended consequences of governmental activism.

That said, some of the most catastrophic unintended consequences of governmental activism to have befallen us came from the governmental activism of conservatives themselves.

I was reminded of this by yesterday’s New York Times story on how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is planning to designate a number of Iraqi political parties and governmentally supported militias as terrorist organizations due to their close relationship to the Iranian government. Of course, these close relations with (and, in many cases, dependence on) Iran are the direct result of the George W. Bush administration’s decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, sworn enemy of Iran, and replace him with what inevitably would be a majority-Shiite Iraqi regime which, as a matter of course, would have close ties to Shiite Iran. Critics of the imbecilic decision to go to war in Iraq, including the editors of the Prospectloudly pointed this out at the time, but go to war we did.

So, this wasn’t just an unintended consequence; it was a foreseeable unintended consequence. Gotta give W credit where credit is due.

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