Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

15 November 2016

Darth McConnell

[For thoughts on how we might make Trump and our country great, click here.]

In all the last week of Sturm, Drang und Angst, the scariest thing I have read came not from the mouth of Donald Trump. It came not from the mouth of Steve Bannon, the over-the-top, racist, right-wing blowhard who—we can all sigh with relief—Trump has relegated to “advisor,” while appointing well-connected political realist Priebus his chief of staff.

No, the scariest thing I have read were four little words from the mouth of Mitch McConnell, the Darth Vader of American politics. Trump’s infrastructure-building plan, Mitch said, is not a top priority in his Senate.

Funny thing, that. Remember eight years ago, after Barack Obama’s first inauguration? Remember how Darth immediately picked up the patriotic suggestion of arch-scumbag Rush Limbaugh? Remember how this Senate Majority Leader set the treasonous goal of making his own President fail?

Well, he now appears to be ready to do the same thing to Trump. What do I say that? Because not only does Trump’s infrastructure-building plan have wide bipartisan support. Of all the crazy things that came out of Trump’s mouth during his bizarre campaign, it is the only one that might give the people who voted for him some real benefit.

No one—not even his own supporters—believes in Trump’s Wall. We already have a wall (or portions of one) 700 miles long, which covers the parts of our border closest to where Mexicans live. Does anyone really believe that building the other 1,300 miles will stop illegal immigration cold? Or that it can be done quickly? Or that Mexico will pay for it?

As for his proposed 35% tariffs on goods from China and Mexico, have you ever shopped at Lowe’s, Home Depot or Wal Mart? Most of the goods they sell come from one of those two countries. You think 35% higher prices are going to cheer the ordinary workers who voted for Trump just to shake things up? Having an immediate 35% cut in the part of their pay that buys hard goods is probably not going to bring them joy.

And then there’s the proposed 6.6% cut in the top individual tax rate. If, as we guess, Trump made about $50 million per year for the last two decades but paid no taxes due to his big loss carryovers, that cut would, even without the carryovers, put over $ 3 milllion extra per year in the pocket of him and like 0.1 percenters.

Think that’s going to bring the skilled workers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to their feet? Think that’s going to get Trump a second term?

No, the only thing that Trump has yet proposed that has the ghost of a chance of delivering for the folks who voted for him is the infrastructure plan. It will provide good, non-outsourceable jobs for skilled workers of all kinds, all over the country. They will be jobs full of self-respect: a worker will be able to point to an airline terminal, bridge or high-speed rail line and say, “I built that.”

The plan will cure the defects in our infrastructure, which our American Society of Civil Engineers now estimates as costing $3.6 trillion to fix by 2020. It will facilitate business, trade and commerce. And, for our elite, it will cure their embarrassment on going abroad to gleaming, modern airports and train stations, only to return to domestic counterparts that resemble Greyhound bus stations from the 1960s.

So what is Darth up to? Does he want to make Trump fail just as he tried to do for Obama? Does he just want Trump to acknowledge his power—the power to delay and stymie—and kiss his ring? Or does he want to put his Kentucky coal miners first and delay everything else until they are all back underground producing pollution and global warming?

It’s hard to know. Darth’s official pronouncements as Senate Majority Leader are so low-key and devoid of detail and affect as to make you think he has Valium, not blood, in his veins. But I once listened to him speak to a purely Kentucky audience. Gone was the accentless, affectless, cultured speech he adopts in the Senate. In its place was a Kentucky twang and every racist dog-whistle and code word you could imagine. Jesse Helms could not have beat him at that game.

After listening to that speech, it was possible for me to imagine that what drives Darth McConnell is deep resentment of blacks and powerful whites, and everyone else who has stood in his way in his long rise to great political power. What was impossible for me to imagine was anything this execrable pol is for.

He lacks the understanding of economics you would expect of a mediocre undergraduate. He obviously likes power and is skilled in acquiring and exercising it. But to what end? After watching the guy for at least eight years, I still have no good answer. If there ever was a man who gets his jollies from making other people fail and saying “no,” it is he.

If my take on Darth is right, then he and Trump are on a collision course. Trump has a nationwide populist groundswell of skilled workers behind him, plus a rapidly warming Republican establishment. Darth has the Senate’s byzantine rules, his Kentucky coal miners, and an uneducated rural constituency that apparently thinks he can do no wrong.

The fight is going to be interesting to watch. If Trump wins, he could remove or emasculate one of the most evil retrogrades ever to preside over the United States Senate. That would be a fine way to start his term as a new broom that sweeps clean. To that extent, if in no other way, Trump might deserve the thanks of a grateful nation.

Can We Make Trump Great (Again?)?

Donald Trump is our President-Elect. He got there by running the most racist, misogynistic, divisive and outrageous presidential campaign in our history. He broke all the rules. He promised things that are so wrong and bizarre they aren’t even lies; they are fantasies. He left a whole lot of people feeling outraged, hurt, afraid and angry. His approach raised memories of fascism.

These are facts. But there are other facts, too.

Donald Trump is a builder and developer. How many of them have we had in the White House? Don’t developers understand—more than any economically clueless pol trying to demagogue the deficit—that you have to borrow to build? As a hard-nosed, sharp-elbowed businessman, who has brought some projects in on time and under budget, might Trump be good at rebuilding? And might he understand that now, with interest rates at historic lows but rising, is the right time to borrow big?

Politically, Trump is not just an ingenue or, if you like, “unfit” and “unqualified.” As the New York Times said in a recent front-page article, he’s a “tabula rasa”—a blank slate. Doesn’t that mean he can learn, be influenced, be taught, maybe even be molded?

We progressives and the so-called “establishments” of both parties have two choices. We can do what Darth McConnell and his scorched-earth, racist right-wingers tried to do with Barack Obama. We can try to make our own president fail. As Sarah Palin might say, “how’d that work out for ya?”

We can promote an ever-increasing cycle of political retribution and vengeance until we Yanks become a second-rate power and can lower the Stars and Stripes and raise the Banana Flag. Or we can start to work together and make a lemon into lemonade.

There’s no question what President Obama wants to do. He sat down with Trump and offered to guide and teach him. In a rare deviation from habit, Trump actually listened. After a short meeting, it dawned on Trump that “Obamacare’s” coverage of pre-existing conditions and of children up to 26 is a good thing. If the President keeps at it, might he get Trump to see that putting 20 million newly insured people back into emergency rooms or onto the streets would not be good?

Two things must be done right away. First, honest establishment “conservatives” and centrists must swallow their pride and distaste and join the Trump Administration while it’s still in transition. Trump has been known to follow the advice of the last person to talk to him. We don’t want that person to be Steve Bannon or a Klan member. We want it to be people who know how to bring this country together, even after a campaign of blatant pandering to the worst among us.

Call it realism. Call it serving your country. Call it “infiltration.” But do it. It could make the difference between a mediocre or even an effective administration an an absolute disaster.

But the second thing we must do is much more important. We must get something done—something real, tangible and useful in which we can all take pride.

Self-evidently, that something is Trump’s infrastructure (re)building plan. Never mind that it’s what Obama wanted to do eight years ago that Darth McConnell and his ilk stymied for purely selfish, mindless political reasons. Never mind that economists like Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz have been pushing it for eight years.

Never mind who gets the credit. It needs doing. We will need to borrow at least $3.6 trillion to do it right, and interest rates aren’t going down. So we need to do it yesterday.

We should do this not as partisans, but as Americans. It’s right up Trump’s alley as a builder and developer. It will get us working together again and feeling good about ourselves. And it will get all those millions of skilled workers, who built this country and are now feeling forgotten and estranged, back on the job and less inclined toward revolution.

We can do this. It should be our first priority. Or we can fall apart in bickering and recrimiation and flush ourselves down the toilet of history. The choice is ours.



  • At Tue Nov 15, 10:47:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    McConnell might be pandering to his base but ultimately, he's not going to bring coal back as some economic engine for middle America. The economics of energy production simply don't work for it. Natural Gas beats Coal now. If DT is for fossil fuels, he's going to either have to force cutbacks in natural gas production so it becomes more expensive for power plants to burn on natural gas (And piss off a much larger industry block and raise prices for millions) or he's going to have to subsidize coal to make it viable, thus skewing the cost of energy and irking the repub wingnuts that want less government.

    Oh, and "Clean Coal" ?? That requires smokestack tech and regulation - the kind that's going out the door now.

    There is no viable win path for coal but as a foil to stay in office and have power, making it the topic of concern for his constituency works wonders as he can always blame other forces for keeping coal down, thus ensuring his re-election time and again.


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