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

11 November 2016

A Brave New World?

[For a brief note on how the Dems might remain relevant in the new era, click here.]

How does one assess the last three days? After the shock of loss comes the shock of recognition. We lefties didn’t just lose the election and a chance for our first female president. We lost the whole ball game.

What we thought might approach a three-branch sweep for us became a three-branch sweep for the other guys. Not only do they have the Senate and the House; by the end of Trump’s first term they will have at least a 5-4 Supreme Court majority, and maybe a crushing 6-3 one.

And what if the other guys decide that, having won the whole ball game, they don’t need filibusters and Senate holds any more? What if, having won a clear majority of both Houses, they decide to go with majority rule, for a change, at least for a while? (They can any time; our Constitution lets each House makes its own rules by majority vote.)

Then they can rule as if we lefties didn’t exist. Our ideologies, plans, hopes and dreams will all come to naught. We will become irrelevant.

Yet there’s a bone-chilling irony that most pundits haven’t even begun to notice. Trump is planning to use our methods—Keynesian economics with big deficits—to defillibrate the economy.

Trump’s minions are going to do exactly what Obama wanted to do: give us a big stimulus at the cost of big deficits. They are going to drive up inflation by increasing money in circulation and demand, and that is going to drive interest rates back to “normal” levels. The ripples from the Crash of 2008 will finally disappear without a trace, and by exactly the methods that President Obama, Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz have been pushing for eight years.

Trump’s Administration is going to do this not only by enacting a huge infrastructure package, but also by cutting top individual tax taxes dramatically (about three times what Dubya did—the piker!), and by dropping top corporate rates by more than half (from 35% to 15%). If Trump throws a sop to us lefties (and to economic justice) by getting rid of the carried interest rule, most multinationals and their CEOs won’t even notice. Hedge-fund CEOs may just have to find more productive employment.

So what’s going on here? The GOP is going to juice the economy pretty much as Obama would have done, if given the chance, but with lots more emphasis on making the rich and corporations richer. So was the whole battle about that last bit—making the rich richer?

For the GOP’s big donors, it probably was. That’s what the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and Wall Street wanted. That’s what—and all—they always want. But did the GOP pols have to lie, smear Obama and blame Dubya’s two needless wars, Syria and IS’ rise on him just to do that?

No, there’s another big thing GOP pols want. They don’t just want to reward their rich donors by making them richer. That’s just part of the plan.

They want to win. They want to rule. They want to rule even if it means cutting every corner, bashing every minority, using every cheap trick, breaking every rule of their precious Bible, and then, after winning, ending up doing pretty much what the guys they beat would have done. They just want to be in the driver’s seat.

That’s why Donald is now our President-elecct and the GOP standard bearer. He’s a walking metaphor for the whole party. His chief and perhaps sole goal in life is winning. That’s all he’s about, and that’s all he does. And don’t ask him what “winning” means. He knows it when he sees it, and if you don’t you’re a wimp.

So of course we Yanks are back to rule by an Alpha Male. Of course no female could compete, not even one as smart and experienced as Hillary. Of course he’s not the brightest, fairest or most just. He’s a winner, and that’s all that matters to him and his followers. It all seems so right because that’s what our biological evolution tells us to do: follow the Alpha Male.

On Tuesday, biological evolution came back with a vengeance. It wiped out not just the Dems, but much of American history. In retrospect, it “justified” all the GOPs dirty tricks over the past two generations: Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” the fierce gerrymandering, the avid vote suppression, the outrageously common filibusters, the innumerable Senate “holds,” the “Hastert Rule,” the threats to jail and veiled invitations to kill Hillary, and the refusal even to budge on hearing a Supreme Court nomination. Winning became the end that justifies the means.

That’s why democracy is so rare in human history. That’s why we humans always seems to slip back into empire. The temptation is just too great to pack the ballot box and have Kerensky or General Kirov taken out and shot. Or to pursue Trotsky all the way to Mexico just to put an ice pick in his head.

We Yanks differ only in the bloodlessness and less drastic nature of our means. The Russians and Turks can maintain the illusion of democracy by killing journalists and jailing and ostracizing dissenters. Even the ancient Greeks exiled them. But it takes a uniquely rational and cold-blooded people, like the Brits, to keep democracy running smoothly for eight hundred years since Magna Carta. Most big empires have lasted longer than most democracies.

So is that it? Can we place an early epitaph on our Yankee democracy, our nation, our “uniqueness” and our “exceptionalism” and bury them with flowers?

Probably so. Real democracy, like the Brits’ pure parliamentary brand, probably died here with Reagan’s smooth platitudes of “trickle down,” if not earlier with Nixon and Kissinger. It may have died aborning with our malapportioned Senate and Electoral College, which just recently has given us two popular winners deprived of victory (Al Gore and Hillary Clinton). And it would have died a lot earlier still, except that the threat of Communism and socialism made the bosses accept FDR and the New Deal, which saved capitalism from itself. The smarter of them thought a highly successful “mixed” economy would be better than social and political revolution along the lines of the Russian ones.

Things would have to get that bad again to make a real difference. Despite the middle class’ angst and insecurity, they are a long way from that point.

So cheer up! Rejoice! An Alpha-Male “winner” is at the helm again. He may not be the brightest bulb in our marquee, nor is he the most experienced. But he knows how to win, by means both fair and foul.

And now that he’s won the presidency—and once again proved himself to himself—his boundless narcissism turns toward a different goal: being a “great!” president—“the best.” He really does want to make things better, by his lights. And if that means burning all the coal we can—a fuel we have at hand in abundance in our own country—and so avoiding wars over fossil fuels, that’s all to the good. Our descendants, if there are any, will just have to deal with the massive pollution, coastal flooding, huge storms, droughts, famines and northerly-moving insect epidemics as best they can. Winners only deal with challenges immediately before them.

As for the tribalism, it has caused a lot of angst and hurt feelings. But I think it will subside. It was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Donald Trump is a New Yorker; he’s not a rube from the outback who’s never met a Jew, Muslim, Mexican, or African-American. Even when he takes his limousine, he bumps into them in his hallways and elevators. They are his employees and customers. They are just pawns and political chess pieces, but he knows them and he needs them.

So things may tighten up. People coming from the Middle East may be in for some “extreme vetting.” Some undocumented Mexicans may be deported, but probably mostly those with criminal records. After all, Donald needs the rest—and needs them to be docile serfs—to build his hotels and casinos and work without complaint in his restaurants. So do the rest of the GOP bosses.

Therefore the undocumented Mexicans can stay, but only in the shadows, docile and unprotesting, as usual. They will get no official relief, ever, because they are to be a new class of corporate serfs. A few unlucky families will be tragically broken up—mostly those who try to organize, protest and agitate. But mass deportation will remain only a threat, not a policy or a torrent. Trump will probably do much the same things as Obama, but without trying to put them in writing. It’s the only sensible thing to do, as deportation makes no profit.

As for the rest, we will live and learn along with Donald. He’s nowhere near as stupid as Dubya, and he seems to learn from experience. At least he’s not touting any new “universities.” He wants things like media and “reality shows” that let him make his own reality. It’s hard to do that with science or history.

The biggest opportunities, and the biggest risks, will come from Trump’s nascent attitudes toward war. On the one hand, as a businessman he knows that we Yanks have been far too bellicose and trigger-happy. Ever since Vietnam, we have wasted our energy, money and moral substance on ill-advised military misadventures.

As Trump has said, Dubya was our worst leader in this regard. On false pretenses, he invaded and occupied two sovereign foreign nations (Iraq and Afghanistan) and maintained our two longest wars ever in them—all to stop terrorism and bring bin Laden to justice. Obama brought bin Laden to justice with two helicopters and a team of Navy Seals, and he’s been trying to wind down those two interminable wars ever since. If Trump can speed that process, we will have more money and military muscle to devote to terrorism, cyberwarfare, and other likely twenty-first century threats.

On the other hand, Trump is a quintessential Alpha Male. At some point in the next four years, he may come up hard against another Alpha Male like Putin or Xi. There he will need some real diplomats and problem solvers. Or we will all need cool, rational, self-restrained military men with fingers actually on the buttons. We will need men like the obscure Russian Submarine Flotilla Commander Vasilii Aleksandrovich Arhkipov (Василий Александрович Архипов), who saved the world from nuclear Armageddon in 1962 by not firing his nuclear torpedoes.

If we Yanks can’t find and train such men, well, we humans will have had a good run. Our civilization will have lasted nearly six millennia, and we will likely number over 7 billion individuals. If we fall, there are probably billions of other intelligent species out there in the vast darkness of the cosmos who might do better. Some might even forego the Alpha Male as a leader on the theory that two heads are better than one, three better than two, and so on. (I once thought that China would do that in its top Communist-Party committee, but Xi is now bent on proving me wrong by packing the committee with his minions and sycophants.)

So it’s a brave new world out there. We don’t know quite where we’re going, and neither does the driver. No one including him knows what he wants, and no one knows what’s possible. All we know is that the brakes are off. So it’s going to be an exhilarating and probably bumpy ride.



  • At Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 4:04:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Jay,

    I was surprised to see your assertion that Trump is more intelligent than Dubya. Believing that would really take the edge off my petrifying fears about his election, but it seems unlikely. After seeing Keith Hennessey's essay about Bush and similar stories, it seems that Dubya--while not nearly as smart as he needed to be--was not quite as dumb as he let on. There are no similarly encouraging behind-the-scenes stories about Trump, only accounts that he's even worse than he seems. The biographers who know him best all seem to view him as an existential threat to human civilization. The only arguments that he is anything more than a buffoon seem to be that he is rich and he got elected, but I attribute those entirely to failures of the system; Trump was just the right unscrupulous moron at the right time. I would love to have my view changed on this, to be convinced that the man in the Oval Office might be smarter than the ones who collect my garbage. What signs have you seen that this might be the case?

  • At Friday, November 18, 2016 at 5:34:00 PM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Sorry for the delay, but yours is a very good question. Here’s my answer:

    My low estimate of Dubya’s intelligence comes from three things: (1) his inability to speak his own language (English) correctly, let alone with fluency or nuance; (2) his inability or refusal to explain his policies other than in bumper-sticker phrases, which were self-evidently oversimplified and often flat wrong; and (3) his consistent reliance on frat-boy social dominance tools, like giving everyone nicknames, instead of coherent and convincing explanations. There are also extraordinary instances of catastrophic stupidity, like insisting on a photo-op with an Anbar Sunni sheikh who was helping our troops in secret, and who was assassinated within days after the photo appeared. A number of those instances had to do with catastrophically stupid decisions in the early stages of the War in Iraq. They took me a whole essay to enumerate.

    Trump is different. He has a lot of undesirable personal traits that people confuse with lack of intelligence, but which, in my view, come more from poor impulse control and poor general character. They include impulsiveness, arrogance, indecision, vainness and thin-skinned-ness.

    Sometimes these bad traits make Trump say stupid things. But saying and doing are two different things.

    One sign of intelligence is changing your mind on new information. When new data came in, Dubya seemed to ignore them, wanting to “make our own reality.” In contrast, Trump has often changed his mind or approach, mostly after pushback on his extreme campaign promises. For example, he: (1) has toned down his promise to deport all eleven million undocumented immigrants, and now wants to deport only the criminals; (2) recognized that his remarks on making our allies pay more for NATO scared them, and now talks up firm support for the alliance; (3) seems to have backed off this promise to scrap the Iran nuclear deal after our national security luminaries from both parties nearly unanimously called doing so a bad idea.

    On the other hand Trump, seemingly on his own, has come up with three big ideas that are both honest and right. First, he’s told us repeatedly that Dubya’s war in Iraq was both a catastrophically bad idea and the source of all of Iraq’s and much of Syria’s current troubles. Second, like Bernie he’s called our economy “rigged” and seems to understand (without much detail) why that’s true. Third, he’s proposed putting our skilled workers (including Ohio’s) back to work with a huge national infrastructure program paid for with borrowed money. This last point, unlike his proposed tariffs and Mexican wall, will work.

    [Answer continues below.]

  • At Friday, November 18, 2016 at 5:39:00 PM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    [Rest of answer:]

    Trump’s most promising move so far is his (reported) appointment of General Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor. Flynn had a distinguished military career and clashed often with Dubya’s neocons, who all hate him. I can’t think of any better qualification for a modern military adviser. From Vietnam to our disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the neocons and advisors of similar mentality have gotten us involved in one failing, needless, useless, pointless, counterproductive and close to endless military misadventure after another.

    It’s about time they stopped. Trump’s promise (in his brief victory speech) to treat all other nations fairly gave me the same sense of relief that I felt when Boris Yeltsin reminded the Soviets/Russians that everyone had feared their country for many years, and that it was time for that to stop.

    We want people everywhere to think of us as a moral and economic El Dorado, not as a nation whose misguided and far-too-frequent use of force causes random global disasters, like lightning, every few years. If Trump can wind down our war machine and ramp up our diplomacy and deal-making, as he says we wants to do, he could be a good, even transformational, president. He’s no diplomat himself, but his goals are worth pursuing.

    Of course everything is up in the air, as Trump is not used to working under a microscope. But if he can control his mouth, wait to make decisions until he has all the data, and recognize how much bigger a stage he is playing on now than ever before, he could be a good president. A lot depends on who his other advisors are, which we’ll know in a few weeks.



  • At Friday, November 18, 2016 at 5:56:00 PM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    One last point: Trump’s reported choice of Rudy Giuliani for Secretary of State would be catastrophically stupid. Giuliani is even less of a diplomat than Trump himself, and he can be even more explosive. The best Trump could do now would be to keep Kerry on for a transition period (say, six months) and then switch to a credible, experienced and respected Republican who can work with Trump and his crew.



  • At Saturday, November 19, 2016 at 2:11:00 AM EST, Anonymous Jason said…

    Thank you very much for the detailed reply, Jay.

    I desperately hope you're right that Trump is not quite as stupid and malicious as he seemed during the campaign. You've reminded me of several hopeful signs, although they're all offset equally by terrifying ones -- especially many of the names floated for the cabinet. Perhaps the best case scenario will be if Trump turns out to be a pragmatist who changes his mind when something doesn't work, as opposed to a craven opportunist who will say something to appease any audience.

  • At Saturday, November 19, 2016 at 2:59:00 AM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Jason,

    I absolutely agree about names floated for the Cabinet, with the possible exception of General Flynn. But even Flynn seems to have an obsession about radical Islam and to have lost perspective on it. It’s not an “existential threat” as he believes, although it is a serious, long-term threat that requires devoted, clever and persistent management. If the Israelis can manage it, we can, too.

    What worries me most is State. If Trump is serious about being less bellicose and making more deals, he's going to need some serious, capable diplomats on this team.

    No one whom the press has named as a possible member of his Cabinet or West Wing team comes close to fitting that description. That why I suggest he retain Kerry, who’s a superb diplomat doing a great job, learn from him, and then later switch to a serious, experienced, respected Republican if he feels the need.

    Trump’s tendency to rely on his family and sycophants who only recently saw him as an “Hail Mary” path to power could be fatal to his foreign policy and his presidency. Relying of Kerry, who’s experienced, capable and in the saddle now, could give Trump time to find someone who could realize his general goals and satisfy his party, too.



  • At Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 1:10:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    A previous poster said: "I would love to have my view changed on this, to be convinced that the man in the Oval Office might be smarter than the ones who collect my garbage."

    Stupid comments like this are why Trump is now your president! Many had working, non-elites like you, have made millions collecting your trash. Some have made billions such as Wayne Huizenga picking up your trash after starting with a single garbage truck he purchased for $500.

    If this "elite" poster and the responses to this post still do not understand why Trump was elected, then I give up on this blog and am nearly ready to say burn coal baby burn, burn oil burn, if the elites and the 1 percenters really feel this way about garbage collectors then we will all burn baby burn!

    The likes of "garbage men" get the real tangible work done, while elites make much more money to simply dream up theory. Is this God's will? To have the elites trash those who work hard and do real work? Trace my IP address, I don't care at this point because "humanity" is doomed due to our extremely outdated 4 billion year chemically driven core stem sell brain that inhibits non-emotional reason in deplorables and elites alike. Post this or not, I don't care! I am just sick of elite people thinking they are better than non-educated workers...is that what Jesus taught?

  • At Sunday, February 5, 2017 at 1:33:00 AM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Anonymous,

    I’m sorry I delayed so long (for reasons hard to explain) in posting and responding to your comment.

    Far from being something to be ashamed of, your comment is beautiful! It expresses, in honest and real human terms, the fundamental impasse of our society.

    On the one hand, we have a so-called “elite,” highly educated and privileged. For about a generation, it has ignored, dismissed and marginalized ordinary workers in favor of abstract theories of “globalization," “economic efficiency,” and “shareholder value.” Not everyone in this elite class got rich, but these theories allowed the 0.1% to gain obscene wealth. The rest, like me, were plenty comfortable and had interesting and self-respecting work, in my case teaching and writing books about legal theories of intellectual property.

    Meanwhile, people who work with their hands were sold down the river. Their jobs went to China or Mexico. The factories in their towns closed. The towns dried up, and their kids went off to big cities, into the military and our endless wars, or into drugs. When the Crash of 2008 came, their downward slide fell off a cliff, and many never recovered. That’s why some economists think that our national unemployment rate is far north of 10%, rather than the 4.8% reported recently, because so many people have just given up and stopped looking for work.

    In a couple of essays, I have compared this economic system to feudalism, and our marginalized workers to serfs. (See 1 and 2) But in some ways it’s worse. In the medieval feudal systems, social obligations ran both ways, from serf to lord and back. Although far from all lords were benevolent, all felt the need to protect their serfs from attack and to keep them from starving, if only to have their labor and support as soldiers.

    Today, that practical connection between the elite and “commoners” no longer seems to exist. The elite hardly think about the people who lost their jobs and self-respect. Nor do they think much about the epidemic of suicide and drug abuse that is now infecting our small towns and rural areas, including such places as rock-ribbed Vermont (Bernie’s home).

    So the election of our first totally inexperienced, narcissistic and possible incompetent president reflects a cry of pain from millions ignored and marginalized for far too long. I just hope you don’t think that I’ve ignored their pain and the justice of their cause, in essays like these:

    Brexit: A Letter from the “Lower Classes”
    The Evils of a “Service Economy”
    How The Economist is Killing its Children

    Sometimes you need to be emotional to get people’s attention, especially when they love their theories regardless of consequences and can’t begin to feel your pain.




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