The Bottom Line, So to Speak

The one percenters haven’t given up on the Long Con—not yet. Here’s why the greedy are still trying to lead and bamboozle the uneducated, the gullible, and the people who value most their sacred freedom to be nasty to people they despise. Decency be damned. Sanity be damned. Truth be damned. The United States Constitution be damned.

Here’s What Executives Are Saying About Republican Tax Reform

I don’t know whether the Long Con will work one more time, and they will get their “reform.”

But if it doesn’t work, these CEOs aren’t going to want to keep on paying McConnell and Ryan and the whole cowardly lot of stuffed shirt politicians.

When your investment doesn’t pay off, you bail.

Don’t throw good money after bad.

Meanwhile, Bannon has the haters and know nothings coming after McConnell and Ryan with their torches and pitchforks.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

On the White House Menu this Evening: Rocky Mountain Oysters

castration

Some Republican Senators are now saying that Trump is a mentally unstable, dangerous demagogue.

If these claims are damnable lies, then your duty as a Republican senator would be to call them out as damnable lies, demand their immediate retraction, and call on those who make such claims immediately to slink out of Washington like the disgraced lying liars they are.

If, on the other hand, the assertion that Trump is a mentally unstable, dangerous demagogue is true, then your duty as a Republican senator is to take drastic action, immediately if not sooner.

If you do not immediately denounce Corker and Flake as damnable liars, then you are conceding that their claims are true.

If you concede that the Corker/Flake critique is valid but choose to do nothing about it, then you are letting Trump castrate you.

Trump is castrating you.

This evening’s White House menu features Rocky Mountain oysters.

Next year Trump and his rabid followers will eat the rest of you.

oysters

挂羊头卖狗肉—the End of the Long Con

A butcher returns change to a customer at a market in Beijing

If you are selling a product that people actually want to buy, then all you have to do is describe the product truthfully, and Bob’s your uncle: people will buy it.

If you are selling a product that few people want to buy, then you have to do what the Chinese idiom captures in an arresting word picture: gua yang tou, mai gou rou, hang up a sheep’s head while selling your dog meat.

There is pretty much zero constituency for principled conservatism. Here’s Charlie Sykes, repentant right-wing talk show host,  being interviewed by Jonathan Chait:

Sykes: Starting with Hayek, and extending to Milton Friedman, I think there was a principled critique of the limits of government knowledge and, hence, of the ability of the central state to run the economy. There was also an attempt to fuse together various branches of conservatism into the concept of ordered liberty. These thinkers (and I would include people like Jack Kemp later) genuinely thought that limited government, free markets, and economic freedom would provide the greatest scope and opportunities for Americans. But, as you suggest, these ideas were indeed hard to translate into policies that could win elections.

This brings us to the politicians. Richard Nixon, who embraced the most aggressive versions of the Southern Strategy, was not a conservative of this school, but I do think that there was a temptation among the political class to use both cultural and racial issues to substitute for other issues. Conservatives too often gave in to that temptation. Even those who did not turned a blind eye to the grievances among folks whose vote they needed.

Fast-forward to 2016. Trump deftly exploited those grievances, and continues to do so. Rather than talk about health care, he attacks the NFL. It’s very much the old pattern.But: This doesn’t mean that people whose views were shaped by Hayek, von Mises, or Friedman are therefore responsible for the alt-right.

In other words, there is a conservative tradition that is clearly separable and distinct from Trumpism.  But it is a tradition that clearly has been abandoned by much of the political class and GOP electorate.

In short, the principled conservatives were selling dog meat that no one wanted to buy, so they had to hang up a sheep head of racism and grievance to sell their product.

Josh Barro makes the same point, with specific reference to Jeff Flake, a rare principled conservative:

Flake is helpless because there’s no real constituency in America for what he favors: low taxes and spending, openness to immigration and trade, international collaboration where America honors its commitments, and polite public behavior.

There is one coalition of voters that favors a much larger and more active government than Flake wants. Many of these voters share a portion of Flake’s values (they may share his commitment to openness and politeness, for example) but they also oppose him on various social issues where he is conservative and they are liberal. Flake does not have a home in the Democratic Party with these voters.

The other coalition of voters is the one Flake relied on all along to get elected. But it turns out they don’t care very much about some of the policy ideas Flake thought were important. And they outright oppose him on others, like immigration. And many of these voters have come to view nastiness and crudity as virtues, since they think politeness norms have been weaponized by an establishment that wants to exclude them — or just because they are jerks.

It was essentially an accident that Flake and elected officials like him were able to harness the Republican electoral coalition for so long to back an agenda that excluded policies those voters cared about (like immigration restriction) and included ones they opposed (like cutting Medicare). Now that’s over, and he has nowhere to go. 

In sum, the few principled conservatives left in Republican public life are being chewed up and spit out. Here’s Barro again:

Flake should consider that ideas with no natural constituency might be bad ideas. If “traditional Republicans” could only ever be elected by people who didn’t care about their animating ideals, people who could be tempted to support a man like Trump, maybe those ideals were never any good to begin with.

And maybe the willingness of Republican voters to choose a president of such poor character and temperament suggests those voters have always had poor judgment — including when they elected Jeff Flake.

Meanwhile, other politicians are pushing forward with a program of Damn the Deficit, I Want my Tax Cut, and I Want it Now! It’s a different species of dog meat, but marketed under the same racist sheep head—what Sykes delicately calls using racial and cultural grievances to sell other issues. The “other issues” would be tax cuts for billionaires.

On this second front, things remain confused. The sockpuppets for billionaires crowd—let’s call ‘em the unprincipled pseudo-conservatives—think they still might pull it off. I don’t think so. I think Steve Bannon and his howling mobs are going to chew them up and spit them out, too.

Remember Big Luther?

Roy Moore is a-comin’ to town.

If and when the giant tax cut crashes and burns, a lot of plutocratic political dabblers are going to stop supporting the McConnell-Ryan crowd. They will take their gazillions and turn to new hobbies. Probably someone will think to found a new religion, teaching that  the degree of God’s favor varies directly with your net worth. I’m surprised they haven’t already thought of that.

Meanwhile, corporate America will wake up and smell the coffee, realize that the Long Con is over, and discover a new fondness for “moderation” in support of global capitalism. Susan Collins will be the founding member of the Moderation for America Party.

At Last, the Voice of Reason Speaks

palin

Jonathan Chait writes,

Last night, accepting an award from the National Constitution Center, John McCain denounced the Trump administration’s ideology in terms that sounded harsh, and that upon reflection were even harsher. Without naming Trump, but without needing to, the Arizona senator dismissed “some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems,” likening it to “any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.” Here McCain was comparing the worldview of a president of his own party to communism and fascism — a rebuke even deeper, in a way, than Senator Corker comparing him to a doddering half-wit. Corker attacked Trump’s competence. McCain attacked his intentions.

End Times

apostasy

In a new paper published in June in the journal Science, a team of economists and public policy analysts, incorporating a wide range of climate-modeling data, quantified the economic damage that climate change could wreak on the United States in the years to come. What they found was a clear bifurcation: In the North and West, agricultural yields will stay more or less constant, as will energy expenditures and direct damage from storms. The South and Southeast—the region stretching from South Carolina down through Georgia and Florida and out to Texas—are another matter. The electrical grid will be overwhelmed by an increased need for air conditioners. Crops will wither and die. Heat-related illnesses and deaths will soar: By the end of this century, the study predicts, mortality rates in parts of the South could surge dramatically.

What the heat doesn’t harm, the storms will. Exacerbated by warming waters, cyclones and hurricanes will pummel the shorelines. Picture Texas after Harvey—the wide Houston boulevards converted to canals, the confused horses wading through the blue-gray floodwater, the shudder of explosions at the flooded chemical plant, the three-year-old girl who was found by rescue teams clinging to her mother’s drowned corpse. Now picture the same scenes playing out in city after city, several times a year. Billions will be spent on relief, rebuilding, and prevention efforts. In the space of a decade, according to the Science study, direct damage from storms may cost many Southern counties at least 10 percent of their GDP—annually. By the last years of this century, an unprecedented redistribution of wealth could take place, as climate refugees flee north. “People living in the South are going to be much poorer, and people in the North are going to be much richer,” says Solomon Hsiang, the lead researcher on the study. “That will lead to a widening of inequality. In essence, one group will get a big boost.”

Matthew Shaer, States of Denial: Trump insists that climate change isn’t real. From crop failures to killer storms, his Southern supporters are paying the price, New Republic, November, 2017

Please Read this Post

I don’t mean my post. I mean this one, by Sean Illing: 20 of America’s top political scientists gathered to discuss our democracy. They’re scared. “If current trends continue for another 20 or 30 years, democracy will be toast.”

It’s a longish piece, because it’s a summary of the views of a number of serious scholars. A summary of the summary would be of little utility to you, so please read Illing’s post. But I will share, first what the author calls “My (depressing) takeaway.” Then I will share my own.

Illing’s (Depressing) Takeaway

Back in June, I interviewed political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, authors of Democracy for Realists. They had a sobering thesis about democracy in America: Most people pay little attention to politics; when they vote, if they vote at all, they do so irrationally and for contradictory reasons.

One of the recurring themes of this conference was that Americans are becoming less committed to liberal democratic norms. But were they ever really committed to those norms? I’m not so sure. If Achen and Bartels are to be believed, most voters don’t hold fixed principles. They have vague feelings about undefined issues, and they surrender their votes on mostly tribal grounds.

So I look at the declining faith in democratic norms and think: Most people probably never cared about abstract principles like freedom of the press or the rule of law. (We stopped teaching civics to our children long ago.) But they more or less affirmed those principles as long as they felt invested in American life.

But for all the reasons discussed above, people have gradually disengaged from the status quo. Something has cracked. Citizens have lost faith in the system. The social compact is broken. So now we’re left to stew in our racial and cultural resentments, which paved the way for a demagogue like Trump.

Bottom line: I was already pretty cynical about the trajectory of American democracy when I arrived at the conference, and I left feeling justified in that cynicism. Our problems are deep and broad and stretch back decades, and the people who study democracy closest can only tell us what’s wrong. They can’t tell us what ought to be done.

No one can, it seems.

Now for

Aardvark’s Depressing Takeaway

Illing’s “no one” obviously includes your humble scrivener.

But let me say this about that.

It’s a terrible idea not to teach civics to our kids. But—for exactly the reasons Illing laid out in the first two paragraphs of the quote above—Jefferson’s democratic yeoman farmers and workers are never going to save us.

Confucius was right: society won’t work unless the 君子 are not only rich and powerful but also the moral leaders of society. (Or at least, Aardvark would add, unless at least some significant number of them assume the mantle of moral leadership.)

Jesus was right: where much is given, much is required.

Aristotle was right: the best form of government is a republic, not a democracy.

James Madison was right to adopt Aristotle’s insight.

Woodrow Wilson, who had a lot of flaws and probably did not know much about Confucius, was right to establish the motto, “Princeton in the Nation’s Service.”

Now, the graduates of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton become investment bankers.

West Virginia coal miners and Ohio steelworkers, out of a job, have addicted themselves to opioids.

The best and the brightest have addicted themselves to money.

Of the two addictions, the addiction to money is worse, because it destroys the soul.

And the love of money is pretty much the root of all evil.

 

 

 

 

This Evening’s Guest Blogger: George Will

tenor

Tonight, we reflect on the wisdom of George Will:

Trump’s energy, unleavened by intellect and untethered to principle, serves only his sovereign instinct to pander to those who adore him as much as he does. Unshakably smitten, they are impervious to the Everest of evidence that he disdains them as a basket of gullibles. He understands that his unremitting coarseness satisfies their unpolitical agenda of smashing crockery, even though his self-indulgent floundering precludes fulfillment of the promises he flippantly made to assuage their sense of being disdained. He gives his gullibles not governance by tantrum, but tantrum as governance.

Interestingly, in an earlier blog today, I spoke of flinging crockery. Was I channeling Will, or was Will channeling me? We may never know.

Addiction

addiction

If, like the Aardvarks, you have been watching the PBS Evening News, you know about their disturbing, comprehensive reporting on the plague of opioid addiction.

If, God forbid, you are addicted to opioids, then the chances are very good that your priorities are badly skewed and that you are making lots of really bad choices. And that your really bad choices have very negative consequences and lead to even worse choices.

The opioid crisis is terrible. But we suffer from another widespread addiction crisis, too. A great many of our one percenters have become so addicted to money that they cannot see straight. Their priorities are badly skewed. They make choices blindly. One bad choice leads to an even worse choice, which leads, in turn, to a catastrophic choice.

Thinking that they will get their precious tax cut, the one percenters and their politician sock puppets embrace a mentally disturbed, racist man child.

And the more rational and moderate among them gleefully stoke racist views that they probably do not share.

The Ed Gillespies of the world have sown the wind and they are reaping the whirlwind.

Trump in the Temple

Samson2

Throwing a bomb into the insurance markets, Trump now owns the busted health-care system

When anyone doesn’t recognize his greatness, Trump throws a three-year old tantrum and breaks crockery.

Reality based journalists don’t recognize his greatness. Increasingly unhinged rants have been the result.

Trump’s ignorance is great, but it has begun to penetrate his brain that it isn’t just reality based journalists who are not buying his act: sixty percent of Americans hate his guts.

It’s time for some payback against the American people.

It’s Samson in the temple time.

He’s blowing up the whole health care system today. Tomorrow he will blow up something else. And the next day and the next day and the day after that.

Aardvark Welcomes Guest Blogger Michael Gerson …

… who imagines Trump and Corker, following Paul Ryan’s helpful suggestion, sitting down and just talking through their issues.

In the midst of a governing crisis, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has once again risen to his role as the voice of bland complacency. Concerning the open warfare between President Trump and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Ryan advises “these two gentlemen to sit down and just talk through their issues.”

But what are Corker’s “issues”? He has asserted that Trump requires constant handling to control his volatility: “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him.” Corker has accused Trump of lacking strategic thinking: “A lot of people think that there is some kind of ‘good cop, bad cop’ act underway, but that’s just not true.” Corker has called out Trump’s routine deceptions: “I don’t know why the president tweets out things that are not true.” Corker has talked of Trump’s vacuity: He acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.” Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has expressed the fear that Trump’s instability could lead to conflict: “We could be headed toward World War III with the kind of comments that he’s making.”

So how does Ryan imagine a Corker/Trump conversation might unfold? Over dinner, Corker accuses the president of being a chaotic, directionless, shallow liar who could start a nuclear war. Trump passes the peas and attacks Corker for being short. This is, after all, the way gentlemen resolve their differences.

short people

Both Sides are Right, I’m Afraid

both sides

Yesterday’s Quinnipiac Poll found that 60 percent of those polled were of the opinion that Trump does not share their values.

Meanwhile, 37 percent declared that Trump does indeed share their values, even if he does not partake of the majority’s values.

Clearly, both sides are absolutely correct in their assessments.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend, It’s Time for Him to Tweet Again

Aardvark is probably late to the party, and y’all have probably seen this video already, but if not, please enjoy.

Props to a valued member of our merry band of progressives and resisters here at Happy Acres.

BREAKING NEWS: TRUMP THREATENS TO PULL FEMA OUT OF PUERTO RICO.

BREAKING NEWS: NATION SCHEDULES RECURRING MONTHLY BENEFIT CONCERN TO STREAMLINE TRAGEDY RESPONSE PROCES.

BREAKING NEWS; U.S. PULLS OUT OF U.N.E.S.C.O.

Two of these headlines are not from The Onion.

Setting the Record Straight

paper towels

Aardvark believes it is important to set the record straight. To give credit where credit is due. To call a spade a space. Not to beat about the bush.

We have it on the authority of the New Republic—not known for any pro-Trump bias—that the federal government’s decisions on assisting Puerto Rico were all defensible judgment calls. I find this news gratifying, and I am sure the folks in Puerto Rico are happy to hear it as well.

Aardvark was also gratified to hear that Secretary of State Tillerson did not refer to Trump as a “moron.”

What the Secretary actually said was, “Trump is not a moron. He just plays one on TV.”

Although Tillerson denies using the word “moron,” he demurs with reference to any alleged use of the terms “dimwit,” “dullard,” “ignoramus,” or “idiot.”

Clarity is very important.