Fooling Fewer of the People, Less of the Time


In a poll conducted in November, after the election, 56 percent of respondents told Quinnipiac that they believed Trump to be a “good leader”; 38 percent said they were of the opposite opinion. That means a fair number of Hillary voters bought the Trumpster’s act, and accepted his claim to be a brilliant businessman who knows how to manage effectively.

By January the 56 percent figure was down to 49 percent. Earlier in February it was 47 percent. Now it’s down to 42 percent—which means that a nontrivial portion of those who voted for Trump in November have now grasped that he is not a “good leader.”

The fans are slowly getting up and leaving the clown show.

This info from Josh Barro, Trump has a problem: Americans increasingly think he’s incompetent.

In Trump’s ‘Apprentice’-style hiring is upending Washington Politico enlarges on the incompetence of Trump’s hiring decisions:

Trump can plan to pick one person one minute and change his mind the next. He can think of a name and immediately tell advisers he wants that person for a particular job. There is no discernible rhyme or reason or formal vetting process to many of his hires, allies and aides say, with no formal questionnaires or protocols — and several Cabinet appointees’ confirmation struggles brought the downsides of such an approach into stark relief. He cares, above all, about appearance, loyalty and strength — a word he often uses. …

“It can be very random,” one person who has been heavily involved in a number of the searches said. “You can mention a name, and he will want to hire the person. Or he can veto someone, and you’re not really sure why.”

The descent into madness continues.

Goldman Sachs Has an Epiphany


Goldman Has Grim Prognosis for Tax Reform Amid Obamacare Debate

 Investors counting on major U.S. tax reform in 2017 are going to be disappointed, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The problem is that lawmakers and Donald Trump’s administration are going to be so caught up figuring out how to repeal Obamacare that coming up with a new corporate tax system will get pushed to the side, economists at the bank led by Alec Phillips wrote in a note Wednesday.

“This process is likely to take longer than expected, which is likely to delay the upcoming debate over tax reform,” they said. “The difficulty the Republican majority is having addressing a key political priority suggests that lawmakers might ultimately need to scale back their ambitions in other areas as well, such as tax reform.” …

A delay to tax reform has been cited as a risk by other banks as well, which have warned it could spell trouble for a stock market that has priced in Trump’s pledges for a “phenomenal tax plan,” as well as scaled-back regulation and a boost in fiscal spending. Goldman itself says that the prospects of tax cuts have played a huge role in the 10 percent rally the S&P 500 Index has seen since Nov. 8, but that the risks are continuing to rise.

Aardvark is fond of the term “priced in”—it’s something that we savvy financial types might say. But it appears that, while the market priced in big tax decreases, it didn’t price in the Republican’s inability to make coherent policy. It didn’t price in White House’s inability to find its ass with both hands. It didn’t price in the objection of the great unwashed to having their health care yanked away.

Jonathan Chait nicely explains the policy dilemmas, but ends of predicting that Ryan and company will just replicate the Bush 2001 tax cuts. Jennifer Rubin predicts abject failure.

Trump and arrogant lawmakers can swear up and down that protesters in their districts are paid phonies. What they cannot ignore are the legions of small businesses, importers, retailers and consumers who will surely conclude that they’ll be worse off than they are now with the border adjustment tax. It is the sort of issue (tax cuts for the rich! price hikes at Walmart!) that can set off a wave election.

Ryan might persist with the border tax adjustment gimmick, but it likely will mean the end of his tax reform effort. That would be some economic karma if a non-conservative, distortional tax grab knocked the legs out from under a GOP that has decided to discard its fiscally responsible free-market positions.

Aardvark confidently predicts a continuing clusterfuck.

They Can’t Find their Ass with Both Hands


Fight Erupts in Trump Administration Over Transgender Students’ Rights

 WASHINGTON — A fight over an order that would rescind protections for transgender students in public schools has erupted inside the Trump administration, pitting Attorney General Jeff Sessions against the secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.

Ms. DeVos initially resisted signing off on the order and told President Trump that she was uncomfortable with it, according to three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions. The draft order would reverse the directives put in place last year by the Obama administration to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.

Mr. Sessions, who strongly opposes expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, fought Ms. DeVos on the issue and pressed her to relent because he could not go forward without her consent. The order must come from the Justice and Education Departments.

Mr. Trump sided with his attorney general, these Republicans said, telling Ms. DeVos in a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he wanted her to drop her objections. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the choice of resigning or defying the president, has agreed to go along. The Justice Department declined to comment on Wednesday.

Though an official order from the administration was expected to be released as early as Wednesday, Mr. Sessions and Ms. DeVos were still disputing the final language.

* *

Today, Aardvark welcomes new readers from Iceland. Velkomnir, lesendur. A great fan of Icelandic mysteries, Aardvark years to visit your country. Dr. Aardvark, not so much.

Aardvark’s New Home Page, or, The Limits of Human Reason


As we learn from Elizabeth Kolbert, Steve Bannon is conducting a big experiment in social psychology in an effort to falsify Lincoln’s hypothesis.

The reference to Kolbert’s article, Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds, comes from the estimable Hans Jungfreud (who assures me he is neither a Freudian nor a Jungian). Hans calls it this morning’s lesson in social psychology.

It’s a fine article. Please go read it right now. Hint: the answer to the question posed by the title is said to be found in evolution.

Kolbert concludes,

“The Enigma of Reason,” “The Knowledge Illusion,” and “Denying to the Grave” were all written before the November election. And yet they anticipate Kellyanne Conway and the rise of “alternative facts.” These days, it can feel as if the entire country has been given over to a vast psychological experiment being run either by no one or by Steve Bannon. Rational agents would be able to think their way to a solution. But, on this matter, the literature is not reassuring.

That may well be the case, but, personally, I will take Lincoln’s quote, above, over the literature.

Hans may well see this, and much else I have written, as evidence of confirmation bias and/or any of a variety of other mental defects.

But you, gentle reader, protest: the headline speaks of Aardvark’s new home page. When will we get to the new home page, you wonder.

Right now.

I have revised the home page to collect, and link to, a number of voices that address the question: what can progressives do, and what should they be doing, in the age of Trump?

A fair number of these materials give advice on how to interact with rabid Trump supporters. Generally, they do not claim that facts and logic are likely to be effective tools, at least in the immediate present.

We have to wait a little while, and wait for the facts on the ground to become clear. If, for example, you are a coal miner who voted for Trump because your fondest desire is for the resurgence of the coal industry, there will come a time when the coal industry remains in stagnation, long into Trump’s presidency. At some point you will have two simultaneous epiphanies: one, that the coal industry really is not coming back, and two, that the emperor is in fact naked.


“He’ll Seal His Own Fate.”

In a recent post I looked at two contrasting views on whether Trump would get away with Putinizing America. Yesterday, David Brooks made this reassuring observation:

The central task for many of us now is not to resist Donald Trump. He’ll seal his own fate. It’s to figure out how to replace him — how to respond to the slow growth and social disaffection that gave rise to him with some radically different policy mix.

Aardvak loves David Brooks, but he would feel better about this reassurance if Brooks had not confidently observed that no great political party would nominate a clown like Trump.

Oh, wait, maybe I need to read those words about a great political party more carefully.

But I digress. To return to the main message:

Amidst his casual reassurance on the topic of fate sealing, Brooks marshals a horrifying array of factoids about the social conditions that let Trumpism happen.

  • Between 1985 and 2000, the total hours of paid work in America increased by 35 percent. Over the next 15 years, they increased by only 4 percent.
  • For every one American man aged 25 to 55 looking for work, there are three who have dropped out of the labor force.
  • These labor dropouts spend 2,000 hours a year watching screens—and we all know what’s on those screens, don’t we?
  • Lots of the labor dropouts are taking opioids.
  • We have become an immobile society, migrating across state lines at half the level of the 50s and 60s.
  • We have become less entrepreneurial.
  • We have become less innovative.

In sum, ours is

a country that is decelerating, detaching, losing hope, getting sadder. Economic slowdown, social disaffection and risk aversion reinforce one another.

Of course nothing is foreordained. But where is the social movement that is thinking about the fundamentals of this century’s bad start and envisions an alternate path? Who has a compelling plan to boost economic growth? If Trump is not the answer, what is?

That’s Brooks’ summary. My own take on the facts Brooks marshals is that next time we might do a lot worse than Trump.

No more water. The fire next time.

A Cluster of Clusterfucks


The Immigration Clusterfuck

Why Trump’s Immigration Crackdown Could Sink U.S. Home Prices

 President Donald Trump’s immigration policies threaten to crack a foundation of the American economy. … “If Trump gets the immigration plan he wants, the housing market will get hit harder than any other,” said Alex Nowrasteh, a policy analyst for the libertarian Cato Institute. If “millions of people get deported and more people don’t come in to take their place, then you’ll have downward pressure on home prices, especially in urban areas.”

The Infrastructure Clusterfuck

Here’s One Reason Why Trump’s Legislative Agenda Is Flailing

 In a December interview with The New York Times, Trump confessed that he was still figuring out exactly what he wanted to do ― and that he hadn’t realized FDR-style infrastructure building might alienate conservatives. “That’s not a very Republican thing ― I didn’t even know that, frankly.”

The Empty Government Clusterfuck

Cabinet picks clash with White House over hiring

Many Cabinet nominees joined the administration believing they’d have wide latitude to pick lieutenants, but they’re beginning to realize Trump’s powerful advisers are looking over their shoulders. The White House’s approach has already slowed hiring — and the dozens of vacancies at key agencies could make it more difficult to implement some of Trump’s policy proposals.

So far, Trump has nominated fewer than three dozen of the 550 most important Senate-confirmed jobs, according to an analysis by the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group that advised Trump officials during the presidential transition.

The Health Care Clusterfuck

Here you go: Pick a politician, watch them get yelled at

 Pick a politician on our YELL-O-MATIC™ and watch them get yelled at.