skip to main |
skip to sidebar
Some Considered Reactions to Trump's Inaugural
We are at a fragile moment in the history of our republic. Our political order is weaker than it has been at any time in living memory, and possibly weaker than it has been at any time since 1860. There may be those who welcome the decline of the political order, because they consider it corrupt, ineffective and hostage to special interests. And, well … it sort of is all those things. But I don’t welcome its decline, when no one is offering a better alternative to take its place. It is very easy to identify the flaws with an existing order, but much harder to put something better in its place, as the communists found out to the sorrow of millions of people.
Liberal democracy is an uneasy truce worked out after centuries of vicious religious wars in Europe, a compromise in which we all agreed to commit to a peaceful process for resolving our most fundamental disputes, even if we hated the normative propositions that process ended up endorsing. Why did we do this? Because the alternative to living with sin is shooting the sinners. And being labeled a sinner. And being shot.
The very thing that made him right electorally for this moment will probably make him an incompetent president. He is the ultimate anti-institutional man, but the president sits at the nerve center of a routinized, regularized four-million-person institution. If the figure at the center can’t give consistent, clear and informed direction, the whole system goes haywire, with vicious infighting and creeping anarchy.
Some on the left worry that we are seeing the rise of fascism, a new authoritarian age. That gets things exactly backward. The real fear in the Trump era should be that everything will become disorganized, chaotic, degenerate, clownish and incompetent.
The real fear should be that Trump is Captain Chaos, the ignorant dauphin of disorder. All the standard practices, norms, ways of speaking and interacting will be degraded and shredded. The political system and the economy will grind to a battered crawl.
His hyperbole was awful. “Carnage”? Really? You would think that we had been living out a long national nightmare of Mordorian intensity. It rang false, as did Trump’s grandiose promises to bring all the factories back, eliminate Islamic terrorism, and so forth. He’s raising expectations unrealistically high. When this stuff fails to materialize, is he going to blame “Washington”?
. . . that was not the speech of a man who is capable of leading a government that he does not command. Many people have faulted its dark quality, but for a pessimist like me, that’s not necessarily a fault. The country really does have big problems, with no easy solutions, if they can be solved at all. That said, he really does seem to be a menacing figure, chiefly (to me) because he has a hot temper, no self-control and no fixed principles. And it is unnerving to watch a US president deploy rhetoric to ramp up fear and manipulate his listeners into thinking that only he can save us.
Having just read the NYT report on the CBO's forecast on the debt, it strikes me that the real crisis in Trump's administration may likely come, not directly, from the moral and identity debates which can certainly draw much ardent attention (including my own), but from the dull problem of finance. The CBO forecasts a huge rise in debt should Trump put through his preferred policies (yuge infrastructure spending, significant military spending increases, and a yuge tax cut). I don't pretend to understand finance, and I know the national debt has been overstated as a problem in the past, but this could reach a real crisis point. In this case, Brooks would be right, and Trump would be less known for fascism than for disastrous incompetence. The deepest danger would then be that darker forces and leaders, much more determinedly focused on identity issues than Trump, could rise to prominence in his wake.
Personally, like John (as I understand him), I find appealing the idea of spending (on infrastructure or anything else) to put the heartland back to work--even if, given larger market and technological forces, this ends up being mainly a temporary palliative. But if this is done at a serious level of funding without tax increases, the result could very likely be disastrous.
The other option is to shave money off our military budget, which is larger than the combined total of the next eight biggest military budgets in the world, and constitutes nearly 50% of global military spending. We spend roughly seven times what Russia does, nearly three times what China does (with the Chinese army roughly twice the size of ours), and nearly as much as every other nation on the planet combined.
Of the roughly $600 billion dollars we spend on our military, surely we could spare 4-6% of it to divert to our crumbling infrastructure? That's anywhere from $24 billion to $36 billion to spend on vital national resources like roads, bridges, et cetera, while also directly reinvigorating the economy through creating jobs and increasing income.
I have a great deal of trouble imagining a situation in which the military could not adequately cope with receiving only 94% of it's normal budget. We'd still be spending well and away more than our next biggest competitors combined.
And that's just for a single year. The longer we cut military expenditure, the more money we have for constructive uses. Two years of cuts nets us $72 billion, four years means $144 billion, and a decade of savings translated to $360 billion - fully one third of a trillion dollars. What would we even DO with all that money?
Conversely, if we only need $36 billion or so are patient, we could just make smaller cuts over a larger period of time. Instead of a 6% reduction on military spending for one year, why not a 0.6% reduction for ten years, or a 1.5% reduction for four? Over the course of a single presidential term, we could collect $36 billion to spend on vital infrastructure and boost the economy in the process.
But no, we've got people clamboring to waste comparable amounts of money on building an idiotic wall that would not only be monstrously immoral, but would in fact be totally ineffective at its stated goals and ultimately serve no real purpose. And they want to cut healthcare, education, the arts, science, and even basic civil services to make it happen.
Perhaps we need to recast infrastructure improvement in terms of our nation's security-- especially from the perspective of being able to move said military around?
!! Fix those bridges !! We have to drive these massive tanks over them !!
etc etc etc
"Perhaps we need to recast infrastructure improvement in terms of our nation's security..."
Which is why I keep thinking Trump will include the Wall in any infrastructure bill. Not exactly what you were thinking of as security, I know, but many do consider the wall a security requirement or pretend to. Then Trump can dare democrats to vote against the bill. Go ahead lose all the goodies going to your state because you don't like a wall that many think is essential to our national security.
Everything can be turned on its head and used against you when there is this kind of factional fighting.
This assumes that Republicans don't receive floods of calls from their own constituencies telling them that they oppose the project - which many Republican voters absolutely do. Tellingly, huge numbers of people who actually live on the border under no circumstances want the wall to be built, because of the disastrous impact it would have on their communities and economies.
Yes, it does assume that.
I don't think there's going to be much political traction for either tax increases or military spending cuts at this time--which is why I'm forecasting a financial crisis, if there's massive infrastructure spending. Trump's populism may well lead to the borrow-followed-by-bust pattern stereotypical of Latin American populism.
Post a Comment