Sunday, December 11, 2016
I woke up yesterday morning thinking about how America, if little
else, has become something of a consumer paradise over the last 30-40
years. I often wonder why it is that so many people are so uncritical
of the established order, and that seems to be a big part of why. Sure,
one can nitpick, and if you know much about how business, marketing
in particular, works, you'll realize that the real gains still fall
way short of what's possible or desirable. You may also may feel some
qualms about what has actually been achieved by all this consumption.
And, of course, like everything else the gains have not been equally
distributed. But for those who can afford today's markets, life has
never been better.
I count Trump's voters among them. Sure, many gripe about economic
fears, some even about hardships, but somehow they overlook their own
bosses and the businesses who take most of their money while perceiving
others as threats. I'm aware of lots of reasons why they think that,
but I can't say that any of them make real sense to me. What I am sure
of is that the incoming Trump administration isn't going to solve any
of their imaginary (let alone real) problems. Trump's cabinet is going
to have more ultrarich (say, half-billionaires and up) than any other
in history. In fact, this represents a new plateau in the history of
American plutocracy: even as recently as the Shrub administration,
titans of industry and finance were happy to stock the government with
their lobbyists and retainers, but Trump is tapping "the doers, not
the talkers" -- people who don't just take orders but who intimately
know how to convert public influence into private gain. In the past,
the most notoriously corrupt administrations (Grant, Harding, Reagan)
combined indifferent leadership with underlings imbued in a culture
of greed. Yet today, Trump not only hasn't divested himself of his
business entanglements; he's actively continued to work his deals,
nakedly using his newly acquired leverage. Unlike the others, he
won't just turn a blind eye to corruption; he's ideally positioned
to be the plunderer-in-chief.
One thing Trump's election has spared us was being plagued with
four years of non-stop Clinton scandals -- sure, mostly likely as
bogus and conflated as the ones she's endured for 24 years, but
still catnip to the press. Instead, Trump promises to give us real
scandals, huge scandals, the kind of scandals that expose the rotten
core of American Greatness. One hardly knows where to begin, or when
to stop, but this will necessarily be brief.
Some scattered links this week:
Peter Beinart: Trump Excuses the White Working Class From the Politics of
Personal Responsibility: The author has been reading JB Vance's
Hillbilly Elegy and detects some manner of irony:
Under Reagan, Republicans demanded personal responsibility from African
Americans and ignored the same cultural problems when displayed by whites.
Under Trump, Republicans acknowledge that whites exhibit those same
pathologies. Trump, for instance, spoke frequently during the campaign
about drug addiction in white, rural states like New Hampshire. But
instead of demanding personal responsibility, Trump's GOP promises
state protection. Unlike Vance, who speaks about his poor white neighbors
in the way Reagan-era conservatives spoke about poor blacks, Trump-era
conservatives describe the white working class as the victims of political
and economic forces beyond their control. Sounding a bit like Jesse Jackson
defending the black underclass in the 1980s, Trump Republicans say that
what the white underclass needs today is not moralistic sermonizing but
government assistance and cultural respect.
Of course, there is a simpler reason why Republicans would present
different sets of standards and prescriptions for white and blacks:
it's called racism. Such double standards are hardly novel. Nor was
"separate but equal" merely ironic. But Beinart is also wrong when he
thinks Trump intends to solve the problems of poor whites through
state actions. Like all Republicans since Reagan, his solution is to
reduce the political options of the state, reserving it for violence
against any challenges to authority, while allowing the private sector
to expand its power over workers, customers, and mere bystaders.
Rosa Brooks: Don't Freak Out About Trump's Cabinet Full of Generals:
I doubt I'd take Brooks seriously without knowing that her mother is
the brilliant left journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, as Brooks' own resume
paints her as an insider in Washington's foreign policy establishment,
a perch from which she's observed the creeping hegemonic encroachment
of military brass (her recent book is How Everything Became War and
the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon). So, yeah,
she's uncommonly comfortable with generals and admirals running things,
even respects and admires them. Still, she may be right that the problem
with all Trump's generals isn't that they'll upset the intricate checks
and balances the founding fathers devised, but she misses the real point:
that Trump's generals consummates a steady drift that started back in
WWII transforming the US military from a rarely-used last resort to an
everyday implement of world-hegemonic imperial policy. And sure, all
that (so far) happened before Trump, but in hiring those generals Trump
is demonstrating that his own foreign policy thinking is nothing more
than an echo of that long (and frankly disastrous) drift. Of course,
that should come as no surprise to anyone who paid attention to him
during the long campaign. They only thing that doesn't alarm me about
the generals is the fact that I can think of even worse civilians to
hand power over to. (Brooks herself contrasts State candidates Rudy
Giuliani and David Petraeus, and she's got a point there, but I'm
still drawing a blank on who Michael Flynn is saving us from.)
Martin Longman: Breitbart Does Not Like Trump's Labor Pick:
So, if you
go look at the Breitbart website right now, you'll see an anti-Trump
headline that accuses him of nominating a Labor Secretary that prefers
foreign labor to American workers. And if you actually go ahead and read
the article, you'll see that it lashes out at Andy Puzder for standing
"diametrically opposed to Trump's signature issues on trade and
As an example, they cite his decision to "join forces with Michael
Bloomberg, Bob Iger, and Rupert Murdoch's open borders lobbying firm,
the Partnership for a New American Economy, to call for 'free-market
solutions' to our immigration system." They also question Puzder's
support for "amnesty" and overall view him as a poster-boy for what
they oppose, which is bringing in low-wage immigrants that take jobs
from white Americans and suppress their wages.
The man Trump nominated to be Labor Secretary,
is CEO of a chain of fast food restaurants (Hardee's, Carl's Jr.), so
his labor expertise is in how to hire minimum wage, no benefit workers.
(His business experience includes taking his firm through a private
equity deal valued at more than $1 billion. The company generates $1.4
billion in revenues, operating in the US and 40 foreign countries.)
I'm not sure whether Puzder counts as one of Trump's billionaires, but
he comes pretty close.
One thing that worried me about the prospect of Sanders becoming
president was that the Democratic Party regulars -- the people he'd
have to draw on for appointments and support -- weren't ready to back
his "revolution." I never believed that Trump would veer significantly
from Republican Party orthodoxy, but I can see how those who did think
he offered something different -- notably the Breitbart crowd, and as
many "white populists" as you can count -- are likely to belatedly
discover the same problem. Much as Trump went with impeccably demented
Mike Pence as his VP, he's stocking his cabinet from the same stock of
Daniel Politi: Trump Explains Why He Rejects Daily Intelligence Briefings:
"I'm, Like, a Smart Person": I saw Michael Moore on Seth Myers the
other night making a big stink about how Trump has sloughed off going
to CIA briefings, and for once I thought, "good for Trump." As far as
I know, the first president to receive daily briefings was Shrub, and
the chemical reaction of misinformation-meets-ignorance there didn't
do anyone any good. Supposedly Obama tried to fix this by laying down
a rule -- "don't do stupid shit" -- but his own daily briefings allowed
all sorts of loopholes to that rule, backed by presidential authority.
The fact is that the "war on terror" isn't important enough to require
daily input and direction from the so-called Commander-in-Chief. A sane
president would simply, quietly wind it down, mostly by not encouraging
"stupid shit" to happen. The fact that Trump isn't a reasonable person,
that he pretty much campaigned on doing "stupid shit" all the time,
makes it even more important to steer him away from meetings about
killing people and embarrassing the country.
Nomi Prins: The Magnitude of Trump's Cronyism Is Off the Charts -- Even
for Washington: "The President-elect's incomplete cabinet is already
the richest one ever."
There is, in fact, some historical precedent for a president
surrounding himself with such a group of self-interested
power-grabbers, but you'd have to return to Warren G. Harding's
administration in the early 1920s to find it. The "Roaring Twenties"
that ended explosively in a stock market collapse in 1929 began,
ominously enough, with a presidency filled with similar figures, as
well as policies remarkably similar to those now being promised under
Trump, including major tax cuts and giveaways for corporations and the
deregulation of Wall Street. . . .
Harding's other main contributions to American history involved two
choices he made. He offered businessman Herbert Hoover the job of
secretary of commerce and so put him in play to become president in
the years just preceding the Great Depression. And in a fashion that
now looks Trumpian, he also appointed one of the richest men on Earth,
billionaire Andrew Mellon, as his treasury secretary. Mellon, a
Pittsburgh industrialist-financier, was head of the Mellon National
Bank; he founded both the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), for
which he'd be accused of unethical behavior while treasury secretary
(as he still owned stock in the company and his brother was a close
associate), and the Gulf Oil Company; and with Henry Clay Frick, he
co-founded the Union Steel Company.
He promptly set to work -- and this will sound familiar today --
cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations. At the same time, he
essentially left Wall Street free to concoct the shadowy "trusts"
that would use borrowed money to purchase collections of shares in
companies and real estate, igniting the 1929 stock market crash.
After Mellon, who had served three presidents, left Herbert Hoover's
administration, he fell under investigation for unpaid federal taxes
and tax-related conflicts of interest.
Prins goes on to run down the wealth and interest conflicts of
several Trump picks, including Wilbur Ross ($2.9 billion, Commerce),
Betsy DeVos ($5.1 billion, Education), and Steven Mnuchin (up to $1
billion, Treasury, from Goldman Sachs). If, as reported, Trump picks
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State, he's not going to
lower the average much.
Theda Skocpol/Alexander Hertel-Fernandez/Caroline Tervo: Behind "Make
America Great," the Koch Agenda Returns With a Vengeance: The Koch
network spent about $750 million on the 2016 elections, mostly on
down-ballot races that saved and shaped the Republican Congress,
and that is rapidly becoming the framework that shapes the Trump
presidency, even on issues where Trump publicly differed from the
Kochs and their cronies (like Scott Walker and Mario Rubio).
Publicly available numbers suggest that AFP's grassroots organizing
made a real difference -- and indirectly helped Trump, who had little
campaign capacity of his own. In Wisconsin, for instance, AFP claims
that it reached over 2.5 million voters in phone banking and canvassing
efforts. In North Carolina, AFP claimed over 1.2 million calls and
120,000 door-to-door efforts, or nearly the entire reported margin of
victory for Trump. And in Pennsylvania, AFP claims it made over 2.4
million phone calls and knocked on over 135,000 doors, more than twice
Trump's margin of victory in that state. AFP's grassroots efforts were
especially pronounced in Florida, where AFP boasts that its people
knocked on a record-breaking one million doors throughout the state
to help re-elect Senator Marco Rubio. Hillary Clinton lost the state
by just over 100,000 votes. In all four of these states AFP helped to
re-elect the incumbent Republican Senator and make important down
ballot gains. Obviously, given what we know about the decline of
split ticking voting, most of the same citizens AFP mobilized for
state and Congressional contests also cast ballots for Donald Trump.
Jared Bernstein/Dean Baker: Why Trade Deficits Matter
Ben Castleman: Inequality Is Killing the American Dream
Sarah Chayes: It Was a Corruption Election. It's Time We Realized
Steve Coll: Rex Tillerson, From a Corporate Oil Sovereign to the State
David Dayen: Donald Trump Is Just Another Handmaiden to Capital
Rebecca Gordon: It's 2016, Do You Know Where Your Bombs Are
Greg Grandin: The Strange Career of American Exceptionalism: "and
Barack Obama's curious role as its most ardent recent champion and
Carl Levin/Jay Rockefeller: The Torture Report Must Be Saved:
"However, after Republicans took control of the Senate, the new
chairman, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, took the unusual
step of trying to recall the full report that Senator Feinstein
had distributed -- to prevent it from ever being widely read or
declassified. . . . Given the rhetoric of President-elect Trump,
there is a grave risk that the new administration will return the
Senate report to Senator Burr, after which it could be hidden
indefinitely, or destroyed."
Jeff Madrick: How Much Did Alan Greenspan Really Know?: Review
of Sebastian Mallaby's book, The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times
of Alan Greenspan.
Josh Marshall: Maybe the Answer Is That He Can't Divest; also the
He Won't Because He Can't. I'll add that the fact that Trump managed
to get away without releasing his tax returns simply because he never
did it sets a precedent for him not divesting or in any way distancing
himself from his business interests -- even though there are various
laws and some wording in the constitution that imply he has to. Even
if he did, his family is wrapped up in his business, and his business
is built around his name.
Sean McElwee/Jesse Rhodes/Brian Schaffner: Big Republican donors are
even more extreme than their party -- and they drive its agenda:
It strikes me that Trump has turned the tables on big party donors:
instead of doing their bidding, which is normal practice in Washington,
he's setting them up to take charge directly. (Betsy DeVos, Trump's
nominee for HEW Secretary, is perhaps the most flagrant example.)
Andrew McGill: Many of Trump's Own Supporters Don't Think He'll Fix
America: "Half expect their local communities to stay the same,
or get worse." That still strikes me as unreasonably optimistic, but
this report does damper what I had hoped would be the silver lining
of the election: that given complete power, people will finally
blame the Republicans for failing utterly.
William Saletan: Donald Trump's Locker Room: "he's always in the
locker room. He's always trying to endear himself to some people by
insulting others. If you're in the room, he's your buddy. If you're
not, you're just another pussy."
Bernie Sanders: Where We Go From Here.
Alana Semuels: How to Kill the Middle Class: in Wisconsin, you do
it by killing off public sector unions.
Nobel Laureate Economist Says American Inequality Didn't Just Happen.
It Was Created: interview with Joseph E Stiglitz.
Jeffrey Toobin: The First Amendment After Hogan V. Gawker: "Sex
tapes, the Web site's demise, and what the Trump era means for press
Josh Voorhees: Pruitt's Plan to Make Climate Denialism Law: On
Trump's EPA pick, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Also see:
Chris Mooney/Brady Dennis/Steven Mufson: Trump names Scott Pruit,
Oklahoma attorney general suing EPA on climate change, to head the
Stephen M Walt: 10 Ways to Tell if Your President Is a Dictator:
On Trump, and more like "wants to be a dictator," which is really
the more relevant question.
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump is running the least popular transition
Trump's fast-food CEO Labor Department pick teaches us a lot about
Goldman Sachs alumni will likely have the 2 top Trump economic policy
jobs: the hits keep on coming.
One last note: I just finishing reading Peter Frase's Four
Futures: Life After Capitalism (Verso). He sets up a 2x2 matrix,
one axis determined by plenty/scarcity, the other inequality/equality.
Needless to say, only one quadrant reads like something we're already
in the midst of: scarcity/inequality, the one he calls "exterminism" --
not a very euphonious term, but one which underscores how the rich,
as they increasingly automate labor come to view the workers they
discharge as expendable, and ultimately as threats. (Frase never uses
the term "useless eaters" but you may recall how that terminology paved
the way for the Nazi genocide.) Needless to say, aside from branding,
"exterminism" sounds more than a little like the Trump agenda. More
blatantly, there's increasing inequality while progressively stripping
the poor and marginal of any semblance of rights.