Monday, January 1, 2018
As 2017 ends, I'm reminded of how sick to my stomach I was election
night 2016 -- I normally stay up past 4AM, so pretty much the whole
weight of the catastrophe was clear before I tried to sleep. At that
point I could predict a whole series of unfortunate future events. In
that regard, I haven't been especially surprised by what Trump and the
Republicans have done in 2017. They've pretty much lived up to the
threat they clearly posed -- the main surprises coming in the form of
comic excess, like cabinet secretaries Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, and
Ben Carson. Trump himself has proven to be even more of a bloviating
buffoon than he was during the campaign. And his scatterbrained reign
is succeeding in one important respect where Hillary Clinton's campaign
failed: through his own ineptness, he's making it clear that the real
threat to most Americans these days comes from regular Republicans.
One shouldn't get overoptimistic that Democrats will capitalize on
that point with a resounding electoral win in 2018, but that's not as
much of a fantasy as it was a year ago when Clinton et al. snatched
defeat from what should have been a clearcut victory.
Some scattered links this week:
Umair Irlan/Brian Resnick: Megadisasters devastated America this year.
They're going to get worse. The big ticket items were hurricanes
Harvey, Irma, and Maria, but floods, droughts, tornadoes, wildfires,
and other severe weather took their toll.
Requests for federal disaster aid jumped tenfold compared to 2016,
with 4.7 million people registering with the Federal Emergency
As of October, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
had counted 15 disasters with damages topping $1 billion, tying 2017
with 2011 for the most billion-dollar disasters in a year to date.
And that was before the California wildfires.
Many people reflexively blame these disasters on climate change,
and there is evidence that some of that is true -- the piece looks
at several such arguments. But the price tag is also rising due to
increasing development, and also due to infrastructure neglect --
the Puerto Rican power grid the most obvious example. The other big
question (not really raised here) is what happens if/when government
fails to cope with disaster costs. Unfortunately, we're bound to
find out the hard way.
Fred Kaplan: The UN Vote on Jerusalem Was a Dramatic Rebuke to Trump
That He Brought on Himself: The UN voted 128-9 (with 35 abstentions)
to "declare null and void the United States' recent recognition of
Jerusalem as the capital of Israel." The US (Trump and Nikki Haley)
responded by throwing a hissy fit:
The rebuke is amplified by the fact that Trump had announced the day
before that he would revoke financial aid for any country that voted
for the resolution. "Let them vote against us," he said at a cabinet
meeting on Wednesday. "We'll save a lot. We don't care. But this isn't
like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay
them hundreds of millions of dollars. We're not going to be taken
advantage of any longer."
Trump's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, wrote a letter to other delegates,
warning, "The U.S. will be taking names" during the roll call. "As you
consider your vote," she elaborated, "I encourage you to know the president
and the U.S. take this vote personally. She then tweeted, "At the UN we're
always asked to do more and give more. So, when we make a decision, at the
will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don't expect
those we've helped to target us." . . .
The countries that voted for the resolution -- or, as Trump sees it,
against him -- include four of the five biggest recipients of U.S. aid:
Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan. They also include countries that
Trump has courted since taking office -- Saudi Arabia, Russia, China,
India, Pakistan, and Vietnam. They also include every country in Western
Europe, though Trump might not care about that.
Ezra Klein: Incoherent, authoritarian, uninformed: Trump's New York
Times interview is a scary read. Charles P Pierce has a similar
take on the same interview:
Trump's New York Times Interview Is a Portrait of a Man in Cognitive
Decline. Trump's becoming so incoherent it's impossible to discern
any method in his madness. That may seem alarming, but it's giving too
much credit to the office, assuming the myth of leadership that hasn't
been true for many years. Even highly competent presidents -- Obama,
most clearly, or Clinton or Johnson, or for that matter Eisenhower --
are often prisoners of their administrations, alliances and choices.
Having approved a series of astonishingly bad personnel picks, Trump's
already handed his administration over to its fate, something which
will be increasingly clear as he continues to lose his grip. The best
we can do under these circumstances is to refocus on what his staff
actually do, and recognize the corruption and moral rot it's shot
Paul Krugman: America Is Not Yet Lost: Still, it's been pretty bad:
Many of us came into 2017 expecting the worst. And in many ways, the
worst is what we got.
Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected;
he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office,
morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party -- including so-called
moderates -- turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have
expected. At this point it's evidently composed entirely of cynical
apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle -- and every shred of
their own dignity -- as long as their donors get big tax cuts.
Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing
real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda.
Like Yglesias below, Krugman sees hope in the broad popular resistance
that has risen up against Trump and the Republicans. Still:
And even if voters rise up effectively against the awful people currently
in power, we'll be a long way from restoring basic American values. Our
democracy needs two decent parties, and at this point the G.O.P. seems
to be irretrievably corrupt.
Isn't that the rub? The Republicans have clawed their way back into
power, after eight GW Bush years that by any objective standards should
have been totally discrediting, precisely because most Americans (not
just Republicans but many Democrats who supported Clinton) see avarice,
greed, power, and corruption as the American value. That is what
needs to be changed to restore decency to politics, to make democracy
work for all. In that regard, I'd focus more on converting one party
than both. The Republicans will change, as they always have, once the
vast majority recoil against their corruption. But that won't happen
until the people are presented with an honest alternative, which is
what Hillary Clinton somehow failed to do in 2016.
Krugman also wrote:
Republicans Despise the Working Class and
Republicans Despise the Working Class, Continued:
Josh Barro argues that Republicans have forgotten how to talk about tax
cuts. But I think it runs deeper: Republicans have developed a deep
disdain for people who just work for a living, and this disdain shines
through everything they do. This is true both on substance -- the tax
bill heavily favors owners over workers -- and in the way they talk
I think one pretty obvious clue came when Ayn Rand groupie Paul Ryan
gave a Labor Day speech extolling America's entrepreneurs ("job creators")
without even mentioning the people who actually do the work. Such people
regard jobs alternatively as charity or more often as a bottom line loss --
an expense best cut by automation or offshoring.
Sharon Lerner: Banned from the Banking Industry for Life, a Scott Pruitt
Friend Finds a New Home at the EPA: Albert Kelly, head of the EPA's
Superfund program -- a job he has no relevant experience for, unless
Maryam Saleh: One Year of Immigration Under Trump: My first thought
a year ago was that of all the areas Trump could affect as president,
the one he's likely to impact most directly, and most cruelly, is
immigration. Plenty of competition, and some of his efforts have been
partially stymied, but that fear has proven well grounded.
Mitch Smith: Fatal 'Swatting' Episode in Kansas Raises Quandry: Who Is
to Blame? Big story here in Wichita also noted nationwide. A gamer
in Los Angeles called police in Wichita reporting a murder and hostage
situation. Police deployed a SWAT team to the prank address and shot
and killed a resident.
Matthew Yglesias: The political lesson of 2017: resistance works:
No week-in-review piece this week, but this is a fair note to strike
to sum up the past year. Problem, of course, is that while resistance
has halted or slowed down some very bad things, it hasn't won anything
of note, while Trump and the Republicans have pushed lots of things
through that will be hard if even possible to reverse. True, several
attempts at "repeal and replace of Obamacare" failed, but Republicans
still managed to sneak a repeal of the "individual mandate" -- never
very popular but long touted as the cornerstone of any scheme to get
to universal coverage through private insurance -- tacking it onto a
bill that was already overwhelmingly unpopular. Where Democrats are
easily cowed by any hint of unpopularity, Republicans just get more
determined to use the power they have to enact the changes they want,
always figuring they can con the public into giving them more power.
That the electoral tide has shifted is a good sign, but in the short
term will only make them more desperate. The tax bill is a prime example
of taking what you can when you can, with no regard to public opinion.
Indeed, the whole "smash and grab" operation known as the Trump
administration is driven like that.
Other Yglesias pieces:
How to Make Metro Great Again: Tinkering with the DC subway system.
The biggest surprise of Trump's first year is his hard-right economic
policy: About the only "populist" move of Trump's early campaign
was the scorn he heaped on big money donors, a luxury he enjoyed only
so long as he could afford to self-finance his campaign. He eased off
on that late in the campaign, secure that many voters would cut him
some slack compared to the donor queen, Crooked Hillary. There never
was any substance to his "economic populism" -- e.g., look at his tax
cut proposals during the campaign -- and he wasted no time surrendering
all the key economic positions to ultra-rich donors and their lackeys.
Less successfully, he's let orthodox Republicans in Congress run his
legislative agenda; in exchange, they haven't questioned his personal
or political scandals, and more often than not tried to provide him
cover. In the end, he lacks both the moral courage and intellectual
depth to plot his own way. Hence he's turned himself into little more
than a tool, a particularly rusty one at that.
The economy is normal again
Micah Zenko: How Donald Trump Learned to Love War in 2017: Well, seems
to be an inescapable part of the job. In his first year, Obama may not have
come to love war -- at least not as ardently as GW Bush in his first year --
but he was well on the way to becoming an enthusiastic participant. Hillary
Clinton tried to convince us that she, and not Trump, the one truly prepared
to be Commander-in-Chief, but all it takes is deference to the top brass to
get passing marks in that test -- something she should have remembered as
it was key to husband Bill's embrace of the military in his first war-loving
year. The hope some had for Trump was that he would push his fondness for
business deals ahead of the failed neocon agenda and realize that customary
rivals like Iran, Russia, China, and even North Korea could be turned into
business opportunities, benefiting American investors (if not workers).
In reality, the Donald Trump administration has demonstrated no interest
in reducing America's military commitments and interventions, nor committed
itself in any meaningful way to preventing conflicts or resolving them.
Moreover, as 2017 wraps up, the trend lines are actually running in the
opposite direction, with no indication that the Trump administration has
the right membership or motivation to turn things around.
President Trump has maintained or expanded the wars that he inherited
from his predecessor.
As Jennifer Wilson and I pointed out in an appropriately titled
column in August, "Donald Trump Is Dropping Bombs at Unprecedented
Levels." Within eight months of assuming office, Trump -- with the
announcement of six "precision aistrikes" in Libya -- had bombed every
country that former President Barack Obama had in eight years. One month
after that, the United States surpassed the 26,172 bombs that had been
dropped in 2016. Through the end of December 2017, Trump had authorized
more airstrikes in Somalia in one year (33), than George W. Bush and
Obama had since the United States first began intervening there in early
The growth in airstrikes was accompanied by a more than proportional
increase in civilian deaths, . . . But as the volume of airstrikes and
deaths increased, the Trump administration has subsequently made no
progress in winding down America's wars. Moreover, it doesn't even
pretend that the United States should play any role in supporting
While Obama was campaigning, he liked to say that he wants to
change the way we think about war, but in remarkably short time it
was he who changed his thinking. Trump scarcely had any thinking
to change. His instinct to give the generals unstinting support
locked him into Obama's failing wars. The Russia collusion scandal
precludes any opening there. Obeisance to Israel and Saudi Arabia
have reopened conflict with Iran. His own stupid bluster has turned
North Korea into a potential nuclear confrontation. Meanwhile, he's
tearing down the international institutions that offer the only
path toward peace and stability.
TPM: 2017 Golden Dukes Winners Announced! Considering everything
they had to choose from, a pretty lame selection: Scott Pruitt is
guilty alone of more conspicuous corruption than anyone ranked here.
Or maybe they didn't have that much to choose from? Maybe they only
read TPM headlines? Rep. Duke Cunningham raked in millions and wound
up in jail to get this award named.