Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Trump Is the Best Thing That Could Have Happened to America

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past year, you are probably wondering if I’ve gone off the deep end. But I’m serious. And let me explain why.
First, let me suggest that even though I voted for Hillary Clinton, I think a Clinton presidency would have been a disaster. Not because she would have been a bad president who favored policies detrimental to the country. No, but because she would have enabled the Republicans to continue on the same path they had become so comfortable with, gaining power by spreading nonsense, obstructing good policy, and blaming the Democrats for the dysfunction in Washington. It would have been four more years of what we saw under Obama. And I believe Obama was an excellent president. But his presence made possible what the Republicans do best: obstructing and creating meaningless legislation (ACA repeals, for instance) just to score political points.
But now, with the GOP in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, they are in a position where they actually have to govern. They have to put their ideology into practice in the form of policy. So now the American people are getting a full view of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Republican Party as they try to turn political sloganeering into governing. It’s not pretty. And it’s not going to get any prettier.
Exhibits A and B are the House’s AHCA (which I have dubbed the Abominable Health Care Act) and the Senate’s BCRA (the Beneficial Care Reduction Act), two legislative Siamese twins that are so horrendous that every medical association and retiree organization and insurance provider is vehemently opposed to them. The AHCA was polling at 12 percent approval when it was rammed through by the House Republicans and then celebrated in the Rose Garden with the Tweeter in Chief. These shameful pieces of legislation were concocted in an effort to repeal the ACA, but they showed a devastating ignorance of the complexity of our health care system, as well as a disturbing lack of compassion for the neediest in our society. What these health-care bills did, however, was to reveal the real priorities of the GOP. The Republicans were perfectly willing to take health insurance from over 20 million Americans so that they could give massive tax cuts to the wealthy. Of course they tried to spin this in a positive light, but almost everyone saw through the charade.
In a perverse way, I almost wish they had succeeded. Then we could have seen in even more graphic detail the effects of their ideology, and it would have been thoroughly rejected by the American people. Hopefully, though, getting that close to disaster will wake a lot of people up. But in the meantime, I am grateful for the belated negative vote of cancer-stricken Senator John McCain.
Health care, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. Republican efforts at tax reform will be extremely revealing. They are certain to follow the same pattern: tax cuts for the wealthy, paid for by reductions in aid to the poor and sick and elderly.
For a few decades now, the Republicans have been in the business of paying lip-service to the poor and the middle class, and then pursuing policies that favor wealthy individuals and large corporations.
Nobel Prize–winning economist Paul Krugman explores the roots of the intellectual and moral degeneration of the Republican Party in an editorial this week titled “Who Ate Republicans’ Brains?” Referring to their health-care misadventures, he writes, “When they finally got their chance at repeal, the contrast between what they had promised and their actual proposals produced widespread and justified public revulsion. But the stark dishonesty of the Republican jihad against Obamacare itself demands an explanation. For it went well beyond normal political spin: for seven years a whole party kept insisting that black was white and up was down.
“And that kind of behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere. The Republican health care debacle was the culmination of a process of intellectual and moral deterioration that began four decades ago, at the very dawn of modern movement conservatism—that is, during the very era anti-Trump conservatives now point to as the golden age of conservative thought.”
Krugman identifies a key moment in the 1970s, when “Irving Kristol, the godfather of neoconservatism, embraced supply-side economics—the claim, refuted by all available evidence and experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting economic growth. Writing years later, he actually boasted about valuing political expediency over intellectual integrity: ‘I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities.’ In another essay, he cheerfully conceded to having had a ‘cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit,’ because it was all about creating a Republican majority—so ‘political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.’”
In case you don’t make the connection, Krugman explains it: “The problem is that once you accept the principle that it’s O.K. to lie if it helps you win elections, it gets ever harder to limit the extent of the lying—or even to remember what it’s like to seek the truth. . . . Given this history, the Republican health care disaster was entirely predictable. You can’t expect good or even coherent policy proposals from a party that has spent decades embracing politically useful lies and denigrating expertise.”
And this philosophy runs the gamut from health care and tax reform to climate change and environmental stewardship. There has been a terrible dearth on the Right of any inclination to pay the intellectual price to understand the nuances and complexities of the issues that plague modern society. They have been content to embrace simplistic, politically expedient doctrines and empty, disingenuous slogans that appeal to disgruntled but ignorant voters.
So, how do we connect the dots to Donald Trump? It isn’t hard. Let’s start with Krugman’s term “politically useful lies.” Has there ever been a public figure who is a pathological liar on the level of Donald Trump? At one point during the election, Politifact calculated that Trump was lying at a rate of about 78 percent. If I had to guess, I would say that this has increased since he took over the presidency. If he says something, you can be quite sure that it is false. He doesn’t just contradict his own staff and cabinet. He repeatedly contradicts himself. And of course one lie leads to another. When you can’t admit you’ve been dishonest, you just keep digging a deeper hole, hoping to cover previous lies with more dirt.
Let’s again use health care as an example. During the campaign, Trump promised, among other things, that everyone would be covered. He said in February of 2016 that coverage for everyone was “​just human decency,” an odd statement from someone who has no concept of human decency. In 2015, he stated: “​I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not.” He added: “​The government’s gonna pay for it.” In October 2015, he tweeted, “I am going to save Medicare and Medicaid.” In January of this year, Trump claimed that his plan would include “lower numbers, much lower deductibles.” But of course he has enthusiastically supported both the AHCA and the BCRA, which would strip health care from over 20 million Americans, largely through gutting Medicaid, and would increase deductibles and premiums. These are just a few examples of “politically useful lies.”
Of course, Trump didn’t fool any of the Republican establishment with his boasts and falsehoods. Obviously, no Republicans in the House or Senate took any of these statements at face value when they concocted their horrid health-care bills. They have supported and enabled him primarily because they assumed he would rubber-stamp any cockeyed bill they sent him, regardless of how awful it might be.
And this symbiotic relationship shows just how morally vacuous the Republican Party has become. They knew exactly who and what Trump was from the outset of the campaign. If you want a sampling of what Republican leaders said about Trump on his road to the presidency, click here.
These statements are pretty brutal, but Trump’s presidency thus far has shown that all of them are accurate assessments of the man. If anything, his presidency has revealed that he is actually worse than advertised. We knew he was a sleazy businessman, but I think the corruption and depravity we have seen in the White House thus far exceeds even our worst expectations. He did indeed drain the swamp. But he turned it into a cesspool.
And yet all of these Republican leaders, with the possible exception of John Kasich, have fallen in line to one degree or another and have been Trump’s apologists, cheerleaders, and enablers. All because they think he might enable them in return to enact legislation that will harm the needy, enrich the already wealthy, and turn businesses loose to pollute and create other problems for individuals and society. This is the result of what Krugman described above—a party that determined some time ago that it would embrace politically useful lies in order to win elections and gain power. And don’t fall for the myth that this is simply the way things are in Washington. That is another Republican lie. Yes, the Democrats are imperfect. But the disease afflicting the Republican Party has not been contracted on the Left. For the most part, they are focused on policy that can enable government to serve the needs of the people.
Sometimes Democrats have a difficult time explaining their policies and intentions in catchy soundbites, but this is because they are so concerned with the details, which happen to be extremely complex and nuanced. Because of this, they often do not agree with each other, and so they do not have a conveniently simplistic ideology that can be summed up in catchphrases, bumper stickers, and tweets. Disagree with their positions, if you will, but don’t accuse them of the sort of moral and intellectual vacuum that the Republicans have nurtured.
Whatever moral superiority the Republican Party has claimed in the past, with its supposed devotion to “family values” and its catering to the evangelical bloc of Christian voters, any moral standing is now entirely lost with the party’s embrace of Donald Trump. And what concerns me is how many of my fellow Mormons have followed the Republican Party down this path of corruption and dishonesty without blinking an eye. All because they belong to the Republican tribe.
LDS Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has just released a book that takes his own party (and himself) to task for these very faults. Most political commentators shrug this off as a last-ditch effort by a Never-Trumper who is about to get the heave-ho in Arizona. And it is highly unlikely that the Republican establishment will pay any attention to his warnings, but the highlights from his book that appeared on sounded pretty accurate to me. I rarely agree with a Republican, but I’m on board with Flake.
The Republican Party has a dilemma. They have adopted and enabled Trump, who appears to be not just a narcissist, a bully, and a pathological liar, but also mentally unbalanced, vindictive, authoritarian, ignorant, bigoted, amoral, corrupt, incompetent, and dangerous—all the things his challengers in the Republican primary accused him of being. But the party elders have embraced him, slime and all, and now he is the face of their party, ugly and pathetic and losing popularity fast (approval rating down to 33 percent this week). They can do one of two things—get rid of him through impeachment or ride his limousine to their own demise. Either way, though, they will not come through this intact. The Republican Party is at a crossroads. There will be one sort of drastic change or another, neither of them what they hoped for, and neither of them capable of keeping the party in power. They will either excise the malignancy of Trump and in the process lose a large part of their base that still supports the madman. Or they can continue to pretend he is acceptable and lose the more rational portion of their supporters, including pretty much all independents, who by now are disgusted with the chaos and corruption coming out of the White House.
Either way, the GOP is going to have to finally rethink some of its favorite principles, which simply do not work in the complex and increasingly unequal modern society we inhabit. This is a good thing. And Trump has hastened it, perhaps the only good he will accomplish in his presidency.