Trump's First Year

Now is the time when I am supposed to admit that I was wrong in the prediction I made this past spring that nothing much would happen in Washington until Mueller made his report. Well, there have been preliminary indictments, but no final report, the expected end of the investigation ever more remote, and the networks and cable channels all now saying, contrary to what they said two weeks ago, which was before the passage of the new tax law, that Trump’s first year has, in fact, been one of accomplishment rather than inaction in that he got through a tax bill which also cut back on the mandate that people pay a penalty if they do not buy health insurance, and that he has made numerous judicial appointments, including one to the Supreme Court, and that he has gotten his way with the agencies and is getting drilling for oil started in parts of Alaska where it had been barred. That is quite an achievement-- except that it is not so, especially in view of the fact that this President is such a nihilistic character that he wanted to bring down government in general, and in that light, or in even a more moderate light, he hasn’t accomplished all that much at all.

Consider the tax bill. What it does is give a trillion dollars to the wealthy and they don’t need it and they are not required to do anything for the money, such as invest part of it in expanding their businesses or providing higher wages. Not much of a good deal. But the giveaway does not have bad consequences other than to give money to those who don’t need it. There is a cap on the amount of money that can be deducted for mortgage payments, but that should accommodate the needs of most small homeowners. There is a raise in the standard deduction so that people will not have to itemize-- which will also make life easier for the IRS, whose staff for auditing has been drastically reduced over the past ten years. And there is a small lowering for taxes on middle class families for whom a little extra money is always useful. The bill will not produce jobs or growth, but that can be left to the trend upwards of the Obama created economy which may continue a little longer but will doubtlessly become subject to the business cycle and so result in some quarters of no growth in the foreseeable future. That will not be the fault of the tax cut, just something that always happens, the business cycle always needing to be managed. Now it would be something if Paul Ryan was successful in getting cuts in entitlement programs to pay for the deficits created by the tax bill. But that fight is in the future, while the fight about DACA (the “Dreamers”) and CHIP (child health insurance) will take place in January when Chuck Schumer will have to hold his caucus solid and we may find that some Republicans will break away from their party. It is still a good question as to why all of those Republican Senators who were wavering over their support of the tax bill came down in favor of it. Is it true that Bob Corker was bought off because his small real estate company in Tennessee would profit from the same giveaway that will help the Trump real estate interests? And why did Susan Collins still vote “yes” even though Mitch McConnell did not live up to his promise to protect health care benefits? Beats me that she would trust him to keep his promise at some time in the future. Maybe she will raise the ante when there will be only a one seat Republican majority in the Senate when Doug Jones, the new Democrat from Alabama, takes his seat at the beginning of the new year.

As for the individual mandate, that was never at the heart of Obamacare but added, purloined from the Heritage Foundation, so as to make the health overhaul meet conservative concerns that everyone has to take responsibility for their health, whether by getting health care or paying for the privilege of not getting insurance. No freeloaders here. But the power of Obamacare is not in the stick but in the carrot. People sign up for it because of its positive benefits. They get health care even if they are getting it at the cheap end, where it covers catastrophic illnesses but leaves ordinary medical expenses to be paid for by the patient through high deductibles. That is not a bad plan, just one that only healthy young people might take a chance on, insurance needed only if they get hit by a truck. The basic structure of Obamacare has not been changed no matter what the sitting President says and that basic structure has become essential to the way health institutions now operate and it is not likely to become dislodged.

Meanwhile, the press seems to have withstood the attacks on it for peddling “fake news”. They have enough time on their hands, aside from bashing Trump, to debate whether or not to forgive male journalists (Mark Halperin, in this instance) for having asked junior misses to sit on their lap, an overture that strikes me to be as time honored as when Ovid advised that you could approach a young lady by flicking a bit of dirt off of the front of her dress. And foreign policy remains a continuation of Obama’s doctrine, which is don’t interfere elsewhere unless to enforce the general prohibition against weapons of mass destruction that has been in place since the end of the Second World War. Obama also found the right balance of local forces and American support that allowed winning the war against the Caliphate just about on time.

Yes, it is a shame that there is more churning up of Arctic land, but that is not likely to last if the predictions about renewable fuels are correct. We are already an oil exporting and oil self sufficient nation, and the costs of wind power and solar power are always going down, and with the massive introduction of electric cars, energy demands will go down, and so the economics of energy will make oil from Alaska unnecessary, though not before damage has been done to the tundra. It is just that the Trump Administration is ever backward looking, to programs that are no longer necessary, rather than addressing problems that are now and actual, such as how to reduce forest fires in California not by suddenly stopping climate change but by changing zoning so that fewer homes are built in fire likely locales. California is facing a housing challenge in addition to a weather challenge.

The impact on the judiciary of the appointment of a number of right wing and incompetent jurists is serious and not much can be done about that, nor can much be done in the short run about the most serious impact of the Trump Administration, which is on the political culture of the United States, politicians held in increasing distrust even as and because people vote for politicians who are lacking in elemental judgment about political matters or have any significant knowledge of political and constitutional history. It is to be hoped that the Roy Moore defeat was a result not just of the sexual accusations against him but also reflected a sense of how compromised he was as a political figure long before the sexual charges came to light. It is difficult, however, to expect much of political figures if the model at the top is so lacking in the qualities common to serious political leaders. The 2018 election will be a referendum on whether such scoundrels deserve to be in political office. It will therefore be an important election, just like every other one.

As for Mueller’s report: that will certainly upset things by focusing the energies of Congress away from its legislative agenda to what to do about the report. Are these matters, the improprieties uncovered, serious enough to warrant an impeachment? I hope not. Impeachment should be implemented for only the most serious of crimes and misdemeanors. It shouldn’t have been used against a President’s sexual adventures, and it shouldn’t be used if all Trump did was collude with the Russians to the extent his son did at that meeting at Trump Tower: consider a trade of dirt on Hillary for relief from the Magnitsky Act, which punishes oligarchs close to Putin for having been involved in the murder of journalists by keeping them away from their stashes of cash in American banks. Nixon did not collude with but he did let the South Vietnamese leadership know that they would get a better deal with him than with Johnson if they held up on the negotiations in Paris. Nixon was impeached for more serious reasons than transition shenanigans. “Follow the money”, Deep Throat said. That applies now. How deeply in debt is and was Trump to Russian oligarchs in the Nineties? We will see. So don’t hold your breath yet. There will be crisis enough coming to test all of our own political judgments.