On The Proper Volume for Screaming

If my liberal friends on Facebook are to be believed, the American democratic experiment is on the verge of collapse. Indeed, last night the Acting Attorney General was purged. Steve Bannon is preparing for a coup. Congressional Republicans are prepared to step aside and let the President act unilaterally.

This is not at all obvious.

The experience with the now terminated Acting Attorney Sally Yates is the clearest example of hysteria running away from reality. To talk about Yates, however, I want to remind everyone about Kim Davis. Davis was a Christian fundamentalist in Kentucky who refused to do her job as County Clerk because it required her to issue marriage licences for same-sex couples. This blog is staunchly pro-marriage equality, so let’s be clear: I have no love for her principles. But it is worth praising her effort as she preceded to put herself on the line to oppose what she saw as unjust Federal interference. She went to jail for her principles, and I must wonder how many people Tweeting #DoYourJob and memes about her clothes would do the same. That her principles were wrong is in some ways besides the point. Part of why I can afford to be magnanimous is because the courts gave her a simple three way choice: she could resign, she could issue marriage licences, or she stay in jail. Ultimately (and somewhat satisfyingly after her grandstanding) she caved to the #DoYorJob option.

Basically any argument for removing Davis, an elected official, is an argument for removing Yates, an appointed one. Unlike Davis, I wish to give her ideas aid and quarter; the Executive Order in question was unconstitutional, cruel, and poorly crafted—each a sin its own right if your job is Justice. Without reservation, she did a morally defensible thing. But to describe her firing as a purge misses something important here. When the Executive’s chief lawyer refuses to do her job, there really is only one acceptable course of action for the executive. She must be replaced. Our justice system requires defense of the guilty, and that includes Donald Trump and his odious executive order. Yates was replaced for announcing she could not in good conscience pretend it was defensible—unfortunate, but not a purge.

I won’t rehash at length Sunday’s blog post on the same theme, but there I argued that we need to be careful about calling things a Constitutional crisis until they are. Saturday’s fiasco and Sunday’s game of Constitutional chicken—the White House took nearly 24 hours to settle on a Constitutional response to the court orders—brought out hyperbole as well. Unlike with Yates, however, at least the interpretations were plausible. This did look like a coup trial, but mostly because floundering in legal incompetence looks like a coup trial in the United States.

Bannon’s resumé is unimpressive for his position. Breitbart is a fringey, paranoid cesspool of conspiracy theories in addition to actual praise for actual Indiana-Jones-punched-these-kinds-of-folks Nazis. Under his leadership, they routinely published false material about how the Federal government worked both in theory and in practice. I’d cynically wondered if he was publishing what people wanted to hear, but the steady stream of legal mistakes from the White House suggests that he really is not familiar with how the government works. If someone grabbed an electric fence to see if they got shocked, you would not assume they knew how the fence works. That’s how Sunday’s fiasco looked to me. An incompetent pundit promoted above his station blundering in full view of a suspicious nation. No wonder we have a flood of anxious posts about coups!

grima_and_king_theoden_-_two_towers
Artist rendering of Bannon advising Trump. Sorry, was that uncalled for?

The final example—of many—I’d like to plumb is the myth that Congress is not listening. That’s not exactly what is happening here. Your Representatives and even Senators are a bit like cockroaches. They have a plan to survive anything, and Trump looks an awful lot like political nuclear holocaust. (Possibly a real one, but that’s a different post.) Consider the Executive Order. First, a fair number of them probably like the order regardless, but they are getting an unprecedented number of phone calls. The worry is that in 2018 this is going to turn into Democratic votes. But caving could inspire the rage of donors, conservative voters, and the President’s tiny-Twitter fingers.

The prudent thing to do is to wait. Let the courts sort out the Constitutional matters; it’s their job anyway. Let the White House decide how to handle implementation; it’s their job anyway. Its not a principled position, and I support efforts to call Senators and tell them to come out from under their rock. But it should not be read as anything unusual. Congressional efforts to hobble a president of the same party would be unusual. Nixon’s Articles of Impeachment appeared suddenly—after a bunch of tepid Republican responses about “wait and see” about the evidence. Coordinated Republican action against the President will come swiftly and from all sides. That McCain and Graham have broken ranks means they think they will have help if this goes somewhere. As an ethical dictum, I agree that to be silent is to be complicit. As a way of reading Congress, silence often means seeing if they can avoid controversy. The simplest way to read the deafening silence of Congressional Republicans is as fear.

Let’s step back and look at the form of the last three examples. I call this way of looking at things “calibration”. It is a simple method of considering the worst interpretation, the best interpretation, and then seeing what remains as a commonality between them. What remains between the two is often the most expedient part to attack because it requires the least suspension of disbelief. Likewise, it is often validated—and both the worst case and best case interpretations usually are not.

Sally Yates Was Fired

Worst Case: This was political payback for taking a stand against an unconstitutional order.

Best Case: She was fired for failing to perform her duties, which were defending an unconstitutional order.

Calibrated Response: The Executive order is indefensible.

The White House’s Handling of the Executive Order

Worst Case: This was an attempt to test the boundaries of executive power and is preparing a major seizure of power.

Best Case: The White House is unaware of the finer points of the Constitution and is blundering into huge mistakes.

Calibrated Response: The White House’s behavior is out of line with the US Constitution and tradition and so, regardless of intent, presents a clear and present danger to due process, separation of powers, and other democratic norms.

Congress’s Silence

Worst Case: They agree with everything that is happening and plan to leave a clear path for it to happen but don’t want association to tarnish reelection chances.

Best Case: The fear being associated with controversy and will let this play out how it does so as not to tarnish reelection chances.

Calibrated Response: Dragging Congress into this fight will force them to be more responsive to public opinion. Call your Senator and Representatives to tell them you do not approve of their silence.

I would not dismiss the worst case scenarios out of hand. Indeed, one thing I like about calibration is that it forces me to consider what the worst interpretation of the evidence is. I cannot say with certainty that Bannon is not testing for weaknesses in the checks and balances of the Federal Government. But trying to guess what Trump’s Rasputin means to do can largely be sidestepped by looking at the practical effect of what he is doing.

It will also make you feel better without feeling complacent. Vetting the best case scenario will give you a less apocalyptic view and a sense that catastrophe, while possible, is rarely the most likely future. After all, the best case scenarios I have outlined here warrant marches, letters to Congresspeople, and a general sense of urgency. Calibrated responses are less emotionally taxing because they do not run on fear, nor do they require some kind of enforced optimism. Finally, to be done effectively, they require you to do some research about what people are saying is the best and worst case. Calibrated responses are informed ones.

We’ve got 4 more years of this, folks. In the first 11 days, we are already shouting ourselves hoarse and telling people the worst is all but upon us. A lot of bad things are happening—calibration cannot sugar coat that—but the very darkest predictions circling right now are very unlikely.

Let’s fight the bad things and not the most terrifying things we can conjure from our minds.

 

A Lot of Words to Explain that Protectionism Is a Bad Idea and You Shouldn’t Do It

Our President, in his wisdom, has proposed a 20% tariff on imported goods. Or goods from Mexico? Or maybe that was just an example?  Like most things the White House does now, it was a bit confusing.

At any rate, it inspired a fair few of you to ask about tariffs. Who actually pays for them? What effect do they have on the economy? I am happy to oblige. If you are not here for econ lesson, but just want my opinion or juicy quotes, skim until you see the “Conclusion” header. It’s about 1200 words south of here; sorry.

I will be showing the graphical analysis in the least technical language I can manage because I find the graphs visually intuitive. Further, I will be giving some hypothetical numbers to go with it. This is not an actually economic prediction as the graphs I’ve put up or extremely stylized. It is just to give a sense of the magnitudes at work.

Imports

Let’s use the example of tomatoes as imports. (Lindsay Graham humorously defended the virtue of Mexican spirits, but I worry that we are losing sight of how much food, cars, and appliances account for our trade relationship.) If America were to simply close her borders, tomato production might well look like this next graph. Again, these numbers are simply for illustration; this is not meant to be a literal model of the tomato market.

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The idea behind this representation is pretty simple. Starting with the red line, Demand, it shows the more expensive something is, the less you will buy. Likewise, the green line, Supply, shows that the more expensive something is, the more that will be sold. The tenuous point where they are equal is where they cross. Easy enough.

How much better off are we for being able to trade? Think about someone who would pay 10 dollars for tomatoes. They are paying 4 dollars less for the same amount of tomatoes. You can figure out exactly how much that is worth by finding the area of the triangle A, which in our example is $18. the same idea applies to Supply, but we want to look above the curve. If you would produce at 2 dollars, you make 4 dollars more by selling your tomatoes in this market. I have labeled that “B+C+D” for reasons that will become clear as we go along. Because of the arbitrary shapes I chose, it is also worth $18.

Let’s allow Mexico ship us tomatoes. Mexico has a warmer climate and it is easier to grow tomatoes there. As a result, the market price is going to be lower. I set it at $3 on this graph:

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The mustard colored line is the price of goods now that we trade. It changes things quite a bit. First, it drives out anyone in the US not willing to sell as cheap as Mexico can. It pushes the area that producers benefit from all the way down to “D”, which is $4.50, a quarter of before. (It would be hasty to say that there would be a quarter as many jobs for tomato growers, but as a first approximation, that would make sense.) I presume this what Trump means when he says we are “losing” to Mexico. But we’re not finished. Consumer benefit is now everything above the mustard line and below the red line. That’s “A+B+C+E+F+G+H”. Here our numbers come out to be $40.5 dollars.  It is a matter of simple arithmetic to figure out if we are collectively better off. We subtract closed economy numbers from the open economy numbers.

(A+B+C+D+E+F+G+H)-(A+B+C+D)=E+F+G+H.

What we find is that Americans are better off for allowing trade by the size of the triangle “E+F+G+H”, which you can also see by comparing the areas on the graphs. This is an area of $9. That means that the tomato market makes us 25% better off if we open the economy to trade.

Now, let’s imagine that we elected a furious basketball to the White House and he decided to demand a 20% tariff on tomatoes imported to the US from Mexico. That graph would like this:

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This is where things get complicated. To start, you can see that producers are a bit better off, now benefiting in the area “C+D” Consumers are pushed back to the area “A+B+F”. Its the rest of the areas we have to grapple with. Each of “E”, “G”, and “H” has different meaning.

“E” is the increase in costs that domestic producers pay because of they are less efficient. (This is not an increase in price, but rather how much they pay to grow tomatoes.) “G” is how much goes to the government, presumably to pay for the wall. “H” is how much less consumers get because Mexican producers leave the country. It is standard to presume that tax money counts towards societal benefit, and despite how doubtful I am the wall counts, I will follow suit. Because E and H alone count as waste, it is “only” $0.36 of waste over the open economy case, or .8%. If you can justify the spending, you can probably justify the tariff. Except…

Retaliation

We benefit enormously from our trade with Mexico. We send a good deal of corn south of the border—enough that we actually upended the entire farming sector after NAFTA was signed. Following our earlier analysis, we can see how a trade war might begin. The above analysis, in order to keep things simple, implicitly assumed that Mexico had exactly benefit from trading with us. Obviously, this is not realistic, but insofar as we don’t care about what our trade policy does to Mexico, there is no reason to make it more complicated. Now, though, we care about how a tariff impacts American businesses. this is a graph that could represent a tariff on corn, levied in retaliation.

skkdtf1xzl.png

Before the tariff is levied, the United States benefits at “G+I+J+M+N”. After, it is reduced to “I+G”.While it also reduces Mexican welfare (by “F+L”), the greater burden falls on the country receiving the tariff. That is why countries get into trade wars when tariffs start going up. They can retaliate with less damage to themselves than to the other. It can quickly spiral out of control.

The best way to avoid this is trade deals—NAFTA and TPP, populist boogeymen both. Unilaterally breaking those trade deals is a good way to reduce producer welfare in your country.

Some Overreach

Bearing in mind that I literally just made up the numbers above, it nonetheless might help to put some numbers on this. Assuming that Mexico levied the tariff against the US:

Cost of Mexican Tariff to Mexico: 7 cents.

Cost of Mexican Tariff to America: $2.43.

The damage of this tariff is 35 times higher for the people it is leveled against. Of course we get into trade wars. Standard theory advises against them, but once our furious basketball has started one, retaliation makes a certain amount of sense. Other countries watching do not want in on that action. There is no world where a tariff makes sense, except when someone has raised a tariff against you.

Conclusion

Here is the part you came for. The part you can lob into comment sections. The following things are basically agreed upon by economists, with pretty little mainstream dissent:

  • Tariffs always decreases the general welfare in both countries.
  • The benefit business interests for the countries that raise them.
  • They hurt consumers in country where the tariffs were levied.
  • Consumers effectively pay 100% of tariffs EVEN IF the tariff is legally raised against foreign companies.
  • Tariffs do, broadly but not absolutely, hurt the country they are raised against more than the country that raises them. (Both cases appear in this article.) That makes retaliation politically attractive and a real threat.
  • Finally, the benefit of the tariff assumes you don’t spend it on something worthless—not a forgone conclusion, it turns out.

Protectionism is cutting off your nose to spite your face. Don’t do it.

THIS IS NOT A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS

Stop sharing the Slate piece “Trump Has Suspended Due Process for Muslims in America. This Is a Constitutional Crisis” by Mark Joseph Stern. It’s not. And its dangerous to say it is.

I agree with the main point raised by the piece:

There are serious constitutional problems with Trump’s executive order as a whole, including its preference for one particular religion (Christianity) and its denigration of another (Islam). The courts will debate these questions over the coming months. But for Alshawi and others like him, there is a more immediate concern: a complete and total lack of due process. As a chilling American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed Saturday demonstrates, Trump’s executive order has led to the flagrantly unconstitutional detention of perfectly legal immigrants whose lone crime is their national origin and religion. It is not just morally wrong. It is illegal.

All of that is correct. However, at the end Stern claims, “What is happening today is a constitutional crisis,” without offering an justification for that claim. Irresponsibly, his editor seized on those words (rather than challenging or deleting them) for the headline. Not only is the assertion unproven, it cannot be proved.

A Constitutional Crisis is when the Constitution ceases to function as intended. It was intended that Presidents offer Executive Orders to interpret laws passed by Congress. It was, of course, hoped that they would not violate due process or any other aspect of good governance, but our founders did not imagine that it could not happen. In such a case, one can petition the courts and request relief. That appears to be what is happening. This is an active story, and it may become a Constitutional crisis if The President takes steps to ignore the stays*. But it is not a Constitutional crisis at present.

There may come a moment when we are facing an actual Constitutional crisis from this President and it is vital that the charge have credibility. This executive order is heinous, but the Constitution appears (so far) to have constrained The President as intended. This is not to say that it wasn’t a crisis more broadly or that you should not be alarmed. But it gets way worse than this.

If it does, we need people to believe us.




*There are early reports of officials refusing to follow the order, but until they are substantiated and shown to be part of a broad strategy, they are not a full-on Constitutional crisis. Further, these reports post-date the Slate article, so Stern was still being reckless even if the worst comes to pass.

A Wall of Cynicism

Donald Trump’s first week as President has been, mostly, what we expected. This is not to say good or that you should not be outraged, just that he’s not really gone off the script I would have written for him.

I was mildly surprised by the decision to use an executive order to build the border wall as that is probably unconstitutional. To be clear, I’m not a lawyer and my training is political science. I know the broad strokes of how these things work, and that includes knowing that there may be something lurking in some bill Congress passed that gives Trump the authority to just up and build a wall. Executive orders are just the President announcing how to use Congressional Authority in more detail; they can’t create new authority. It is possible that Congress at some point authorized some kind of border fence that can be stretched to this monstrosity of a wall—if they can find the money.

Speaking of finding the money, look what’s appeared on Breitbart’s website:

shirt

To be fair, this has been up since last July. If you click on the link, which remember gives them ad revenue so maybe don’t, you can see everyone’s favorite Nazi Alt-Right apologist, Milo Yiannopoulos bragging about how he is the model for it. If I did not think irony was dead, I would call it self-parody. This shirt comes to my attention because it was being pushed on a pop-up when I was verifying something else on Breitbart. The shirt is old news, but they were trying to generate new interest.

Am I suggesting that one of Trump’s officers is using his power to sell T-shirts through his old employer? Not definitively. This can be explained as a cynical cash in by Breitbart’s new editorial team. But guys! You can’t rule out that this isn’t a cynical cash grab by Breitbarts new and old editorial team.

Perhaps we should offer our cynicism as a building material.

But…Who’s Flying the Plane?

The phrase “most jaw-dropping thing I’ve read about Donald Trump” is, might we say, subject to debate. There is just so much to debate and the real answer is My God, how did we let this happen? Nonetheless, allow me to submit a dark horse candidate:

Nor did Trump realize he had to hire a staff. The Wall Street Journal wrote that Trump aides “were … as unaware that the entire presidential staff working in the West Wing had to be replaced at the end of Mr. Obama’s term.”

Jaw, meet floor. (I have laundered the quote through Vox to avoid WSJ’s paywall.) Given that we just had what I will reluctantly describe as a dick-measuring contest about crowd sizes, this relatively small thing might seem a distant contender. But consider for a moment that we are to believe that the President of the United States did realize he had to hire the people who worked for him until after he got the job. They just forgot to hire thousands of people. And predictably they ran out of time once alerted to this fact. Thousands of posts sit empty now.

It should be noted that Obama did not have everyone on lock down on day 1 either. In particular, some countries spend some time without an ambassador, but consideration is given to key allies and some ambassadors are allowed to extend their appointment. lol Trump just fired all of them without readying replacements. It is a breathtaking oversight, especially when considering how important questioning the handling of our diplomatic mission in Benghazi was to attacking Clinton. Then, just today, the entire non-partisan staff at the top of the State-department resigned.

It’s hard for me to get a handle on the exact size of the problem; there has not been much centralized reporting about what posts remain open as journalists typically focus on the play-by-play actions in Washington. But the steady bleed of top officials with no plan to fill them is gutting the high levels of the Executive Branch. It will soon start to impede the administration of government in the United States.

It might be tempting to cheer this along if you are worried about what Trump might do if he were, you know, essentially competent, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is also going to impede the functioning of things we agreed to do in the two centuries before we elected a feckless Cheeto to lead us. Sticking to the State department, our Ambassadors maintain relationships by making nuts and bolts requests and amassing knowledge of the political landscape where they are. Except, presently they don’t. Because the only Ambassador from the United States is in New York City at the UN.

You might also be tempted to think this is a ploy to give Trump’s close advisers more power, and you might be right. Honestly, though? They don’t have the hours in the day to pull it off. Unless Bannon has a Time Turner from Harry Potter, he cannot hope to run all the State Department from the West Wing. The Executive isn’t decentralized for philosophical reasons, but for practical ones.

But it does make you wonder: who is flying this thing right now?

This one Weird Trick Won’t Win Every Election

As I am wont to, I will respond to part of Ben Studebaker’s strategizing on the behalf of “the left”. His economic assertions in this piece simply do not match up with reality.

Let’s start with the core thing I’d like to pick apart. Studebaker offers this chart to show that FDR had mad growth:

us-presidents-gdp-growth1

But no. However he calculated growth rates, he made an error. A 31% annual growth rate implies that the economy was 33 times bigger when FDR died than when he took office—the data says that it did not quite triple. There are competing ways of calculating average growth so there will be differences between any given method, but they should never be off by a factor of 11. The numbers look off for about every president, though not proportionally. I did my own calculations, which differ from some others I found online, but are in about the same ballpark of most. For reasons that will become apparent, I included GDP per capita growth next to his metric. You can compare them here:

gdp-by-president
*Data for per capita GDP begins in 1947, so FDR is not listed here. **Truman’s per capita growth is inflated against his plain growth because 1946 is included in plain growth but not per capita growth. This is a significant difference because 1946 had a major recession due to normalization following the war.

FDR still does better, but its worth noting a few things:

First, FDR benefits from the exact epoch of economic history he was sworn in during. He reversed the misguided monetary policy of the proceeding administration. He deserves a kudos for this, but he was lobbed a softball. The rapid growth during that period was making up for bad policy; it is hard to suggest that it generalizes. What I’m saying is that a President who enters at such a low point will have an easier time generating high numbers. You can see this over the very long run in growth history:

long-run-us-gdp-per-capita-growth-1870-2011-in-logarithms

The huge pulse around the Great Depression illustrates that for the first half of his presidency, FDR was working with economic gravity. Not entirely by coincidence—again, this is not an FDR hitpiece—FDR entered when circumstances were most favorable to economic growth and he succeeded. Since Truman, and especially since LBJ, we see pretty stable growth regardless of who is in the White House. (At the very least, very different presidents and polices have gotten approximately the same results.)

Second, the greater part of the growth came during war mobilization. This too is complicated. This was a period of domestic shortages, rations, and generally tighter belts. (You had to have government issued coupons to buy sugar legally, for example.) To suggest that the wartime production numbers represent some kind of great prosperity for the American people is to read those numbers out of context. To be sure, I’m all for fighting Nazis, but let’s not imagine that workers were “enjoying” all those extra tanks and planes in the way they might enjoy, say, the increase in household appliances following the war.

Here again FDR benefits from the dates of his presidency. He died right before demobilization began in earnest, meaning that he missed the “hangover” that followed. Nonetheless, this saw the end of rations and more production ending up in American homes rather than distant battlefields. So while demobilization counts against Truman’s GDP numbers, Americans directly benefited. For perspective, from FDR being sworn in to Truman leaving, Americans saw 6.1% growth on average—good, but not overwhelmingly incredible. To put none too fine a point on it, the baseline economic conditions gave FDR a huge advantage and mobilization is something of a mirage anyway.

This, I think, shows the bigger problem with Studebaker’s analysis. To a point, the presidents are incomparable. They aren’t giving equal starting points and the same challenges throughout. Truman is probably low because because FDR was high; the economy really had to contract under him. If you zoom out and compare parties post-war, like I did a few weeks ago, you see a different set of patterns emerge:

demgop-growth

Most of difference in GDP growth over the years has come in the depth of recessions. Democrats have seen shallower contractions, suggesting—at least at a first pass—that democrats manage recession better. Above the 30th percentile of quarters, democrats and Republicans are effectively interchangeable on the matter of economic growth. This should make some intuitive sense. After all, we have an economic system based around market exchange and not the state and so actions by the state are going to have a secondary effect on economics. The fact that the exception seems to be in recession says that the state has a role to play in managing the health of markets.

The scale of the graph is a touch misleading, however. The median household makes about $50,000 a year, and they can expect their income to rise by $165 more if we elect a Democrat over a Republican; about $13.75 a month. This is…significant but not impressive. Obviously, you are not going to turn down $13.75 a month extra, all else equal. By the same token, you are not going to upend your political ideologies for what works out to be a chunk of change. Note for low income people, the numbers are even smaller. Down at the poverty line for a single person, we are talking $3.24 a month!

Getting away from the hard numbers, I take exception to this characterization:

Since World War II, no presidents have done better. The growth these Democrats delivered for white Americans made them comfortable and happy. This made it easier for more of them to see social justice movements in a non-threatening way. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson ran against a fiery, hard-right conservative–Barry Goldwater. But economic conditions were good, and so white people were much less receptive to Goldwater than they were to Trump. Johnson ended up winning 61% of the vote to Goldwater’s paltry 38%.

This is special pleading. The specifics here are basically correct, but it leaves open some questions. The high growth in Reagan’s presidency happened during a time when welfare was coded black (“welfare queen”) and saw it significantly rolled back. Reagan appointments and policies were hostile to minorities—especially sexual minorities, but also racial ones. This was a high water mark of anti-feminism. High growth ensured 12 years of Republicans in the White House and allowed a good deal of harmful, anti-social-justice policies to become entrenched. Despite Clinton’s high growth, there was not a substantial increase in welfare and he signed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Growth and justice have only a tenuous relationship.

In  this context, his LBJ narrative is stylized. Dr. King and Malcolm X both wrote at length—to different conclusions—that white moderates were too comfortable to demand change. As I just pointed out, this played out again in the 1980s, but for various reasons no one was able to challenge Reagan like they were able to challenge LBJ and Congress. There is something to Studebaker’s analysis that economic comfort helped smooth over the changes to de jur treatment of African Americans when they went through in the 1960s, but it was not sufficient and not even clearly necessary in the 1980s.

These numbers are something of a Rorschach Test. You can see what you want in them. The long term trend of per capita growth suggests the way to get FDR levels of growth is to first have Hoover levels of Recession. We can probably keep it going if we arrange a World War, but eventually, rationing will unwind. Post-war production has largely kept apace of the historical trend regardless of state policy, with the important caveat that Democrats have recovered from recessions faster. His analysis of electoral history is cherry-picked and stylized beyond generalization. He’s probably right that growth under LBJ bought some political capital to affect change; the same was true under Reagan to literally the opposite end. Given that the numbers don’t suggest a huge difference between economic outcomes, this political capital was partially unearned in both cases.

Sadly, there is no magic bullet to win elections.

Some Optimism for Inauguration

This post is not going to tell you that everything is going to be fine. It is not going to tell you that the system was built to keep men like Trump in check. It is not going to tell you that we are not going to lose big, important battles. Its not, it didn’t work for Jackson, and we will. I’ve said that 2016 was not a dumpster fire, but rather watching a bunch of pyromaniacs fill a dumpster with greasy trash.

Today, they are striking the first matches.

But three things have calmed me down and convinced me that this fight can be won.

  1. A majority see through this. Real Clear Politics puts his favorability at 41.8%. For comparison, most presidents go months before they dip down under 55%. This is called the honeymoon, the period where the fact that they won casts an aura that convinces a number of people on the fence to support the President for the good of the country and out of respect for the election process. Its not that Trump has not seen a boost because he’s received about 10 points to my eyes. Its that he started from an abysmal base in the low 30s. If you have an unfavorable view of this guy, you are in the majority. When Trump says he won, listen for the echo: Barely! When he says he has a mandate, you should hear in the back: Yeah, no. Even if Trump is ignoring this or pretending the polls are made up, Congress is not.
  2. Congress has his back.You read that right! The group of people tentatively sticking up for him are Congresspeople. If you were to select a loyal band of followers who would be with you through thick and thin…would you select Congresspeople? Congress is filled with cowards. These are people looking at their reelection prospects. They are like cockroaches: When the light of public scrutiny hits them, them scuttle for shadows. They have a plan to survive the electoral nuclear holocaust that Trump might bring in 2 years and it includes eating his corpse if need be. Call your Senators and Representative about specific, important issues in Congress. Your Representative in particular is trying to figure out how to abandon ship without looking like he or she is abandoning ship. Keep the heat on and they will.
  3. Dumb and evil is better than smart and evil. I felt a wave of relief watching Besty DeVos’s confirmation hearings. After months of hearing what she’d given money to, I feared that educators were in for a rough four years. After hearing what she had to say about those causes, I realized that she is used to handing money to people who broadly agree with her and letting them figure out the nuts and bolts. Perry and Tillerman both suffer from similar problems. Trump is selecting ideological extremists, but they are largely in over their heads. You know how liberals are (rightfully) upset that Obama deported a record number of people? That happened because Obama appointed people who did a good job…at implementing Bush Era policies. Trump Era competence of Trump Era policies is mostly shaping up to look like better news than the policies alone would suggest.

 

Each of these points has its downsides. Trump is just going to ignore the polls, Congress will spend some political capital over the objections of the public at large, and Trump won’t do a good job implementing the parts of government we like. It is crucial, as I discussed in my previous post, that we get a strong electoral game for 2018 so that we can run the committees that put checks on Trump. Further, we are going to lose fights—elections matter. But if we keep pressure on the institutions of government, we can staunch the bleeding. Its not the optimism of puppies and rainbows.

12up-rainbow-master675

It is the optimism that says we are not out of options to fight—so let’s fight.