Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Trump’s lies corrode democracy

By James Pfiffner – Previous research has demonstrated that most modern presidents have told lies for a variety of reasons, from legitimate lies concerning national security, to trivial misstatements, to shading the truth, to avoiding embarrassment, to serious lies of policy deception. However, when a president continues to insist that his previous false statements are true, the institutions of government become corroded and democracy is undermined.

Of course, many of Trump’s lies are “conventional” lies similar to those that politicians often tell in order to look good or avoid blame. But the number of these types of lies by Trump vastly exceeds the lies of previous presidents. Glen Kessler of the Washington Post compiled a list of more than 2000 misleading or false statements in Trump’s first 355 days in office.

But aside from volume, Trump’s lies differed significantly from those of previous presidents. Some of his most frequent lies are bragging about his achievements in ways that are demonstrably untrue and contrary to well-known and accepted facts.

Trump’s refusal to admit the truth of widely accepted facts corrodes political discourse and is consistent with the practice of many authoritarian leaders. If there are no agreed upon facts, then it becomes impossible for people to make judgments about their government or hold it accountable. more>

How to Serve a President You Don’t Like

By Dannielle Blumenthal – It is no secret that the vast majority of Washingtonians dislike our current president.

But you do not have to like the president to serve well, to make your agency more functional, and to deliver great service to the American public. Because whatever program I was working on, it had little or nothing to do with the president and everything to do with the citizen. The more effectively and efficiently I contributed, and helped others to contribute, the better we served the taxpayers, who too often are forgotten in all the discord.

Many conflicts in government really are about ideological differences and beliefs that are fervently held. Others are about personality differences. Still others have to do with money, status, and power. Many are a mixture of all of these.

But most federal employees aren’t having these power struggles.

Most civil servants, at least, can serve a president they don’t like. But if doing you job under this president means violating your personal beliefs and principles, then I would argue it’s incumbent upon you to find another place to work outside of government. more>

Trump’s New Solution to Every Problem

By David A. Graham – Three times in the last two weeks, President Trump has turned in frustration from an intractable problem and landed upon an apparently elegant solution: the military.

In each of these cases, the attraction of military action for the president is clear. He has found his agenda largely stalled in Congress, where legislators have no interest in funding the wall or any other number of signature Trump projects, and the president has shown neither the interest nor the patience to lobby them. Even working through executive-branch processes has not produced the results that Trump wants, as courts have blocked some of his most treasured moves, especially his Muslim travel ban.

As commander in chief, he has authority over the military, and the military is, at least in theory, better equipped to respond quickly and efficiently to orders than the rest of the government. What each of these cases has shown, however, is that even the military doesn’t offer a frictionless tool for evading political and practical reality.

Trump is hardly alone among presidents in turning to the Pentagon as a method of acting when other means wear out. Dog-wagging and jingoism make military deployments an alluring option for any president, especially one who is struggling in Congress, opinion polls, or both. President Obama became quickly enamored of drone strikes. President Clinton bombed the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Sudan. President Reagan invaded Grenada. Presidents at the ends of their terms tend to concentrate on foreign affairs, sometimes at the barrel of a gun, once they’ve achieved all they can domestically. more>

The Tax Cut Effect

By Andrew Soergel – The legislation heaped new debt onto a country already saddled with more than $20 trillion in outstanding obligations. But the overhaul was touted as an economic growth engine likely to drive investment and wage growth in America, eventually allowing the cuts to pay for themselves by virtue of a stronger economy.

The benefits of the income tax cut are really only now really beginning to hit and have yet to really show up in any significant way in spending figures or retail sales. It’s been estimated that, probably, the annual impact of all of that is somewhere north of $100 billion. And all of that money needs to go somewhere, so some of that will move into the spending category.

But we’re advocating on behalf of consumers and investors that they need to be thinking about how to maximize their finances so that they’re taking advantage of saving opportunities and to pay down debt.

Right now, we do see the benefits of the tax cut coming into individuals’ and corporations’ coffers. But as one who came from the Midwest, I’d seize upon a corny line and say “You need to make hay while the sun shines.” We’re in the ninth year of the economic expansion, and the bull market is nine years old as well. And these things will not last forever.

And we’re in a rising interest rate environment, where the cost of borrowing is rising and likely to rise. more>

How to Build an Autocracy

BOOK REVIEW

How To Build An Autocracy, Author: The Atlantic.

By David Frum – Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.

Allegations of fraud and self-dealing in the TrumpWorks program, and elsewhere, have likewise been shrugged off. The president regularly tweets out news of factory openings and big hiring announcements: “I’m bringing back your jobs,” he has said over and over. Voters seem to have believed him—and are grateful.

Most Americans intuit that their president and his relatives have become vastly wealthier over the past four years. But rumors of graft are easy to dismiss. Because Trump has never released his tax returns, no one really knows.

Anyway, doesn’t everybody do it? On the eve of the 2018 congressional elections, WikiLeaks released years of investment statements by prominent congressional Democrats indicating that they had long earned above-market returns. As the air filled with allegations of insider trading and crony capitalism, the public subsided into weary cynicism. The Republicans held both houses of Congress that November, and Trump loyalists shouldered aside the pre-Trump leadership.

The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet.

In an 1888 lecture, James Russell Lowell, a founder of this magazine, challenged the happy assumption that the Constitution was a “machine that would go of itself.” Lowell was right. Checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism.

The American system is also perforated by vulnerabilities no less dangerous for being so familiar. Supreme among those vulnerabilities is reliance on the personal qualities of the man or woman who wields the awesome powers of the presidency. A British prime minister can lose power in minutes if he or she forfeits the confidence of the majority in Parliament. The president of the United States, on the other hand, is restrained first and foremost by his own ethics and public spirit.

What happens if somebody comes to the high office lacking those qualities? more>

A Government That Looks Like Trump

By Robert Schlesinger – Trump’s personal pilot and his son-in-law-cum-senior adviser, Jared Kushner which bloomed brightly before being eclipsed; they serve as a reminder of the number, degree and reach of the ethical challenges and possible corruption which has become the background music in front of which the other Trump dramas unfold.

We have to a depressing extent become benumbed to the fact that we are living in an age aptly dubbed one of “American kakistrocracy” (government by the worst of us), in part because of its pervasiveness and almost mind-boggling scope.

So it’s useful to periodically step back and catalogue the extent to which Trumpism is corrupting our governance. The Washington Post reported last month that 9 of 22 of Trump’s initial picks for Cabinet-level jobs, 40 percent, “have found themselves facing scrutiny over their actions.” While the examples below range from unseemly to potentially illegal they bespeak a cavalier attitude towards government ethics and taxpayer dollars that is illustrative of the Trump era in America.

Another aspect of the Trumpian corrosion of our governmental standards is the death of qualifications as a prerequisite for high public service. Trump of course was, on paper, the least-prepared of any president in history. Naturally he views this as a plus.

So reports that Trump is considering nominating John Dunkin, his long-time personal pilot, to head the Federal Aviation Administration, should not surprise at this point. “My pilot, he’s a smart guy, and he knows what’s going on,” Trump told airline executives last year.

Well there you go; he sounds like a perfect fit for the top job in the $16 billion, 47,000-employee agency. Somewhere George W. Bush and Harriet Miers are having a good chuckle. more>

Beware the Trump Trade Trap

By Liz Mair – Not everyone in the U.S. feels that they’ve personally benefited from free trade. But the odds are, they have – they just don’t recognize it. The trend toward globalization is irreversible and tariffs designed to try will only cause pain for consumers in the form of lost jobs and higher prices for basic goods.

Remember that Trump sees an incomplete picture of free trade. He sees only people who have overwhelmingly lost thanks to free trade, instead of the more accurate picture of an America that has overwhelmingly won thanks to trade deals. And anyone who has studied Trump’s public pronouncements regarding policy over many decades knows that Trump really is anti-free trade at his core – and has been for a long, long time now.

Though his natural tendencies can be temporarily parked by persuasive arguments by people he trusts on economic policy topics.

Within the administration, the only people who seem to fit that bill, where trade is concerned, are economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who are committed to reminding Trump especially of the link between free trade and a robust stock market, and how moderation on trade protectionism ties into stock market resilience.

Basically everyone else is protectionist, neutral, or their opinion on financial matters doesn’t carry that much weight with Trump. more>

Is democracy essential?

BOOK REVIEW

Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, Author: Ian Bremmer.

By Ian Bremmer – In advanced economies, young adults are more likely than older people to prefer technocracy to democracy. The study found that in the U.S., 46 percent of those aged 18 to 29 would prefer to be governed by experts compared with 36 percent of respondents aged 50 and older.

Perhaps most alarming was the revelation than one quarter of millennials agreed that “choosing leaders through free elections is unimportant.” Just 14 percent of Baby Boomers and 10 percent of older Americans agreed.

In a world where even the Communists are no longer communists (China’s state-capitalism is a far cry from Marx, to be sure), there’s no competing ideology forcing those who live in democracies to consider what life might be like without it.

Or maybe it’s that democracy in America no longer seems to be working. During the 1930s, economic depression led many to look abroad for alternatives to democracy and free-market capitalism.

American millennials have never stood in a bread line, but they have experienced the most severe financial crisis since the 30s, a dramatic widening of the gap between richest and poorest, a hollowing out of the middle and working classes, and a level of dysfunction and petty partisan hostility in Washington that seems to get worse by the week.

Then there’s the Trump effect. more>

The high cost of budgetary paralysis

By Alice M. Rivlin – It is both frightening and embarrassing that the world’s most experienced democracy is currently unable to carry out even the basic responsibility of funding the services that Americans are expecting from their government in the current fiscal year.

Limping from one short-term continuing resolution to another, combining individual appropriations bills into unwieldy omnibus bills that no one is able to study or even read, and threatening to close the government (or default on the debt) if certain conditions are not met are all symptoms of a deeply broken decision-making process.

The costs of budgetary dysfunction are high and rising, although not easy to quantify. Federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, cannot make plans that enable them to spend money efficiently.

The most worrisome cost of the Congress’s seemingly-endless wrangling over near-term federal funding is that it crowds out serious discussions of the daunting longer-term challenges that face the nation’s economy. more>

The Trump Factor and US Foreign Policy

By Joschka Fischer – All told, the White House “adults in uniform” – Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, and Chief of Staff John Kelly – have ensured continuity in US foreign policy. And the same seems to be true for economic and trade policy.

Does that mean the world can rest easy? Of course not. There is still a big question mark hovering over US foreign policy in the form of Trump himself. It is entirely unclear what the president wants, what he actually knows, and what his advisers are and are not telling him. A coherent foreign policy may not withstand Trump’s mood swings and spontaneous decisions.

Making matters worse, the administration’s shrinking of the US State Department has weakened the institutional base for implementing official foreign policy to an almost mission-critical degree.

The US is still the world’s foremost power, and it plays an indispensable role in preserving global norms.

If America’s policies are difficult to predict, and if Trump’s behavior undermines the reliability of the US government, the international order will be vulnerable to immense turmoil. more>