Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Infernal Circle

I don’t want to put a picture of this guy’s
successor on my blog.
I’m hesitant about posting anything political on Thanksgiving. After all, this is a day when I and many others believe that we Americans should take a break from our fractious political disputes and focus on what unites us as a nation.   

But I am one of those liberals who has been utterly thunderstruck by the unexpected election of Donald Trump.  Never having held elected office or military command before, and infusing his speeches with hateful vulgarities, Trump, I thought, was obviously unfit and unsuited to the highest office in the country, if not the world.  So, I’m absolutely gobsmacked that so many voters — enough to win Trump the Electoral College, albeit not the popular vote — didn’t agree with me about the obviousness of his unsuitability for the office.  I’m sure that many conservatives will say that I am blinded to Trump’s worthiness for the office by my blinkered liberalism that’s insulated from the virtues of small-town America (evidenced by my use of the foreign slang term “gobsmacked”), but that is a discussion for another day.

However, I was listening to the radio today, which played Trump’s Thanksgiving Day address to the people he will soon be governing.  In it, Trump said that he hopes to bring “real prosperity” to the American people.  The underlying message of this statement is that the last eight years under President Barack Obama were not particularly prosperous. 

Hearing Trump say this, I was reminded of the economic calamity that happened on President George W. Bush’s watch, the worst since the Great Depression 80 years ago.  President Obama was able to bring this country out of that fiscal hole, but the ensuing economic prosperity hasn’t been felt by everyone.  This sense of people being left out of the economic recovery was obviously what Trump was implying by his remarks.  But the main reason for the country’s perceived lack of shared fortune, I submit, is because the congressional Republicans fought Obama’s plans for economic revival every step of the way.

Obama had several plans for refurbishing the country’s infrastructure, plans which would have put many more Americans back to work and would have thereby boosted the economy.  But the Republicans stymied or blocked most of those plans on the argument that the deficit needed to be reversed before any such plans could be passed.  This argument brought back memories of the budget surplus left to George W. Bush by Bill Clinton, a surplus that Bush quickly squandered via his tax cuts, the majority of which benefited wealthier Americans.  The deficit was largely created by the Republicans, and I always thought that they had great chutzpah for citing it as the reason for blocking Obama’s plans for economic recovery. 

This is a phenomenon in politics: If the economy does significantly well under a president, that president will get the credit for the economy, whether that president truly deserves the credit or not.  And if the economy does significantly poorly under a president, that president will get the blame for the economy, whether that president truly deserves the blame or not.  For example, Ronald Reagan (he of the sunny persona) was widely credited for America’s economic revival of the 1980s.  Reagan’s new prosperity was largely thanks to deficit spending, but the president and his Republican allies were able to deflect the credit onto his tax cuts instead.  So was cemented the great Republican shibboleth of tax cuts spurring the economy, which isn’t necessarily true, as Kansas under Republican governor Sam Brownback has recently proven. 

Congressional Republicans during the Obama administration knew that if the economy improved too well under the first African American president, he would get the credit, which would redound to the rival Democratic Party.  So, Republicans — putting political party before country — did everything they could to hinder or thwart Obama’s economic plans.  And as a consequence, the economy — despite a record number of months of continued job growth — improved only haltingly.  The Republicans’ strategy appears to have worked: rather than remembering that Democratic measures dug the American economy out of its Republican-created hole, a decisive number of voters only blamed Obama for not improving the economy quickly enough and elected a member of the hole-creating rival party to succeed him. 

Once Trump is in office, expect congressional Republicans to become born-again deficit spenders to improve the economy with infrastructure projects of their own, along with extra tax cuts.  If these plans succeed, Trump will get the credit for boosting the economy — boosting, in turn, the Republican Party’s fortunes.  Another result will be that the deficit worsens.  Consequently, when another Democrat inevitably gets elected sometime down the road, expect the congressional Republicans to once again use the deep deficit as a way to block any Democratic plans to improve the economy, and once again, expect the resulting underperformance by the economy to work to the Republicans’ political advantage.

My Thanksgiving 2016.  (I think this photo looks like a Vanity Fair cover.)

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