Sunday, April 30, 2017

100 Days of Ineptitude

With sincere apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. After all, Marquez knew it wasn't easy to write a book, which is more than we can say about how easy Donald Trump thought (?) being president was going to be. It's really a stunning admission given that, well, almost everyone else in the country over the age of 12 has an inkling that being president is a terrifically difficult job. If you want to do it well, which clearly Trump has no interest in.

What's not so easy is realizing that Trump has only been in the White House for 100 days. Maybe that's because the first two weeks of bumbling and blathering seemed like a year in Roosevelt time. And only three years and change to go.

If this past week solidified anything, it's that President Trump (shudder) is on course to be one of the least effective, least visionary and least truthful presidents in, um, a long time. There isn't an issue he's given little thought to including health care, taxes, deficits, infrastructure, foreign relations and the environment. On the unthinking agenda of the future is surely human rights, disaster relief, an economic downturn and a full-blown foreign crisis. Note to the president: these are not easy eventualities.

It's clear by now that the president also has little idea about how health care works or what kind of plan might be helpful to the greatest number of people. The conservatives in the GOP just want to help the insurance companies and make the plan as cheap as they can, and let the states cover what they can afford. Which isn't going to be much. Plus, a law like that will have no chance of passing the Senate, so it doesn't look like Trump is going to get the extra billions he needs to fund a tax cut.

Which now doesn't seem to be a problem because the new tax plan plows through every assumption that makes a functioning, rational economy work. It's a giant sop to the already wealth and it comes with the promise that history has never justified; that we can make up the budget shortfall through...growth. As if Donald Trump's crack team of Goldman Sachsers and Paul Ryan can guarantee us 3% economic growth for...ever? And this is going to get done despite the fact that Trump's insular trade policy and his hounding of immigrant laborers will likely lead to a backlash against American goods and services. Add in the global competition from other low-wage countries, and how exactly are we growing so fast?

But again, the whole plan comes from the mind (?) of someone who hasn't really thought about much since he became president. And given that he hasn't released his tax returns so we can learn how this new plan will benefit him, it's unlikely that he'll get anywhere near what his original proposal calls for. That's a good thing, because this plan will hurt the very people who voted for him. It's irresponsible at best and destructive at worst.

Now that Trump is unshackled from the 100 day expectation, it will be interesting to see how he approaches the long slog that is the presidency. The tweets will continue, as will the bragging and misdirection that has already buried the Russia hacking from the news headlines. Some in the media have reported that Trump started out as horrible, but that he's become a rather predictable Republican president. Honestly, I don't see the difference.

But I did make a decision a few weeks back that has made my life infinitely easier I'm just not going to take anything Trump says at face value. If he says it, I immediately disbelieve it and look to find independent, verifiable information. Which I do in the responsible press.

You know, the one Donald Trump doesn't believe.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wrong Way Flows The Don(ald)

I imagine that to a Trump supporter, the president's moves seem like a new direction for the country.

For me, we are taking giant steps backwards.

It's not just the denial of climate science or the reversal of protections for LGBTQ citizens or the hounding of Muslims or threatening North Korea with a ship that was going...the wrong way or any of the other executive orders undoing any number of worthwhile things like protecting consumers from financial advisers who might value commissions over investors or net neutrality or allowing cable television companies to continue to monopolize set-top boxes or trying to repeal a health care law and replace it so that 24 million fewer people are covered by insurance.

No, despite all of those gems, and more, I see the country going back to a time when it was fine to say terrible things to women and minorities and to create groups that deserve protection and those that do not and the ones that do not are usually weaker or vulnerable.

But then there's the light that illuminated the swamp that is FOX News, resulting in the toppling of Chairman O'Reilly and, perhaps, more executives who tolerated his abuse. And there's the energy in Georgia and Montana and the other places where Democrats will be challenging Republicans on their own turf. After all, Trump went into the Midwest and won the election. Surely, Democrats can go into the South and the Plains and win some races there.

The big plus, though, is that Republicans are actually in charge and they are proving the point that it's very difficult to run a government when you want that government to disappear. Yes, the GOP is making noise about reviving the health care bill, but the problem of cost and coverage, especially for those who voted for Trump but still need Obamacare, will doom any attempt to gut the bill, which is really what the rank and file want. They will rue the day.

And tax reform? Show us your returns, Mr. President, so we know how you benefit from the system. Then maybe we'll support an overhaul that actually helps the middle class, but I don't see that being a priority for the right. Get rid of the mortgage and state tax deductions? Slap an import tariff on my Kohl's clothes sprees? Get into a trade war with Canada over milk? Good luck with that.

So maybe things are looking up? A monosyllabic chief executive can only say "great" so many times before he actually has to do something, or get Congress to pass some actual laws. In the meantime, the country will continue to slip backwards, harking back to a time that might have been great for some, but not for all.

It's a shame that we'll have to wait to move forward.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Who Knew It Could Get So Dangerous?

On the (months ago) heels of a 40 watt light bulb going off in the president's head about how complicated health care could be comes another revelation, unstated, about how dangerous the world could be.

Perhaps Donald Trump believed that throwing 59 missiles at Syria would startle Presidents Assad and Putin to the point that they would give up the fight and flee to be replaced by...what. Or maybe Trump giving his generals the green light to MOAB the Afghani desert would cause ISIS to run a white flag up a flagpole like the Vietcong did (not) when Richard Nixon decided that we had too many leftover bombs in our arsenal and thought that Christmas would be a fabulous time to send a message of peace war.

In any case, this is now getting dangerous.

Never mind that North Korea's attempts to rattle us ended in a failure that can be traced back to President Obama's program to disrupt Kim Jong-un's military through cyber-warfare. President Trump (shudder) will try to take credit for waking up in the morning and thinking that his actions will solve any and all real world problems. This is the kind of diplomacy we've seen before from politicians who believe that sending a military message without any diplomatic follow-up will yield meaningful fruit. It will not. Add the yeasty smell of a candidate who questioned the validity of NATO, and you have the makings of a loaf of something that makes matzah seem like a 7 layer cake.

For three months we saw Donald Trump's attempts at domestic policy and the utter failure that resulted from his ineptitude. Foreign policy is much trickier and, as we've seen, can kill far more people than repealing the ACA. Rex Tillerson has his work cut out for him.

Gee, wouldn't it be nice to have a president with some foreign policy and diplomatic experience? Like...

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Trump Has a Good Week: The World and Country Suffer

Some in the media are hailing this past week as Trump's best as president, so let's take a look at the highlights:
  1. The chair of the House committee looking into the Russia scandal had to recuse himself.
  2. The Republicans had to alter Senate rules to get their Supreme Court nominee into a seat that was wrongfully denied to President Obama.
  3. The number of new jobs dipped substantially in what could be considered the first real Labor Department report of the Trump Administration.
  4. The president and House negotiators tried to revive their failed health care bill by adding provisions for states to deny people insurance who have pre-existing conditions and raising rates for the elderly.
  5. The president threw some missiles into Syria after a dastardly and cowardly attack by President Assad. The endgame? Like much of Trump policy, it depends on what's on FOX News tonight.
Compared to the utter helplessness of the first few weeks of the Trump presidency, last week was fairly orderly. And yet...

To be fair, I thought that President Obama should have backed up his red line comment with a military response in 2013, because that's when it could have had more of an impact on the Syrian Civil War, and Trump was justified in responding last week. The issue is what will happen now? Will it take more attacks on children for Trump to respond? If only adults are hit, will we stay silent? And what about the Russians, who I believe are responding disingenuously to something they should have seen coming.

Is Donald Trump having his George W. "No Nation-Building" Bush moment?

As for the other events of the best week of Trump's presidency, it's really par for the overused course. Representative Devon Nunes used information given to him by executive branch sources and then ran and told the president rather than sharing said information with his House colleagues. So now we are in the unique position where only the Senate has the moral authority to investigate the Russia allegations.

On the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch's confirmation won't mean too much for the balance of the court as it replaces one conservative with another, but that seat should have belonged to President Obama's nominee. Changing the filibuster rules will eventually favor Democrats, but by that time the real damage could be more conservatives replacing more liberal voices on the Court. Somehow I think the republic will survive, but Congress will need to step in and pass laws to mitigate some of the legal damage.

And the health care bill? Right now it's pretty dead, but you know how much the GOP loves science. They will try to revive it and make it worse, even though the data suggests that the ACA is healthy enough to keep the insurance companies in green for the foreseeable future. The simple fact is that the GOP needs the money from a health care repeal to pay for their tax cuts, otherwise, it won't have the splash they're looking for, but it's looking more and more like they won't get it. I guess they'll have to soak the middle class even worse than they thought they might.

The Trump presidency is fast approaching its 100th day, the usual, if outdated, benchmark of presidential accomplishment, and it hasn't done much in the way of legislation. Most of the action has been done via formerly-hated-by-conservatives executive orders, and there don't seem to be any grand laws in the sausage grinder at the moment. The believable media has made a great deal about Trump's unpredictability and his penchant for reacting when personally affronted or moved, as evidenced by the Syria gambit. It's really only a matter of time before this manifests itself in something far more dangerous, and darker.

If you can fathom it.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Emperor Has No...Power

Remember the good old Obama Administration, the one the Republicans accused of treason and fascism and abuse of power because the president had the audacity to use...executive orders? That's when America was great, right? Congress obstructed the president from improving people's lives so he leaned on the only legal authority he had to run the country.

Now we have a president (shudder) who can only use executive orders to get things done, and the GOP naysayer whistle-blowers are blowing smoke. They all-of-a-sudden love Trump's use of orders to undo what they consider to be outrageous acts of governmental control like net neutrality or protecting consumer privacy or allowing states and local governments to set up retirement accounts for people who don't have them at work or clamping down on pollution and coal-belching plants that spew noxious fumes into the atmosphere.

Imagine what this president could do with a Republican majority Congress.

And that's exactly the point. He obviously does have a majority. The problem is that he has no power base. This is why Trump will be hard pressed to get much done during the catastrophe that will be the next three years and nine months.

Power comes from influence, fear, a united group that sees a way forward and leadership that uses its moral, ethical and electoral mandates to move legislation through the congress. Donald Trump has very little of any of this. And he's no LBJ. Trump was opposed by the party regulars and the conservative wing that actually had some ideas written down. He was opposed by right-leaning news outlets, many of which wrote that he didn't have the personality or character to be an effective president. And of course, he was opposed by a majority of voters on election day, which makes it extraordinarily difficult for him to claim any kind of mandate for his platform.

We were told that he was a master negotiator and a strong personality who could persuade legislators and world leaders if only he could get them into a room to negotiate with him. We were told that he would be pragmatic and try to get the best deal possible. We were told that he would strong arm recalcitrant lawmakers into seeing that if they didn't support him they would face some unlovely music at the ballot box come 2018.

You can stop laughing now.

What we have instead, and the Republicans in Congress now know this, is a president who lacks the knowledge of policy necessary to make deals. In the health care debacle, Trump was throwing ideas and promises around simply to appease the conservatives. The law he was fighting for was a disaster by any measure. He made threats; the GOP stalwarts ignored them. He fulminated on Twitter, then caved. The country is better off. For now.

But the die has been cast. Trump does not have the negotiating skills or the knowledge or the leverage necessary to get difficult laws through this Congress. He's decided to move on to tax reform, which makes repealing the ACA akin to the niceties of a PTA meeting. The health care debate didn't affect a vast majority of Americans, but taxes will. And each tax and each deduction has an interest group and lobbyists behind it. Plus, the windfall the GOP thought they would have from the ACA repeal is nowhere to be found. Congressional leaders have little to fear from a man who's going to make a habit of leading from behind. The fight over tax reform will take longer, and we know that Trump has no attention span beyond the next news cycle. What will he do with all that time?

At some point in the near future, Republicans running in 2018 will need to make the critical decision about whether they will continue to follow Trump through the maze he's created, or whether they're going to go their own way and render him even more superfluous. If they don't fear him, I can say with reasonable certainly that there will be a further split in the party. The result will not be pretty.

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