Archive

December 11th

Trump's bait-and-switch strategy

    As the nation's news media try to figure out how to handle President-elect Trump, he continues to keep them off balance with the hustler's tactic of bait-and-switch. He tosses out one after another tasty news morsels to draw attention from issues than can do him political damage.

    A recent example is how he countered the fact that he lost the popular vote on Election Day by insisting he had really won it -- and then threw into the mix his allegation that the whole election was rigged anyway.

    With this double dose of malarkey, Trump at least temporarily misdirected eyes and ears away from the more significant question: Is he potentially breaking the law or flirting with a serious conflict of interest by holding onto his huge real-estate business while preparing to assume the presidency?

    At first, in his long interview with editors and reporters of the New York Times in their Manhattan lair, Trump insisted that there was no conflict in him taking over the Oval Office and continuing to run his huge international real-estate empire.

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Trump is setting a terrible precedent. Ask Japan.

    Factory workers should be cheering. Donald Trump, actually living up to a campaign promise, has been badgering corporate America to keep manufacturing jobs at home. On Thursday, Trump announced that Carrier will maintain about 1,000 jobs in Indiana rather than shift them to Mexico. He has prodded Apple to build plants at home rather than outsource to China. And he has taken credit (dubiously) for rescuing a Ford factory in Kentucky.

    Many of you are probably saying: Hey, why haven't we done this sort of thing all along? Finally, we've got a tough guy in the White House who can stop those fat cats from moving our jobs overseas!

    The problem is that Trump's bullying will undermine the rule of law -- and ultimately prove detrimental to the U.S. economy. We know this because he's far from the first government official to try such meddling. In Japan, bureaucrats were once famous for it. And the results there should serve as a warning.

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Trump is like Woodrow Wilson

    It would be really nice if Donald Trump's current and potential conflicts of interest could be justified as good for America, after all. As a political scientist who is generally skeptical of "good government" crusades and of broad definitions of public corruption, I'd love to be able to offer a defense of Trump on those grounds -- just as I can offer a defense of old political machines.

    Alas, no dice.

    Trump isn't building a party machine. Why does that matter? With everything else going on, why would we want a Tammany Hall in addition to Trump Tower? Because Trump's conflicts of interest aren't justified even by the democratic theory most open to politicians enriching themselves. A weaker version of democracy could lead him and his followers to ignore or excuse what can't be justified.

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Trump, Finally Explained

    Do you remember “50 First Dates”? It was a Drew Barrymore movie about a woman with short-term amnesia who wakes up every morning with no memory whatsoever of the day that went before.

    I am thinking it’s the perfect Donald Trump analogy.

    In the past, I’ve always presumed that when Trump completely changed his position on health care or the Mexican wall or nuclear weapons in Japan, it was due to craven political opportunism. But it’s much more calming to work under the assumption that he doesn’t remember anything that happened before this morning.

    Think about it next time you hear him bragging about his big margin of victory. “We won in a landslide. That was a landslide,” he told a crowd in Ohio on Thursday. It was perhaps the first time in history that a candidate used those terms after receiving 2.5 million votes fewer than his competitor.

    It’s stupendously irritating, unless you work under the assumption that he no longer recalls the real story.

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The post-truth world of the Trump administration is scarier than you think

    You may think you are prepared for a post-truth world, in which political appeals to emotion count for more than statements of verifiable fact.

    But now it's time to cross another bridge - into a world without facts. Or, more precisely, where facts do not matter a whit.

    On live radio Wednesday morning, Scottie Nell Hughes sounded breezy as she drove a stake into the heart of knowable reality:

    "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts," she declared on "The Diane Rehm Show" on Wednesday.

    Hughes, a frequent surrogate for President-elect Donald Trump and a paid commentator for CNN during the campaign, kept on defending that assertion at length, though not with much clarity of expression. Rehm had pressed her about Trump's recent evidence-free assertion on Twitter that he, not Hillary Clinton, would have won the popular vote if millions of immigrants had not voted illegally.

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The Orwellian nightmare for policy wonks is coming

    I'm not going to sugarcoat this: For policy experts, the next four years of the Trump administration will be a waking nightmare. This is for two reasons. The first is that Trump's team has few if any policy wonks. The second is that this puts the average policy wonk in a no-win situation.

    Let's start with the lack of policy wonks. I would guess that the Washington Free Beacon's Matthew Continetti and the New York Times' Neil Irwin disagree on many issues of substance. One of the things that the appear to agree on, however, is that the incoming Trump Cabinet does not contain much in the way of relevant policy or management expertise. Here's Continetti:

    "Only one of the men and women nominated by Trump has experience managing the gigantic and recalcitrant organizations that comprise the administrative state: Elaine Chao, who served as George W. Bush's secretary of labor and is now slated to head the department of transportation under Trump. White House counsel Don McGahn knows Washington as an attorney and former chair of the FEC. And, as I write, there are two members of the administration who have experience as elected executives: Mike Pence and Nikki Haley."

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The economies inherited by Obama and Trump are as different as night and day

    In the three months before President Obama came to office -- the last quarter of 2008 -- the nation's economy was contracting at a rate of 8.2 percent, the biggest quarterly decline in real gross domestic product since 1958. The month before Obama took office, payroll employment fell by 695,000. The unemployment rate was 7.3 percent and rising fast.

    The technical term for such statistics is "nightmarish."

    Now let's look at the economy President-elect Donald Trump is inheriting. Since we're still in the last quarter of this year, we don't yet know its GDP growth rate, but the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's tracker predicts it will come in at 2.9 percent (last quarter's growth rate was a robust 3.2 percent). According to Friday's jobs report, employment growth was 178,000 and the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent, a nine-year low, and close enough to the Fed's estimate of full employment that they're likely to raise interest rates at their next meeting to keep the job market from getting too tight. (I think they'd be wrong to do so, but that's a different discussion.)

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Robots won't kill the workforce. They'll save the economy.

    The United Nations forecasts that the global population will rise from 7.3 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050, a big number that often prompts warnings about overpopulation. Some have come from neo-Malthusians, who fear that population growth will outstrip the food supply, leaving a hungry planet. Others appear in the tirades of anti-immigrant populists, invoking the specter of a rising tide of humanity as cause to slam borders shut. Still others inspire a chorus of neo-Luddites, who fear that the "rise of the robots" is rapidly making human workers obsolete, a threat all the more alarming if the human population is exploding.

    Before long, though, we're more likely to treasure robots than to revile them. They may be the one thing that can protect the global economy from the dangers that lie ahead.

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December 10th

What happens if Trump keeps interfering with the free market? Look at the Soviet Union.

    For Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the news from Carrier looks like a slam-dunk: A company that was going to move 1,000 jobs to Mexico has agreed to keep the factories and jobs open in Indiana after the president-elect and vice president-elect applied a little pressure. We don't know exactly what subsidies, tax breaks or other deals may have been involved, but workers making furnaces in Indiana are cheering, and Trump is basking in triumph. He promised in the campaign to apply his deal-making stills to stopping the exodus of U.S. manufacturing jobs abroad. Now he can claim some success even before being sworn in.

    But after the celebrating should come some discomfort. Trump's aggressive rhetoric suggests he sees nothing wrong with pushing corporate chieftains around in the name of making America great again.

    Trump would do well to remember: He was elected president, not factory boss.

    What makes capitalism strong are the forces of the market left to work their own magic. No free market is ever totally free, but the basics matter a lot: Decisions are made on the basis of things like supply and demand, knowing that information is open and rule of law secure.

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A response to the pleas to shut up Trump

    The holidays are right around the corner, so it's the season to tell other people to shut up. That's my takeaway from the various events of this week. Let's look at three.

    First, there were renewed cries for Donald Trump to be banned from Twitter. An online petition has tens of thousand of signatures. The arguments vary, but they are from a common set. He makes things up. He's vicious. He's every "ist" and "ic" in the book. And here is the fun part: There is no free speech issue because Twitter, as a private company, has the right to suspend what accounts it likes.

    To which I say: Wow.

    They're right of course that Trump's tweets are often offensive. They're also right that the First Amendment has no application. Absent a specific legal prohibition, a private business may refuse to serve whomever it likes, including the president of the United States. Still, the present moment feels as if we have passed through the looking glass, into a world where everything is just the opposite of what it ought to be. How else to explain the sudden affection on the left for corporate power as a check on government?

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