The Shutdown Proves Trump’s Incompetence

I’ve mentioned that the odds favor Trump eventually prevailing in this thing. But in doing that, I also mentioned that those odds are far less than the odds of the Democrats normally caving are. Say, about 55% instead of a more normal 90% chance of success in a staring match with Democrats.

A 45% risk of failure is a pretty big risk, and it didn’t have to be this way for Trump. He has a base of loyal followers whose beliefs ride on his every word. If Trump announced shit was tasty, turds would become a common meal amongst his base.

As such, there was no need to engage in this big gamble. There’s already hundreds of miles of barrier, much of it high and formidable enough to easily qualify as a “wall” under any common meaning of the term, which were erected mostly during the administrations of his predecessors.

Trump could have staged a photo-op or three along a new or recently-refurbished stretch of the existing wall, then strut around and boast he was “building the wall” as promised. Proclaim a big win.

The pesky non-Trumpist media would call him on that, of course, but it wouldn’t matter. Trump being called on his lies hasn’t mattered much to his base before, so why would being called on one more lie matter so much? He’d get away with it… in spades. Problem solved.

Worse yet for Trump, a prolonged shutdown in which the Democrats stand firm has the highest chance yet of being the sort of tipping point I wrote of last summer. The longer it lasts, the greater the chance of some Senate Republicans staging a revolt. If Trump has to back down, it will be a very humiliating defeat that will be very difficult to gloss over for his base. He could try a state of emergency, but that’s an even riskier option.

Remember, all of the above was optional, even from the standpoint of Trump wanting to continue to pander to his base. There was simply no need to engage in this high-stakes gambit. That Trump did anyhow puts the lie to any claim of him being a master strategist.

 

Paygo: The Stupidest Fucking “Issue” Ever?

“Issue” is in quotes because it doesn’t deserve the dignity of being called an actual issue. It’s the stupidest farce of a so-called “issue” I’ve seen come up in a long time.

Stupid not because the government can’t endlessly engage in deficit spending without consequences. Stupid not because it isn’t a good idea to try and pay down the debt during a recovery. Stupid not because it mandates underfunding anything. Stupid because it’s a totally meaningless gesture.

You see, any pay-as-you-go legislation would take the form of a plain old bill that gets passed by both the House and the Senate and signed into a plain old law by the President. That’s it. Just a law. Not an amendment to the US Constitution, just a plain old garden-variety law.

Guess what? Laws contradict each other all the time. What happens when that happens? Simple, the new law nullifies the old one. The most complicated case is if (like Paygo) a law regulates what kind of laws can be passed. Even that’s not very complicated: all the new law needs to legally override the old one is to insert a section revising the old law to exempt the new one from it.

The only way to avoid this is to make the “new law” take the form of an amendment to the US Constitution. That’s the supreme law of the land, and every plain old law must conform to it or it can be ruled unconstitutional and nullified by the courts. A new amendment, of course, would take years to enact, and success is hardly guaranteed. So nobody is considering it. Paygo will be a plain old law. As such, it will be meaningless.

But suppose, hypothetically, Paygo were implemented via a balanced-budget amendment. What then? Surely, that would change things!

Actually, probably not. Any such amendment would almost certainly not simply require balancing the budget, full stop. It would require balancing the budget unless some duly-certified crisis requires running a deficit to fund emergency measures.

Every major war the USA has been in, particularly the big defensive ones (the Revolutionary, the Civil, and the Second World) have been financed by deficit spending. A simple, ironclad balanced budget amendment (no exceptions allowed) would thus constitute a significant national security threat in and of itself.

Then there’s the paradox of thrift. Recessions and panics, absent prompt intervention that is funded by running deficits, tend to spiral out of control into severe and prolonged depressions. A simplistic balanced budget amendment would seriously imperil economic stability as well.

For these reasons, there would be an escape clause. And at that point, the amendment becomes basically a bunch of useless clutter in the US Constitution, since of course Congress would deficit spend whenever it wanted, simply by putting language in the bill that is necessary to trigger the escape clause.

So, no matter how you slice it, pay-as-you-go is a meaningless exercise. It does nothing more than make fiscal conservatives temporarily feel good and fiscal liberals temporarily feel bad.

Can we please move on to some actually meaningful issues now?

Five Points

The Shutdown Might Be Lengthy

It may even prove to be record-setting. The reason is that the Democrats have historically been a party that values weakness and concession; they interpret this as an expression of peaceful intent. This is so obvious that even an intellectual light weight like Donald Trump is well aware of it. Given that, the odds favor the Democrats caving. Not by as much as they typically do, mind you, (the wall is extremely unpopular amongst Democrats), but they still favor a Democrat cave. And given that, why wouldn’t Trump want a staring contest?

A Record-Long Shutdown Might Doom Both Parties

That’s simply because it would end up causing real hardship and probably provoking a severe recession, and this would provide an opening for a centrist party or movement to arise that campaigns on a “pox on both your houses” platform. There’s risk to it, though; it could also provide a pretext for the fascists to go full fascist (though I place that as an outside chance, given what an incompetent leader Trump has proven to be).

That implies that the Republican Party will be one of the two doomed parties. Trumpism won’t be doomed into oblivion, but it would likely emerge seriously damaged, at least 50% smaller than it currently is. In turn, this would make Trumpism itself essentially irrelevant as a national political force, at least for several years. This would definitely be a very good thing; it is the reason I am hoping the Democrats stand firm.

Alternately, it might not doom the parties; it might instead profoundly change them, provoking a wholesale sweeping purge of the leadership of both. The overall political effect would probably be the same: the reconstituted parties would move strongly to the center, and a centrist consensus would emerge.

It’s an Open Question If That Would Happen

First, there’s the Democrats’ natural proclivity for weakness. Second, there’s the natural inclination for any organization, including any political party, to be concerned with its future.

It certainly would be better for the country and better for the world as a whole if the above scenario transpired; the death of the Democratic and Republican parties is a very small price to pay for kicking fascism to the curb and hitting a political reset button. But it’s far from certain that the Democratic Party would choose to fall on its sword like this.

Any Centrist Backlash Would Not Last

It would probably last five to ten years, and might (in the most optimistic of scenarios for centrists) last twenty. The reason is the basic dynamics of class society, and how centrists are blind to it.

Those on top always want more. Their hunger is never satiated, and their ideology blinds them to the harm this lust for more does. They will therefore strive for more. Centrists are largely blind to this (and most other) aspects of class society, so they will prove incapable of resisting this impulse. Any new centrist movement will become captured by, and become the tool of, the elite.

This will inevitably create an opening for the left. So if the other parts of the above start happening, it is the responsibility of those of us on the left to organize and create a movement that can capitalize on the opening when the inevitable happens.

Another Reason The Above Might Not Happen

Even if the Democrats stand firm, human society is chaotic and difficult to predict: things may unexpectedly head in other directions. One of the most likely causes of this would be a national security crisis of some sort, which is more likely than ever given the current quality of national leadership (or lack thereof).

Trump Is Appeasing North Korea, and That’s a Good Thing

Despite increasing evidence that North Korea is not actually interested in denuclearizing (as anyone with a brain expected), Trump prefers to remain in denial about it, effectively appeasing North Korea. And that’s arguably a good thing, because it beats the most likely alternative: Trump throwing a temper tantrum and starting a war in retaliation.

Effectively, very little has changed with respect to North Korea. This is because there is simply not much the USA can do about the situation. Not all problems have easy solutions, and North Korea is (for a variety of reasons) one of those problems.

Which, in fact, is why so many past administrations “let” the problem get to where it is today: they couldn’t easily do much about it, either.

Bob Avakian Is Right: They Really Are Christian Fascists

For decades, Bob Avakian, leader of a small Stalinist splinter party, has been calling the Christian right “Christian fascists.” At least with respect to this particular point, facts are proving Avakian’s label accurate. The blind support for authoritarianism in the service of ethnonationalism that Greg Sargent writes about in his recent Washington Post piece has all the hallmarks of fascism.

New Media Affects Politics

Megan McArdle wrote an interesting piece for the Washington Post yesterday, one which reminded me of an earlier intellectual exercise of my own which came to basically the same conclusion that she just did. I had intended to post that conclusion here some time (as in months) ago, but other events intervened and eventually I forgot about it.

My exercise was prompted by my desire to refute an article by Andrew Sullivan, which tried to explain the rise of right-wing populism in terms of claims made by Plato in ancient times. (Disclaimer: this article seems unavailable at the moment; I furnish the link here in the hope that the problem with it proves temporary.)

I found Sullivan’s explanation simultaneously tantalizing and disappointing.

Tantalizing, because at first it attempted to explain things better than simply a purely class-based analysis. As much as the latter is the default for a leftist like me, I had been struggling with how it was simply unsatisfying. Yes, inequality is high and rising in the USA, and neither political party has been serious about combating it, and this dovetails with the rise of Trump. But inequality has not been nearly so bad in Europe, yet right-wing populism is growing there, too. Worse for my pet theory, in the case of France, right-wing populism has been a big player for longer than it has in the USA. This is precisely the opposite of what my class-based theory would predict. So clearly that theory has its problems.

But Sullivan’s theory was ultimately disappointing. Why now? It didn’t do a good job of answering that. Open societies have been opening up for decades. Conservatives like Sullivan have been long wringing their hands about how dangerous this is. Yet until recently, such danger didn’t manifest. And why didn’t it manifest itself first in the most progressive societies? You’d expect Scandinavia to have gone neo-fascist a good decade or two ago if Sullivan’s neo-Platonic explanation was the cause.

What else could it be, I thought? What new thing could be finally causing something at least superficially like the long-theorized corrosiveness to finally take hold? The Internet was the best answer that I could think of. But was there a further test, one that could better confirm this theory?

It turns out there is. France has a state-owned telephone company that behaves very much unlike capitalism fans claim all state-owned enterprises must be: it has long been highly innovative. It started developing the world’s first universal computer network, Minitel, in the late 1970s, and fully deployed it by 1982. And 1982 marked the turning point for the National Front, which in the space of a handful of years transitioned from being a tiny splinter party to a major one. The correlation is just about perfect.

Back to McArdle for a moment:

It’s striking that two of the 20th century’s periods of greatest political upheaval followed the arrival of a revolutionary communications technology—the 1930s were preceded by the spread of radio, the 1960s by the arrival of television. Both mediums fundamentally changed people’s relationship with information, and in the process radio and television necessarily altered politics.

Yet more correlations. At this point, I think the thesis is going to be difficult to refute, particularly when you consider how the invention of the printing press helped spark the Protestant Reformation: it greatly lowered the cost of books, leading to more widespread literacy, which led to people reading the Bible themselves and deciding for themselves what lessons to take away from it, instead of relying on a Church hierarchy to do the reading and deciding.

So, once again, a new media genie is out of its bottle and is making our times interesting. That is currently the best explanation I have going.