Michael Meeropol: Another Shiny Object

May 23, 2017

In previous commentaries, I have urged listeners not to be distracted by the “shiny objects” that characterize the Trump Presidency.   Yes, Donald Trump is a lying misogynist, a xenophobe, and a self-aggrandizing crook.

[The last accusation might need some elaboration.   I am somewhat persuaded by those who see Trump as someone whose goal is to use the Presidency to become REALLY RICH.   There are many examples (large and small) of how he has already used to Presidency to enrich himself.  Example of small: --- spending lots of money at his resorts to house his family and secret service entourages.   That’s money from the taxpayers into his pockets.   Example of large:  --- he stops calling China a currency manipulator and the Chinese government granted Ivanka Trump three trademarks within China.   Why is this important?   Because without these trademarks, any Chinese firm that wanted to sell knock-offs of Ivanaka Trump products could do so.   So this is actually a very big deal.   (See  Martha Ross, “Ivanka Trump’s latest brand coup: Three new China trademarks on day she met President Xi”   San Jose Mercury News   (April 18, 2017)  http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/04/18/ivanka-trumps-latest-brand-coup-three-new-china-trademarks-on-day-she-met-president-xi/)]

I understand all that.   Trump’s actions demonstrate he is unfit to be President.   Recall that his Administration is still defending the Muslim ban in Court --- hoping his new guy on the Supreme Court will be part of an extremist right-wing majority to render a 5-4 decision buying the lie that the “Muslim ban” is not a Muslim ban just because the wording giving preference to Christians from the countries designated in the original executive order was removed.   Yet everyone knows it’s a Muslim ban and Trump’s supporters WANT there to be a Muslim ban.

Trump refuses to apologize for accusing President Obama of wire-tapping – claiming that he put the words in quotes meaning that the Obama Administration put him under surveillance.  In fact, many of the tweets did NOT put the words “wire tapped” or “wire tapping” in quotes but let’s forget that.   No President can order such surveillance – that comes from the Justice Department or other agencies tasked with fighting terrorism.  

With the appointment of a Special Prosecutor we will soon know exactly how Trump “asked” the FBI director to “lay off” Michael Flynn.   (and then firing said FBI Director). 

The conversation with the Russian Ambassador where Trump’s loose lips created an abrupt declassification of information that had been given to the US by the Israelis.   The ridiculous efforts to deny what was never in the journalistic accounts of Trump’s “instant declassification” has already tarnished some reputations of otherwise well-respected individuals. 

Law professor Zephyr Teachout (from Fordham University Law school --- she ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the NY 19th district against Republican John Faso) has just written a fascinating piece in the Boston Globe (May 11, 2017) arguing that Trump’s lying is not the traditional lie of a politician trying to CONVINCE us that something is true when it isn’t.  His lies are outrageous and obvious --- they state baldly in our faces that he has the power to create reality --- that the truth DOES NOT MATTER so long as you have power.   That’s the message of the firing of James Comey.   That is why he advanced one crazy non-reason after another.  (For the Teachout article in the Globe, see “Trump is Dismantling the Idea of Truth” http://portside.org/2017-05-19/trump-dismantling-idea-truth)

The list goes on and on.   The individual misbehaviors of Trump the man, has led some columnists, Law Professor Lawrence Tribe and many Democrats to urge that Trump be impeached or that the 25th Amendment (about “Presidential incapacity”) be invoked.

I would like to register a strong dissent from the growing consensus --- especially among members of the resistance to Trump --- that it is important to fight to get Trump removed from office.  

[To anticipate the most significant counter-argument, I do not think he will start World War III --- even on the Korean peninsula which is one of the most dangerous potential flash-points.  I am confident that the military professionals will not follow an order to unilaterally strike any county if it comes directly from Trump’s mouth.  When Nixon was on the verge of resigning, the word come through the traditional channels were to be followed --- an extraordinary occurrence, indicative of the fear that Nixon was “losing it” as he struggled through the last days of his Presidency.]  

With the danger of World War III if Trump stays in office reduced, in my opinion, I want to argue that despite all the agreed upon bad things about Trump, what is damaging to our country --- racism, misogyny, xenophobia, incipient fascism, rolling back the New Deal, the Great Society and the Civil Rights triumphs of the 1960s ---THE ACTUAL POLICIES – those that have been enacted through executive orders or attempted or promised --- the actual policies are more serious than the atrocities committed by Trump the man.   There is a website which has documented all of Trump’s executive orders issues as of April 27.   It is from Politico at http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/01/all-trump-executive-actions-000288

Some of them are meaningless, but a number of them are already doing great damage.  Here are just three examples

20. Rethinking Obama’s fiduciary standard (February 3)
This memorandum instructs the department of labor to review the Obama administration’s “Fiduciary Rule,” which required financial advisers to serve the best interests of their clients.

Basically the rule issued by the Obama Administration requires financial advisers not to cheat their clients by giving them advice that would be good for the FINANCIAL ADVISER but not for the client.  Not allowing this rule to take effect will give financial advisers carte blanche to cheat their clients.

25. Reviewing the Waters of the U.S. Rule (February 28)
This executive order instructs EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and the assistant secretary of the army for civil works to review President Obama’s 2015 Clean Water Rule that added protections for streams and wetlands under federal clean water rules.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt who never met a polluter or a pollutant that he didn’t like is now going to be able to permit coal companies to dump sludge into rivers.  Wonderful plan

31. Reviewing Obama’s climate initiatives (March 28)
This executive order directs the government to conduct a review of energy regulations issued by the Obama administration, including the Clean Power Plan. It repeals multiple Obama-era memorandums and reports and directs the Interior Department to review a number of rules on oil and gas drilling. It also makes a bureaucratic change to the “social cost of carbon,” an important metric for determining whether climate regulations are cost effective.

This is a BIG ONE.   Along with clearing the way for Keystone and the Dakota Access Pipeline, this demonstrates that the Trump Administration is well on its way to subsidizing the fossil fuel industry so it can wring the last possible dollar out of the economy before the world starts to truly burn up.   Our grandchildren will be cursing Pruitt and Trump and all the fossil fuel enablers as they flee coastal cities within 50 years --- And they will curse us too if we do not do enough to stop them.

In the New York Times on May 21, 2017, columnist Nicholas Kristof detailed how Trump’s reinstatement of a Bush Administration “gag rule” cutting off funds to any international organization that has anything to do with abortion, is literally costing the lives of women whose cervical cancer could have been detected and treated early enough to prevent it.   (See “Donald Trump vs. Women’s Health” Sunday Review Section, page 11).  If the denial of funds to Planned Parenthood becomes law an organization that performs 270,000 cervical cancer screenings in the US will have to cut back on them.   Even with current levels of spending, this completely preventable disease kills one woman EVERY TWO HOURS in the United States of America and notes Kristof “it will kill two or three women worldwide in the time it takes you to read this column.”  Someone should ask Ivanka Trump if she is aware of how many women her father’s policies will kill.

Just before the shorter version of this was broadcast on Tuesday, May 23, the New York Times published a front page story about the Trump Administration’s proposed budget.  It slashes $800 billion from Medicaid and billions from other means-tested programs (Food Stamps, TANF, the earned income tax credit, etc.)   The supporting arguments point to the necessity of balancing the budget which is a cruel joke given the promised tax cuts in the repeal of Obamacare and the tax cuts masquerading as tax reform that will be presented to Congress later this year.   In the same issue, columnist David Leonhardt writes an OP ED revealing that the Senate is secretly working on an effort to cosmetically improve the House bill so they can claim to have “fixed” it but in fact it will remove health insurance from millions while increasing many individuals’ premiums.   They solicited comments from selected individuals but Leonhardt gave the email for the rest of us to use:   HealthReform@finance.senate.gov.   The last day for sending comments is Tuesday, May 23.

Okay.  I hope I have made it clear that I am not defending Trump at all.   But these examples are about POLICIES, not about Trump the man.  I presented them in an attempt to focus attention where it needs to be.

Do a thought experiment and imagine Trump is gone from the Presidency and Mike Pence is President.   Will President Pence support a revival of the Voting Rights Act to overturn the voter suppression laws passed by many states?   Will President Pence abandon efforts to “repeal and replace” Obamacare and instead work with Democrats to strengthen that law?   Will he reaffirm President Obama’s executive orders protecting undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children?    Will he withdraw the Muslim ban executive order?   Will he reverse Trump and Pruitt’s policy of enabling fossil fuel companies and climate change deniers and instead, embrace the Obama Administration policies to dramatically reduce our nation’s carbon footprint?   Will President Pence support a large infrastructure program rather than a tax subsidy to large construction companies?  Will he suddenly become a champion of LGBGQ rights? 

Obviously, the answer to all of these questions is NO --- the worst of the policies advanced by the Republican Congress with the connivance of Trump will continue to be the policies of a President Pence.

(In some areas, he would be worse.   In the House of Representatives he was a co-author of H.R. 374, the “Life at Conception Act”, which basically defined a fertilized egg as a person with the right to equal protection under the law.  This particular law never made it through the Senate.   When State Legislatures have tried to get such laws passed by referendum, even in deep red states like Mississippi, voters have rejected them – in large part because it would have banned many forms of birth control.   Pence is an incredible extremist on this issue.   He is also, of course, no supporter of LGBTQ rights – though that aspect of his persona was downplayed during the election campaign.)

In addition, a President Pence will not be as ineffective as Donald Trump has been in getting his agenda through Congress.  He will be much more successful than Trump in forging a Congressional majority to enact the extreme right-wing Republican agenda.

The news media is having a field day following all the “bright shiny objects.”   With too few laudable exceptions, they are putting policy issues aside to focus on the “drama” that sells newspapers and brings too many of us to the television to watch our favorite cable news channel.   They report with almost undisguised glee, the dysfunction in the White House and how “bad” this is for the reputations of his top aides and advisers.   They bring too many foolish Democrats on camera to tell us that as former prosecutors, they know “obstruction of justice” when they see it.   Other Democrats are taunting Republicans urging them to put country before party and break with Trump.

Yes, this is entertaining.  I admit to enjoying the fact that I doubt Trump is ENJOYING being President.   But this is a ridiculous diversion.  We cannot be diverted by the desire to punish Donald Trump.   I want to particularly urge the various indivisible groups who are attempting to pressure both Republicans AND Democrats into doing the right thing to keep our eyes focused where they must be.   We cannot be seduced into a struggle to impeach Trump.   We must continue to focus on the policy issues.   (For example, as the Trump Administration attempts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act by roiling many of the insurance markets – hoping that will force Democrats to work with Republicans on a “repeal and replace” bill – it is essential that the blame for turmoil in those markets, rising premiums and deductibles, etc. be placed squarely on the Republicans so that they will be forced to pay dearly at the ballot box, not just in 2018 but in upcoming special elections.  – if you know anyone in Montana and the Florida Congressional District, please call them!)

If the Republicans want to impeach Trump, we cannot stop them.  However, I would encourage all Democrats to stay aloof from any such effort.  Make the Republicans own the ousting of Trump so that Democrats will not be blamed.

(My member of Congress, Sean Maloney [D, NY 18] struck just the right tone in a TV interview a while back.  He was in the Clinton Administration in 1998 and he reminded viewers that the Republicans got way ahead of the public in their rush to impeach Clinton – and they got punished at the polls in 1998.   He urged Democrats to, yes, demand a thorough investigation, but he also urged them to reserve judgement about impeachment.   Some might see this as an attempt to stay on the good side of Trump supporters in his district --- he is one of a few Democrats in the House whose district went to Trump --- but I just see it as good politics.) 

The issues are POLICIES. We must continue to remind Trump voters that they didn’t just make a mistake by voting for a horrible individual —they made a mistake by believing that the policies promised by the Trump campaign would actually improve their lives --- On the contrary, they will do tremendous harm to us as a people. Let us remember those policies --- taking health insurance away from millions of people --- encouraging the worst in American culture by pushing false stories of criminal immigrants, of voter fraud, of dangerous black people --- cutting taxes for billionaires --- surrendering the health of the planet to the fossil fuel lobbies.    It is those POLICIES we must oppose regardless of what happens to Trump.

Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author (with Howard Sherman) of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.