The True Magnitude of the Trump Train Wreck

“It was no secret during the campaign that Donald Trump was a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters,” writes/shrieks the LA Times editorial board. “The Times called him unprepared and unsuited for the job he was seeking, and said his election would be a ‘catastrophe.’ Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck.”

As I read this overwrought and irresponsible slice of hysterical nonsense, I couldn’t help but wonder what actual magnitude of train wreck the Times had been prepared for. Given that most of the media insisted that we’d just given Hitler the keys to the White House, one would expect a train wreck much bigger than the one we’ve actually gotten. Where are the concentration camps and mass executions of dissidents? Trump’s closest flirtation with fascism – his travel ban that excluded legal residents of the United States from returning to their homes – has twice been struck down by the courts, and other than a few snarky and stupid tweets, he has taken no steps to Hitlerically dismantle the judiciary and has grumpily accepted and abided by both rulings.

Other train wreck elements that the Left warned us about have failed to materialize. Remember when Trump was going to wipe out all rights and protections for LGBT citizens? He’s since quietly renewed Obama’s executive orders prohibiting discrimination against LGBT federal workers, and he’s stated his acceptance of gay marriage as the law of the land. Remember when he was going to blow up Obamacare completely and leave millions uninsured? He couldn’t even persuade his own party to pass a symbolic repeal of the Affordable Care Act that would include a replacement that was not that far removed from the law it was designed to replace. Now observers insist that a good deal of his proposed agenda is in doubt, which ought to be pleasing to the LA Times, as the problem seems to be that Trump is trying to wreck a lot of trains and doesn’t seem to be able to get the job done.

As Scott Adams has pointed out – and you really ought to be reading his blog – the narrative has largely shifted from “Trump is Hitler” to “Trump is incompetent.” Given Hitler’s ruthless efficiency in executing his planned genocide, it should be obvious Trump cannot be both Hitler and incompetent at the same time. Yet the Times editorial and other critical pieces ignore that logical inconsistency and simply apply any and all epithets to The Donald in the hopes that one of them will stick. Critics do not demand that their criticisms be either consistent or coherent, and it tends to diminish the impact of each new paroxysm when they flail for ways to turn the volume up higher than eleven.

But okay, fine. What is it that has gotten the LA Times so exercised? To further quote from their editorial:

In a matter of weeks, President Trump has taken dozens of real-life steps that, if they are not reversed, will rip families apart, foul rivers and pollute the air, intensify the calamitous effects of climate change and profoundly weaken the system of American public education for all.

“Ripping families apart” is the first complaint right out of the gate, so I assume that it’s the editorial board’s biggest beef. What’s curious is that they never flesh out this accusation, so we’re left to deduce on our own how Trump will supposedly accomplish the family-ripping. Is this a reference to the blocked travel ban(s), which aren’t actually doing anything? To Trump’s extremist immigration rhetoric, which so far has yet to translate into implemented policy? Specifics would be helpful. Without them, this is just hyperbolic nonsense.

Trump’s scheme to “foul rivers” seems to have reference to Trump’s rollback of the controversial 2015 Waters of the United States rule, which was immediately blocked by the courts upon its issuance. So the Trump policy is to stop a brand-new rule that has never gone into effect from going into effect. If the Times were consistent, it would equally indict the Obama administration, and, indeed, every previous presidential administration, for fouling the rivers because they were not abiding by the 2015 rule, which is more about federal bureaucratic overreach than actual protection of rivers.

As for Trump’s plan to “pollute the air,” the editorial seems to be conflating air pollution with climate change, despite the fact that CO2 is not a pollutant in the traditional sense that inhaling it can make you sick. CO2 does not present any health hazard whatsoever, and it’s quite good for plants. In fact, you’re exhaling it right now, you polluter, you!

As for climate change, i.e. the Times’s contention that Trump will “intensify [its] calamitous effects,” I am exhausted by the massive amount of ignorance on display whenever this subject is discussed, and I am under no illusions that anything I say here will move the needle in any direction. Please note that the Times, and every other observer, can cite no actual example of how Trump’s policies will do this. Yes, he is rolling back Obama era regs on the subject – regs that, like the Waters of the US rule, were blocked by the courts and never implemented – but even the proponents of those regs have conceded, under oath, that the Obama regs would have no impact on climate.

From a WSJ piece entitled “The Climate Yawns”:

Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama’s EPA administrator, admitted as much when confronted, during a 2015 House hearing, with the fact that, by the agency’s own climate models, the effect would be only 1/100th of a degree Celsius. Instead, she said success should be measured in terms of “positioning the U.S. for leadership in an international discussion.”

Even so, many climate activists felt the need to walk back Ms. McCarthy’s concession by insisting Obama policies would have a measurable effect—on the amount of CO 2 released. Yes, the relative decrease would be tiny but measurable, though the climate effect would be zip. This is akin to medical researchers claiming a drug a success because it’s detectable in the bloodstream, not because it improves health.

Trump doing nothing on climate change, therefore, will have the same effect on global temperatures that Obama’s regulations would have had – i.e. none whatsoever. (1/100th of a degree is a measurement too small to be discerned from statistical noise.)   Surely, then, Trump’s inaction will do nothing to intensify climate change’s “calamitous effects,” which, whatever they may be, will not be at all mitigated by anything currently being proposed by world governments to avoid them.

Trump’s do-nothing plan does have the benefit, however, of not being a massive regressive tax on the poor, who shoulder a disproportionate share of the financial burden when energy prices skyrocket to pay for a symbolic gesture that accomplishes nothing with regard to the climate.

That leaves us with the charge that Trump will “profoundly weaken the system of American public education for all.” And how will Trump do this, given that education is almost entirely a state function, not a federal one? Betsy DeVos, the much-maligned Secretary of Education who is supposedly the harbinger of national ignorance, simply does not have the capacity to profoundly weaken the public education system. The Federal Department of Education, a fairly recent invention that does little but provide block grants to states, is usually only noticed when it’s acting as a nuisance, as it did when states were compelled to labor under the burdens of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, which has since been repealed. DeVos is currently engaged in regulatory tinkering to make school choice more palatable, but absent a drastic act of Congress, there is little or nothing she can do to keep public education from publicly educating.

The Times editorial continues with examples of Trump’s dishonesty, stupidity, and irresponsibility, all of which are more or less accurate. But in reiterating the extent of his profound foolishness, the piece merely restates the obvious and adds nothing to the conversation.

For my part, I maintain, as I have from the beginning, that Trump is an awful person and, so far, a lousy president. I am encouraged that the system of checks and balances, which was designed to prevent lousy presidents from destroying the Republic, seems to be working as designed. My best-case scenario was that Trump would merely be an incompetent buffoon, and that seems to be how this is playing out. As such, this train wreck has far fewer casualties than I, personally, had anticipated.

Two Years of Trump

“I’m not gonna make it,” a friend of mine wrote on Facebook recently. “I’m not gonna be able to live through this for four years.”
(She then added a emoji for emphasis. So you know she’s serious.)

I’m a bit more sanguine about things, but I think I’m going to make it through these next four years just fine. That may be because I’m increasingly convinced that the Trump administration is not going to last that long.

I’m not kidding.

The way I see it, there are three ways in which our Orange Overlord departs the Oval Office prior to the appointed end of his four-year term. I will review each of the possibilities in order of their likeliness, from least to most.

1. Trump could die in office.
The anti-Trump memes are becoming increasingly violent, with the Village Voice going so far as to use a picture of a target on Trump’s head as its cover photo. I think such images are reprehensible and irresponsible, and I’m increasingly unnerved by how easily and, indeed, eagerly anti-Trumpers resort to violence, as evidenced most recently by the UC Berkeley riots. Certainly there are plenty of vicious people who would be willing to put a bullet in the president’s head, perhaps more than ever before.

I don’t think they will succeed, however, mainly because the Secret Service has gotten really, really good at keeping presidents from being killed. They’ve learned the lessons of Dealey Plaza and/or John Hinckley and had several decades to work out the kinks. They also have better technology and better intelligence, and I think there’s a reason that there hasn’t been an actual attack on a president in three and a half decades. It isn’t because there haven’t been any willing assassins.

Trump could die of natural causes, too, and it’s not insignificant that he’s 70, overweight, and eats like crap. But all reports are that he’s hale and hearty and not likely to shuffle off his bulbous mortal coil within a four year time frame.

I put the likelihood of a Trump funeral prior to 2020 at 3.6%.

2. Trump could be impeached. 
Yes, every president has critics that cry “impeachment” from the day they take office, and it’s usually an empty threat. But Trump is easily the most impeachable president in the history of the republic.

What people failed to realize during the Clinton impeachment was that the process of removing a president is 100% political. There is no objective legal definition of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are constitutionally required to oust a POTUS. Senate Democrats, early in the Lewinsky scandal, were drafting speeches calling on Clinton to resign, and had public opinion soured on Bubba, they’d have tossed him out on his ear.

But by the time Clinton was finally brought to trial on the Senate floor, it was clear that his party would pay no political consequences for overlooking his crimes. So Senator Robert Byrd could go on television and excoriate Bill Clinton for committing perjury, a felony, yet still vote to keep a perjurer in office. Yes, they knew he was a scalawag, but  he was their scalawag, so they ignored the law and kept him in power.

Trump is nobody’s scalawag but his own. Large chunks of the GOP despise him, and they would like nothing more to see him sent packing. The fact that Mike Pence is a milquetoast, mainstream Republican waiting in the wings makes a Dump Trump interparty movement even more appealing. When – not if – Trump does something colossally stupid, embarrassing, and/or destructive that threatens to take the whole party down with him, the party will toss him overboard before he can lift a tiny finger to stop them.

I put the likelihood of a Trump impeachment at 25.3%.

That’s pretty high, all things considered, but it’s not the most likely scenario. No, the next one is where I’m putting my money.

3. Trump will quit. 
I don’t think Donald Trump had – or has – any idea of how different being president of Trump Inc. would be from being President of the United States. When you’re both owner and president of a privately held company, everything you say goes. People cater to your every whim, and nobody has any ability to stop you from taking the company in whatever direction you choose, even if you decide to send it down the drain. It is a dictatorship, not a democracy, and it is the life to which Trump has become accustomed.

Winning the presidency is the ultimate ego boost, but being president isn’t nearly as much fun. You can’t just ban people from seven countries without some “so-called” judge weighing in. Trump frantically tweets every time he’s checked or balanced because he’s astounded that he can’t snap his fingers and make things happen. He’s going to become increasingly frustrated by how little of his grubby little agenda he’s actually going to get accomplished, and he has neither the patience nor the wisdom to endure the near-constant defeats that are in store for him.

He’s also going to chafe at the constraints of life in the White House, a building Harry Truman once called “the crown jewel of the American penal system.” For a man whose used to tomcatting around whenever he gets the urge, he’s going to find that there isn’t as much opportunity to grab things as he had when he was making that Access Hollywood tape. There’s no reason to believe that he’s been any more faithful to his third wife than he was to his first two, and the fact that she has no plans to join him in DC demonstrate that Melania knows precisely who she married and what to expect from her lecherous husband.

We’ve had leches in the Oval Office before, but the days of JFK being able to smuggle Mafia princesses into the White House residence are over. Clinton’s squalid affairs had to take place in bathrooms and cupboards. It’s really not the life to which Trump is accustomed.

I think the day will come – and not in the far future – where Trump decides he’s had enough. He’ll declare victory, hand the White House keys over to Mike Pence, and then kick Schwarzenegger out of the Apprentice  chair and resume the life of decadence that defines who he is.

I put the likelihood of a Trump resignation at 42%.

Adding up the odds, there’s a 70.9% chance Trump doesn’t finish out his term. That’s just science. 

Don’t Be Diluted

When I keep telling you that Scott Adams’s blog is required reading, it’s not because I necessarily agree with him. It’s because he has been the only observer that has accurately predicted the rise of Trump – and done so with eerie specificity. If you love Trump, or especially if you hate Trump, Adams is the only reliable source if you want to understand Trump.

His latest post as of this writing is one titled “Outrage Dilution,” and he once again makes a point that nobody else seems to have noticed.

I quote from him at length:

At the moment there are so many [Trump] outrages, executive orders, protests, and controversies that none of them can get enough oxygen in our brains. I can’t obsess about problem X because the rest of the alphabet is coming at me at the same time…

Instead of dribbling out one headline at a time, so the vultures and critics can focus their fire, Trump has flooded the playing field. You don’t know where to aim your outrage. He’s creating so many opportunities for disagreement that it’s mentally exhausting. Literally. He’s wearing down the critics, replacing their specific complaints with entire encyclopedias of complaints. And when Trump has created a hundred reasons to complain, do you know what impression will be left with the public?

He sure got a lot done. [Emphasis in original]

Initially, I read this and decided the conclusion was accurate but incomplete. Yes, the public will conclude, eventually, that Trump did a whole lot in his first few days, but while they may believe Trump has accomplished something commensurate with the noise he has generated, the actual changes to our national life won’t be nearly as remarkable as they think. I then imagined writing a clever post about how Trump is all bluster and no real beef.

And then, today, Trump tried to deport Muslims with green cards.

Permanent residents of the United States – people who have been vetted to every extreme possible and have been given permission to live in this country indefinitely – were told at airports that they couldn’t go home and would have to return to their countries of origin. As a guy who has tried very hard to talk people off the ledge and convince them that Adolf Hitler has not been reincarnated with an orange-ish hue, I find myself seeing a path from kicking out permanent residents because of their religion that leads to fascistic destinations where I insisted we would never, ever go.

Thankfully, the courts stepped in to temper some of Trump’s latest Kristillnachtian impulses, so maybe I was right the first time, and all this will just be noise that won’t amount to much. But increasingly, I find myself feeling like the dog in this cartoon:

So I got to thinking about Scott Adams and his so-called “outrage dilution,” and I came to realize that he’s on to something even bigger than he initially realized.

Let me step back and recall an article written during the campaign titled “How Paul Krugman Made Donald Trump Possible.” I recommend you read the whole thing, but by way of quick summary, the piece maintains that the full-volume hysteria of the Left about every Republican candidate made it impossible for them to have any remaining credibility when someone as reprehensible as Trump came down the pike. It doesn’t mean much to say Donald Trump is Hitler if you said Mitt Romney was Hitler, too.

The brilliant Camille Paglia long ago pointed out that this was part of the problem the Right had during Obama’s first week. I’ve quoted this before, but her wisdom bears repeating:

Talk radio has been seething with such intensity since Barack Obama’s first week in office that I am finding it very hard to listen to it. How many times do we have to be told the sky is falling? The major talk show hosts, in my opinion, made a strategic error in failing to reset at lower volume after Obama’s election. When the default mode is feverish crisis pitch, there’s nowhere to go, and monotony sets in.

That’s true, but it, too, misses the salient point. Non-stop shrieking isn’t just monotonous – it leaves you powerless if the sky actually begins to fall.

The attempted deportation of permanent residents because of their faith is so egregiously beyond the pale of anything that any president in my lifetime has ever tried to do, or even thought of doing, that I find myself unable to find words to adequately express my revulsion to it. It’s several orders of magnitude worse than anything else Trump has actually done, but since every bit of Trumpism has been greeted with the outrage volume turned up to eleven, there’s no way to differentiate between faux-fascism and the real thing.

So this past week, I’ve seen hyperventilating Facebook posts that Trump has already repealed the Affordable Care Act (he hasn’t), and that he’s already slapped a 20% tariff on Mexican goods (empty rhetoric unless Congress complies), and that the wall has started construction (yes – much of it was already built before Trump took office), that he’s banned overseas abortions (no, he’s only revived a Reagan-era piece of pro-life window dressing that accomplishes nothing), and even that, according to the orgasmically overwrought Keith Olbermann, Trump’s fixation on his inaugural crowd sizes will lead inevitably to nuclear war. (Apologies to those who think “orgasmically overwrought” is too indelicate a phrase, but you have to concede that it’s Olbermannically descriptive.)

This outrage dilution has done more than just make it difficult to respond to every one of them; it’s given the illusion that each of these outrages deserves dollops of outrage in equal measure. Trump’s stupid obsession with his inaugural crowd sizes and his refusal to acknowledge hard data is maddening, yes, but it pales in comparison to the outrage of taking concrete steps to remove legal Americans from their homes because of how they worship. One is stupid; the other is fascist. Fascism deserves exponentially more outrage than run-of-the-mill stupidity.

So now, of course, I have to be concerned that my newfound willingness to drop the F word – i.e. “fascist” – in describing Trump means I’m joining the chorus of wolf-criers. It’s imperative, then, that as the outrages keep coming with relentless fury as Trump continues to tornado through the traditions that have been at the core of this Republic for over two hundred years, we learn to separate what’s truly worthy of outrage and what’s just eye-rollingly dippy.

TL/DR: Trump’s using mud to dilute poison. Don’t let yourself be diluted.

Please Hold

23 years ago this month, I was a newly-married young goofball living in the District of Columbia who had just started work as in intern in the office of Senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming. I adored Senator Simpson – and still do. I have often said that if he were running against my own father, I’d have a hard time making a choice between the two. (Which, really, isn’t true. I’d vote for Dad. But Al Simpson is a close second!)

One of the glamorous jobs of a Senate intern is answering the phones in the front office. For some reason, lots of people would call in complaining about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which they were convinced was going to have the UN take away their children and raise them in some godless socialist utopia. There was some radio host in Wyoming who would bring this up, and, like clockwork, the phones would start to ring every time he told his listeners to “call your congressman and tell them how you feel.” (Just for fun, I once stepped out to the payphone in the hallway and called the office to tell them, in a disguised voice, that I supported the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and could Senator Simpson please send someone round to pick up my kids that afternoon.)

I was given very specific instructions as to how to handle phone calls. Before they launched into whatever tirade they had prepared, I was to ask them their name and where they were calling from. I had a form next to the phone where I wrote down the details of their complaint or question, and if a response was necessary, I’d ask them for their contact information so the office could mail them a reply.

Of course, I was only supposed to write all this down if the person was calling from Wyoming and was one of Al’s constituents. (Sen. Simpson wanted everyone to call him Al, even us lowly interns. This was a bit informal for my father’s staffers, who referred to Dad as “the Senator” and were definitely not on a first name basis.)

“What if they’re calling from, say, Florida?” I asked.

“Don’t write anything down. If it’s not busy, you can listen to them politely until they get whatever it is off their chest,” my supervisor said.

“What if it is busy?”

“Then you say, ‘Please hold,’ and you put them on hold and leave them there until they hang up.”

That struck me as rather cruel, but the intern coordinator shrugged her shoulders. “If they can’t vote for Al,” she said, “then he’s not accountable to them, and he doesn’t care what they think.”

I had my first phone skirmish after Al had been on the floor of the Senate giving a speech about entitlement reform. Al was quite a colorful character, and he had a penchant for referring to the “greedy geezers” of the AARP who opposed any changes to Social Security. Needless to say, “greedy geezers” are the only people watching C-SPAN2 at any given moment, and all of them have plenty of time on their hands to make an angry call to a senator they don’t like.

The first call went something like this.

“Hello, is this Senator Simpson’s office?”

“It is, yes. How can I help you?”

“Well, you can tell your boss that if he’s going to start calling people ‘greedy geezers,’ then he ought to know that this World War II veteran doesn’t take kindly to some rich, out-of-touch Washington hack messing around with my Social Security. And furthermore -”

“I’m sorry,” I said, interrupting, “but where are you calling from?”

“I’m calling from Florida, and I…”

“Please hold,” I said, interrupting again.

I pressed a button, and just like that, the angry voice became one of a series of blinking red lights on my phone console.

(Disclaimer: While this story is representative of what actually happened, it should not be interpreted as a verbatim transcript of the conversation and would not hold up as such in any court of law. With regard to precise words or locales represented, it may contain alternative facts.)

After the rush was over, my fellow interns and I watched the series of blinking red lights drop off one by one after all the greedy geezers finally lost patience or found something better to watch on television.

I was working on the Hill when Newt Gingrich had just become the first Republican House Speaker in 40 years, and lots of people called asking for the number to his office so they could give him a piece of their mind. I was instructed to give them the number for the Capitol operator. I was assured by my supervisor that if they weren’t from Georgia, or even if they were from Georgia but not from Newt’s district, they, too, would become nothing more than blinking red lights.

I tell you this story because I have seen a number of friends on Facebook posting calls to arms to write or call Paul Ryan, or Elizabeth Warren, or Ted Cruz, or whoever else to get them to oppose all or part of the Trump agenda, and I think you should be warned in advance that whether it’s Ryan, Warren, or Cruz or anyone else in Congress, you’re wasting your time if you’re not one of their constituents.

It is true, for instance, that Paul Ryan is Speaker of the House, and that his role as such has an impact on the nation at large. But the nation doesn’t vote for the Speaker; the House does. The only people who actually vote for Paul Ryan live in a congressional district in Wisconsin, and those are the only people Speaker Ryan has to please in order to keep his House seat.

If you are not one of those people and you call his office, they may listen politely if it’s not busy, but they aren’t going to make any note of what you say. If you write him a letter, that letter will be discarded, unopened. Your email will be deleted, unanswered and unread. I was answering phones long before email was a big deal and social media was even a fantasy, but I’m confident that innovations in technology haven’t changed the meaning of “please hold.”

 

Alternative facts can feel like justice

Kellyanne Conway has blessedly introduced the phrase “alternative facts” into the national lexicon, and she has been roundly and rightly excoriated for her claims that hard data is actually a matter of opinion. I mean, yes, the sky is blue, but I offer the assertion that the sky is green as an alternative fact. Others have offered any number of examples of this brave new subjective world, and most of them are funnier than mine has been. Here’s my favorite, provided by my Sanders-supporting daughter:

(Disclaimer: I love Ringo. Please note, however, that Paul is objectively the best Beatle. That’s beyond dispute.)

All this mockery is well-deserved, but there’s another lesson here that many Trump haters have overlooked.

I take you back to the halcyon days of the mid 1990s, when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty and large numbers of African-Americans erupted in applause. I remember seeing television footage of black people cheering when the verdict was announced, and I was dumbfounded. All the contemporaneous polls indicated a stark racial divide in how the verdict was interpreted, with a majority of whites overwhelmingly convinced that Simpson got away with murder, while a majority of blacks were celebrating because one of their own finally beat a corrupt and racist system.

For me, personally, it was jarring to see all this happening in my hometown. I grew up in LA. I attended many a family dinner in my cousin’s Brentwood home that was within walking distance of where Ron and Nicole were killed. How was it possible that so many people from the same place could interpret those facts so differently?

It wasn’t too long after that I was watching an interview with actor LaVar Burton, who put the whole thing into perspective for me. I can’t remember his exact words, and I can’t find them online, but his premise was that for many of his fellow African-Americans, it was almost secondary as to whether or not O.J. had actually stabbed and nearly beheaded his ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman. So many of them had seen so many of their friends and family suffer at the hands of racist law enforcement that they assumed, from the outset, that there was no way O.J. could get a fair shake. To many, O.J. symbolized all victims of America’s collective racial sins. The actual facts, and even the alternative ones, weren’t nearly as important.

Or, as LeVar Burton summed it up – and these words I remember verbatim:

“In a warped way, it felt like justice.”

Seeing so many Trump opponents recoil in horror and astonishment at the victory of our new Cheeto-in-Chief reminds me of me watching the O.J. Verdict. For many of them, this may have been the first time that they were confronted with the reality that roughly half of the country is interpreting reality in a very different way. Because even Republicans who know full well that a good chunk of what comes out of Trump’s mouth isn’t worth the spittle that accompanies it also see him as a symbol of a Republican willing to fight back. In a warped way, even the alternative facts Trump serves up can feel like justice.

Again, I have to reiterate that I’m not a Trump supporter. I remain a conservative and a supporter of free markets, and many of the things at the top of the Trump agenda are anathema to my political point of view. In some very crucial ways, Trump is not a conservative, and because Trump has corrupted the party, I’m no longer a Republican. But I know full well what it’s like to be a Republican in a country where all the culture at large feels stacked against you.

I don’t think many Democrats know how it feels to watch a movie or TV show and have all the good guys making fun of everything they believe. I think many get offended when Republicans complain of bias in the news media because they’re not used to ABC, CBS, NBC, and every major metropolitan newspaper in the country taking editorial positions telling them their ideology is not only wrong, but evil.

(A tangent, but if you feel the need to comment on this post with an argument about how conservatives are wrong to complain about media bias, or who want to use this as a vehicle to launch into a tirade against Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, I respectfully suggest that you’re missing my point, which is that conservatives feel like elite opinion is stacked against them, and they respond accordingly. Whether or not these feelings are justified is a separate – and probably unproductive – discussion.)

So, okay, fade out, fade in. Along comes Trump. And for the first time in living memory, a Republican is fighting back. A Republican is telling the press that they’re biased; they’re liars; they’re hacks. And he wins by beating up on the biased, lying hacks, who have never before been defeated as soundly as they were on Election Night. Does that feel like justice to many? You bet it does.

So, yes, of course there were fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than were at Obama’s in 2009. (Why Trump keeps hammering on this point is beyond me. 2017 inaugural attendance was entirely in line with previous presidents, and a POTUS’s power and authority does not in any way correlate with the number of people who stand outside on a cold January morning to hear him speak live.) But please know that your mockery of Kellyanne and her “alternative facts” is likely to galvanize the Trumpers, not shame them into submission. The angrier you get, the happier they get. To them, your rage feels like justice.

The saddest part about all of this is that justice isn’t about feelings. It’s about facts, and not alternative ones. And if we’re ever going to live in a country where we all acknowledge the same set of facts, we have to be willing to walk a mile in the other side’s shoes. (Just make sure that if you’re going to walk in rare Bruno Magli shoes, don’t allow photographs of you wearing them surface after bloody size 13 Bruno Magli footprints have been identified at a murder scene.)

On HRC and Climate Change

Got a very nice message from an old friend who told me she appreciates what I write, even though she disagrees with me on climate change and Hillary Clinton being evil. So I thought I’d talk about those two things as I keep blathering on about our new Trumpian reality.

With regard to HRC, my opinion of her no longer matters. The greatest thing about this awful election is that the Clintons are now permanently gone from the national stage, and I need not ever comment on or even think about them again. I wish Hillary a long, happy, pleasant retirement, and I hope she has plenty of time with her grandkids. At this point, any further investigation of her is a waste of time and resources and serves no purpose. I’m happy that Trump seems willing to let it die, even if Jason Chaffetz doesn’t. (He should let it die, though. Hillary’s gone. Move on, folks.)

As for climate change, I’ve been thinking about that since people began hyperventilating about Trump’s removal of the climate change section of the White House website. As I noted earlier, it’s an issue too poisoned by politics to discuss rationally. I’m therefore going to try to approach it from a different angle in the hopes that I don’t fall back into the tired partisan grooves that make for a tedious discussion.

Let’s begin with President Obama, who felt strongly enough about the issue to put a section about climate change on the White House website. That’s all well and good, but the undeniable truth is that Barack Obama, over the course of eight years, did absolutely nothing to lower or even slow the rise of global temperatures.

That’s not to say he didn’t try. True, he issued executive orders that would have increased the cost of energy by 30% and done nothing to affect the climate, but those orders got bogged down in court challenges and were never implemented. During his tenure, domestic production of fossil fuels rose dramatically, due primarily to fracking that Obama hated and tried to stop, but, again, couldn’t. His partisans can applaud his intentions, I suppose, but in terms of what he did in practical terms, it’s the equivalent of what Trump plans to do – absolutely nothing at all.

But Obama sure talked a good game, didn’t he?

He’s the one who insisted that “climate change is a fact” in his 2014 State of the Union address. He wasn’t wrong, but the problem with this statement is a very simplistic distillation of a rather complex issue. Climate change is much more than just “a” fact. It’s lots of facts. It’s also a large number of assumptions and, increasingly, a whole lot of political agendas that often have little or nothing to do with assumptions, facts, or anything resembling reality.

It’s an indisputable fact, for instance, that carbon dioxide traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere, and that human activity generates carbon dioxide. That fact is undenaiable, and when you call me a “denier,” remember that this is a fact I do not and cannot deny.

From this fact, however, it does not necessarily follow that forcing all existing coal power plants to cut their carbon emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030 is a good idea, which is what Obama wanted to do. A study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that these emissions reductions would have a negative drag on the economy at a cost of about $50 billion per year. The price tag for hitting Obama’s arbitrary targets will therefore be somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 billion.

So what would we get for all that money?

On this fact, the scientific consensus is clear: we would get nothing at all. The emissions cuts would neither reduce global temperatures or even slow their rise. That’s the finding of the Obama administration itself, which determined that shutting down all coal-fired plants in the country would only reduce the increase global temperatures by a paltry five one-hundredths of a degree by the year 2100.

But we wouldn’t be shutting down all coal-fired plants. We’d only be cutting their emissions by a third, and we’re aiming for 2030, not 2100. With those variables an applying the Obama administration’s own assumptions, that means that those now-dead regulations would have slowed rising global temperatures by a few thousandths of a degree, a measurement that is all but indistinguishable from zero.

In other words, they would have been a total waste of time, money, and resources. You don’t have to be a climate scientist to understand the math.

This is almost criminal when you consider who will bear the cost for this kind of feel-good government overreach. Coal plants facing steep increases in costs would pass those increases on to their customers in the form of higher prices. This ends up acting as an extremely regressive tax, 99% of which would be borne by the 99%. When President Obama promised in 2008 that electricity prices would “necessarily skyrocket,” he seemed to think that was a price worth paying to save the planet. And, indeed, if these regulations could have actually saved the planet, that might be a discussion worth having. But they wouldn’t save anything, and they’d cost a great deal. The same is true for the Paris climate agreement. Even if fully implemented, it would have no discernible impact on the climate. It’s all nothing but empty – and expensive – symbolism.

We need to be wise environmental stewards, which means to approach every challenge with our eyes wide open. Everything the government does should be subject to a rigorous cost/benefit analysis. The previous administration has thrown a great deal of money at a number of boondoggle projects – anyone remember the Solyndra debacle? – that have had the appearance of being environmentally responsible, but ultimately were useless. They were only “green” in the sense that they cost billions of taxpayer dollars.

That said, there are a number of reasons why we need to make every effort to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Technology, not regulation, is our best bet in thwarting a climate crisis, and free markets are far more likely to come up with solutions than the federal bureaucracy. When someone discovers they can get rich by figuring out a way to effectively harness solar power to power cars and heat our homes, many of our current energy and climate problems will vanish virtually overnight.

That’s why I take heart in the fact that some heartless, capitalist pig with no regard for anyone but himself is going to figure out how to make billions of dollars by inventing a car that can turn crap into fuel. As soon as someone can get rich by inventing a sustainable power source, fossil fuels will go away of their own accord.

That, incidentally, is how cities drowning in horse crap from the animals pulling their buggies were saved from a sanitation nightmare. Back in the day, the Model T was an environmental miracle that washed the feces off all our city streets.

The best thing the government can do to help make that transition is to take a common sense approach and, whenever possible, get out of the way. Which, realistically, is what Trump is going to do, and what Obama, despite his best efforts, actually did.

Trump: Day 2

I’ve been steering clear of Facebook, which has allowed me to gather my thoughts about Trump Nation absent the high-volume caterwauling that has defined social media lo these past couple of months. So pardon me for spewing all my unedited brain droppings here on my blog. I just can’t seem to help myself.

First, I found myself with somewhat mixed feelings about Trump’s press secretary’s belligerent attack on the media in his first briefing. The guy didn’t take questions; he just complained about an erroneous report about Trump removing a bust of MLK that he merely moved to a different part of the Oval Office. But he also beat up on them for claiming that Trump’s inauguration wasn’t well-attended and insisted that more people showed up in 2016 than showed up in 2008.

Which is, you know, not true. At all.

Behold:On the one hand, I’ve always wanted to see Republicans take on the press and expose their blatant bias. So that’s kind of fun. At the same time, this isn’t really a Republican administration – it’s Donald Trump. And in part, he’s beating up on the press for telling the truth. Stylistically, it’s delightful, but substantively, it sucks.

Speaking of sucks, today’s Women’s March was a turgid mess that represents a huge missed opportunity. You had massive turnout to demonstrate widespread feminist anger aimed at the Vulgarian-in-Chief, and then you hand the microphone to Madonna, perhaps the only woman in America more vulgar than Trump. She drops F bombs and talks about fantasies of blowing up the White House. (If Trump really were Hitler, Madonna would already have been shot.)

Anyway, way to keep it classy, M. If you’re looking to build a credible opposition movement, this is precisely the way to sabotage it before it gets off the ground.

Speaking of sabotage, Trump has signed an executive order that guts the Obamacare individual mandate that conservatives now hate, having wholly forgotten that it was initially a conservative idea designed to avoid a single-payer system.

The reality that no one admits is that the United States has had universal healthcare for decades, even before Obamacare was a twinkle in Barack’s eye. By law, nobody can be denied healthcare because of their inability to pay. Of course, that means that people wait until they get sick and then show up in the emergency room, which is the most expensive and inefficient form of healthcare delivery available. Obamacare was a well-intentioned-but-deeply-flawed attempt to make the system less expensive and more efficient. Repealing it without a replacement wouldn’t throw people out of hospitals to die in the streets, but it would return us to the days when we were trying to pretend that we weren’t wasting massive amounts of money on a fundamentally broken healthcare system.

Trump has said he’s going to keep Obamacare’s “good parts,” but that just doesn’t work. The bad parts fund the good parts. You can’t force insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions unless you also have a mandate requiring everyone to buy insurance. A solvent insurance pool requires enough healthy people to participate in the system to cover the costs of the unhealthy. If healthy people can wait until they get sick before they buy insurance, then the pool can’t cover costs, and the whole thing collapses.

My father was beaten up in his final campaign because he was championing a system that included a mandate to buy insurance, too. His bill, the Healthy Americans Act, had bipartisan support and is the perfect alternative to the ACA. The Congressional Budget Office determined that it would save the Federal Government $1 trillion over ten years.  If Trump were smart, he’d pull it off the shelf and take credit for it.

Trump, alas, isn’t smart.

Speaking of smart, several conservative columnists had a similar reaction to Trump’s inaugural speech and said very clever things about it. I share a few of my favorite bon mots with you here:

“After every major Trump speech or event, the person I was before it seems desperately naive. I have been a consistent Trump critic, but my expectations are never quite low enough.”
– Michael Gerson

“Twenty minutes into his presidency, Donald Trump, who is always claiming to have made, or to be about to make, astonishing history, had done so. Living down to expectations, he had delivered the most dreadful inaugural address in history.”
– George Will

“Trump’s inaugural declaration (which mirrored much of what he said in the campaign) is a historic milestone, but not in the way Trump believes. It’s a formula for America’s decline on the world stage and runs enormous risks of destabilizing the global economy.”
– Robert Samuelson

“So, that happened.

Let us pray.”
-Kathleen Parker

Let us pray, indeed. I’m going to bed.

 

Now THAT’S a bad speech

This past summer, I was at a wedding reception talking to a guy who was terrified about the trade deficit.

“Did you KNOW,” he said, speaking in capital letters, “that the TRADE DEFICIT last year was 700 BILLION DOLLARS?!!” (That’s him verbatim. You could absolutely hear the extra exclamation points after the question mark.)

I told him I didn’t know – I still don’t, as that number sounds like it was a number pulled out of his butt – but even if that were true, I told him I couldn’t care less.

He was aghast. “But WHERE is AMERICA going to come up with THAT kind of money?!”

It was then I realized that the word “deficit” had convinced him that a “trade deficit” is exactly the same thing as a “budget deficit.” That’s about as stupid as someone who thinks salad dressing should only be stored in dressing rooms. The words are the same, yes, but the meaning is different enough that no one really needs to worry about spilling Thousand Island on their Hamlet tights.

When the government has a budget deficit, they have a shortfall between the amount of money they spend and the amount of money they take in. We buy, say, two or three trillion dollars worth of stuff, but we don’t have enough cash to cover that extra $500 billion or so. So we stick the rest on the credit card and hope that the bill arrives in the mail when the American people aren’t looking.

A trade deficit, however, is the difference between the amount of stuff we buy as opposed to the amount of stuff we sell. So if I sell you my old comic book collection for fifty bucks, you have just racked up a staggering $50 trade deficit with me. WHERE  are YOU going to come up with THAT kind of money?!

As you can see, the question makes no sense at all. You don’t owe me anything, since you were already stupid enough to blow fifty bucks on a piles of rotting newsprint with pictures of Green Lantern drawn on them.  But you’re okay with it, too, because you decided that you wanted those dog-eared comics more than you wanted the fifty bucks. And thus, through the magic of capitalism,  both of us walked away happy.

Last May, Donald Trump, ostensibly a savvy capitalist himself, proved that when it comes to this fundamental tenet of economics, he doesn’t know salad dressing from comic books. Speaking to a rally of true believers, then-Candidate Trump mocked the people who were worried that his proposed tariffs and taxes would start a trade war.

“Trade war?!” he sniffed, the extra exclamation point dripping from his scowling smirk. “We’re losing $500 billion in trade with China. Who the hell cares if there’s a trade war?!”

(Wait, it’s $500 BILLION, not $700 BILLION?!!  Why didn’t TRUMP tell the GUY at the WEDDING RECEPTION ?!)

Kindly consider the depth of ignorance found in Trump’s statement. We’re “losing” $500 billion in trade with China. So when we trade with China, we hand them $500 billion, and they hand us… nothing, apparently, because that money is lost. LOST! We’re losing it. So WHO the HELL cares?

Of course, that money is not lost. We handed them half a trillion bucks; they handed us all kinds of crap – shoes and umbrellas and refrigerators and iPhones and Trump-brand neckties, all made in China. (Yes, before he inflicted himself on the American electorate, Trump was making America great again by exploiting cheap Chinese labor.) That $500 billion isn’t “lost.” It’s been traded. And it wouldn’t have been traded if we didn’t prefer having iPhones to having the money we paid for them. The trades were voluntary – both parties are satisfied. No bill for $500 billion is going to arrive in the White House mailbox unless Melania decides to surprise Barron by buying Guam for him as a birthday present.

All this is prelude to how terrible President Trump’s inaugural speech was. I’m not talking about its moments of breathtaking stupidity, like his line about how kids are stuck in a school system which “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Really? Deprived of ALL knowledge? Do they become zombies? Or game show hosts? Well, at least they’re young and beautiful. Maybe they could hook up with some creepy billionaire who likes to grab young and beautiful people by the…

But I digress. (Although it’s hysterical that the word “all” before knowledge has been dropped from the official transcript. Trust me; it was there. I’d suggest that you rewatch the thing if you don’t believe me, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.)

Trump got most passionate as he was describing “American carnage” caused by the horrors of other countries “making our products.” Other countries making OUR products?! No more!  It’s time to rebuild the “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”  It’s going to be “America First.” Two rules: “Buy American and Hire American.” And that, my friends, is how we’re going to make America great again.

Or, at the very least, make America as great as North Korea.

North Korea, you see, has a philosophy called “Juche!” It’s a word that roughly translates into “self-reliance,” but in practical terms, it means that North Korea follows two simple rules: Buy North Korean and Hire North Korean. International trade is considered a betrayal of the Hermit Kingdom’s revolutionary principles.

That text either translates as “Self-Reliance” or “Deprived of all knowledge.”

And the result? Widespread poverty, massive repression, and famines so bad that vast swaths of populace have had to survive by eating grass.

Trade is good. It creates wealth. And, like it or not, we live in a global economy. Pretending we don’t won’t return us to the 1920s, when we didn’t.

Back then, the now-rusted-out factories were rust-free and churning out Model Ts built by 100% American labor. But now Ford can churn out sedans and SUVs that are exponentially more sophisticated than the Model T, and they can do it with a tiny fraction of the labor force. Why? Automation. Those assembly line jobs have been made obsolete by technology, and, Trump’s populist, protectionist rhetoric aside, they’re not coming back.

I’ve said many times that the entirety of the MBA I earned can be summed up in three words – markets are efficient. If labor is going overseas, it’s because the market has found a more efficient use of capital. If government jumps in and tries to stop it, it’s a bit like tearing up all the modern car-building machinery and forcing Toyota to make all its Priuses by hand, complete with hordes of seamstresses sewing up the leather seats. Will that create jobs? Well, yes, but it will also destroy other jobs, destroy a great deal of wealth, and ultimately make Toyota so non-competitive that they’ll go out of business, thereby destroying the short-term Prius-leather-seat-sewing jobs that made Trump look like a hero when he created them.

This is the real danger of Trump, folks. He’s going to mandate that the economy operate like it did fifty years ago, and if he gets his way, we’ll ALL be eating GRASS!!

Hopefully, we’ll still have some SALAD DRESSING.

A Practical Guide to President Trump

“Tomorrow, January 20, 2017 is a day of mourning,” wrote a friend of mine on Facebook.  “Not only are we forced to say goodbye to the people who TRULY ‘Made America Great’, the best President, first family and Vice-president our generation will ever see, but we are also witnessing the death of a nation by swearing in the modern day Hitler.”

Ah! The modern day Hitler. (The actual Hitler, apparently, was a product of antiquity, despite having lived less than a century ago.) So all of us are at risk of having the gestapo pound down our doors and drag us into forced labor camps where we’re either gassed on arrival or worked and starved to death.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is beyond nonsense. Yes, I’m a middle-aged white male, so I’ve got privilege coming out the wazoo. But even if you are a transgender Jewish Muslim of African descent in a same-sex marriage and seeking an abortion, you are equally at risk of being hauled away by the Trump SS as I am. Which is to say, not at all.

Again, this is not to say I’m now a Trump devotee – it’s a plea from a Trump critic who wants the people who oppose Trump to focus on reality and stop crying wolf.

No, you’re doing more than crying wolf. You’re screaming wolf. And it’s making things worse.

If you’re reading this, things may suck for you in the near future, but the good news is that you don’t have to hide in somebody’s attic for the next four years for fear of being slaughtered by the government.  There is much to be concerned about with regard to the buffoon sitting in the Oval Office for the next four years, but don’t flatter yourself into thinking you’re freakin’ Anne Frank. That kind of hyperbolic hyperventilation is insulting to the memory of the real Hitler’s real victims, and it’s counterproductive to dealing with the reality in which we all find ourselves.

So rather than just add to the rhetorical cacophony, I thought I’d offer some practical tips as to what President Trump will actually mean.

1. Genocide is off the table.
In order for Trump to be Hitler, he has to create the apparatus necessary to begin the slaughter of millions of American citizens. That infrastructure, as well as the widespread political will to enable and maintain it, simply does not exist. Hitler spent a great deal of time and effort building his genocide machine, and Trump is both dumber and lazier than the Fuhrer he’s supposedly emulating.

In addition, while there certainly remain troubling pockets of racism and bigotry throughout our country, the vast majority of the American people are not on board for the wholesale slaughter of their fellow citizens. Combine an unmotivated genocider-in-chief with a public almost wholly opposed to genocide, and you have a surefire recipe for non-genocide.

When people start talking about Trump as Hitler, I ask them to paint me a picture as to how that will happen in practical terms. So far, I haven’t gotten any workable proposals as to how we get there from here.

2. And no, climate change is not the same thing. 
The closest someone has come to offering a realistic Trump genocide scenario is the idea that climate change will now do the dirty work that concentration camps used to do. Trump will kill us all by abandoning the Paris climate change accords, a friend of mine wrote, since “climate change knows no borders.”

“No matter how isolated i am in the sane enclave of california,” he wrote, “climate change will destroy us all. This will be trumps legacy. Anything else he does can be undone.”

The subject of climate change has been so poisoned by politics that the fact that even the most ardent supporters of the Paris accords recognize they are essentially symbolic gestures will be lost on the alarmists. Every credible scientist admits that even full compliance with them will do nothing to lower or even slow the rise of global temperatures.

The scientific consensus is 100% clear on this point – the climate is going to do what it’s going to do regardless of who’s in the White House. Replace Hitler with Gandhi for the next four years, and the climate outcome would be exactly the same.

For my part, I take comfort in the fact that the computer models that have predicted catastrophe have been off by an average of 300% over the past thirty years, but if you’re still convinced that we’re doomed, the harsh reality is that the Paris agreements will do absolutely nothing to undoom us, and Trump’s withdrawal from them won’t make any difference one way or the other.

3. Trump’s stupid border wall is empty symbolism, too. 
It’s heartening to see Trump having to backpedal his moronic assertion that Mexico is going to foot the bill for his dopey wall, but if you’re troubled that this is going to create some kind of police state dystopia, then you’re probably not aware that huge chunks of that wall have already been built, and all of it was built before Trump even announced his candidacy. (Even Mother Jones admits that.)

The wall is fuel for increased xenophobic rhetoric, and that’s problematic, but it will have little or no impact on actual illegal immigration. If you doubt that, then you probably think illegal immigrants get here by scurrying across the border in the dead of night. Most of them aren’t that stupid. Instead, the vast majority of them simply get a visa to come visit the United States, and then they don’t go home when the visa expires. It’s easy; it’s clean, and, best of all, nobody gets shot. And nothing Trump has proposed is going to change it much.

4. Gay marriage is here to stay. So is abortion.
I have a number of friends who think the Trump apocalypse will be heralded by his Supreme Court picks, who will undo both the Obergefell decision that made gay marriage legal and the infamous Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion a constitutional right.

Is it possible the Court will do this? Yes. Is it likely? Not at all.

Start with gay marriage, which is in no danger of going away. Obergefell overturned only part of the Defense of Marriage Act. The other part – the section that states can ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states – is blatantly unconstitutional, since it violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause, which reads as follows:

“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.”

So if one state makes gay marriage legal, every state has to recognize those marriages.

Congress knew this part of DOMA was illegal when they passed it, and President Clinton knew it when he signed it. It was a cynical, craven pandering to an electorate which, at the time, was solidly opposed to gay marriage. (Yes, times have changed.) Clinton even publicly stated that he looked forward to the day when the High Court overturned the unconstitutional law he had signed.

So that’s out there like a Sword of Damocles waiting to fall on anyone who tries to overturn Obergefell. But even if it weren’t, the Court would now be in a position of not just preventing new same-sex marriages, but of nullifying thousands of existing marriages, something even the most conservative members of the Court would be reluctant to do. In addition, a case would have to be brought before the Court with the potential to overturn Obergefell, and no such cases are in the pipeline. And remember, replacing Scalia with a conservative wouldn’t alter the makeup of the Court that decided Obergefell and has repeatedly upheld Roe.

And what about Roe itself? Well, what about it? It’s survived decades of challenges, even when conservatives have held a majority. Furthermore, many of its principles have already been codified into federal law. Many states have legal protections that go further than Roe in thwarting government interference on abortions, and none of those would change. People don’t seem to realize that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion would remain legal in all fifty states.

5. Repeal of the ACA? Don’t bet on it.
Actually, in one sense, yes, bet on it. There will, in fact, be a formal repeal of Obamacare, and it will be conducted with huge fanfare and a dramatic signing ceremony, and Trump will tweet something awful, and everyone will wring their hands.

But will the law then allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions? Or kick kids of their parents’ policies? Or cap lifetime benefits?

No, no, and no.

Obamacare is an expensive mess, but the pre-Obamacare status quo was an expensive mess, too. And voters will not tolerate the return to a time when people couldn’t get coverage because they’d gotten sick. And even before Obamacare, people were never denied emergency care because of inability to pay. Republican promises to “replace” Obamacare are all predicated on the fact that the provisions I listed above are wildly popular, no matter which party you belong to. Watch for Trump’s Obamacare’s “replacement” to look an awful lot like Obamacare.

6. So okay, then what’s Trump going to do that’s really awful?
What, you mean besides just being Donald Trump, who is an awful human being? Because that’s awful in how it sets a tone for the country that makes us all crasser, coarser, and crosser than we were before. But that’s already baked into the Trump cake. What’s his administration actually going to do that will make things worse for the day-to-day lives of Americans everywhere?

Two words: trade war.

Trump wants to tax products coming across the border at a rate of 35%. Guess who pays that tax? You do. Companies don’t just eat those kinds of costs – they pass them on to consumers. In a global economy, tariffs and trade wars are asinine, and they’re huge disincentives to economic growth. The fact that Donald Trump has turned the GOP into a protectionist party is the single biggest disaster Trump has inflicted on the nation as a whole. It’s going to sink the economy, and it’s going to cost you personally.

He’s also going to spend as much as Obama, and probably more. When Obama took office, Republicans fell all over themselves to block his bloated trillion-dollar stimulus package. They were right to do so. But now they’re falling all over themselves to push through Trump’s “infrastructure” package, which is exactly the same thing, only at a higher cost. Republicans are repeatedly demonstrating that they’re not above rising above principle for partisan gain. Trump’s also going to beef up defense spending, so we’ll all drown in a river of red ink regardless.

There’s also no appetite among anyone in either party to get entitlement spending under control, which means that the country is looking at the inevitability of a Greece/Venezuela-style meltdown within the next ten to twenty years, and since debt only becomes painful when default is nigh, nobody is going to notice until the ship of state goes over the waterfall. 

7. So what to do? Because there’s a great deal to be done. 
There is, indeed. Which is why it would be very helpful to tone down the Hitler crap. The screeching makes it impossible for anyone to be in the same room with you for very long. (I’m swearing off Facebook for the next few days for that very reason.) The better approach is to talk to each other and, even more importantly, to listen to each other.

That’s the approach I intend to take a few days from now, after the screaming of wolf has died down to a dull roar.

Not My Warden

Dutch and Ernie were each serving twenty-year sentences at Jojo State Prison in southern North Dakota.  For reasons unexplained, neither of them had faces, but that’s not important to the story.


Both guys had gotten quite close to Horace Flimpson, who had served as warden of the prison since 1987. But Horace was getting on in years, so it was time for him to retire.

Even though they were cons, Dutch and Ernie were invited to the party where Warden Flimpson got a big cake and a gold watch. They wished their buddy well, only to discover that his replacement was going to be none other than Skiffles McGee, who had been the vicious and unpopular warden of a prison where both Dutch and Ernie had done hard time for illegally waxing contraband surfboards.

“Skiffles McGee?!” Ernie shouted as he and Dutch walked back to their cells. “Can you believe it?”

“It makes me so mad,” Dutch said. “I hate that guy.”

“Me, too,” Ernie said. ‘And let me say right now that he’s not my warden.”

“Not yet, no,’ Dutch said. “But sadly, he will be.”

“No, he won’t.” Ernie said. “Not my warden.”

“What?”

Ernie scowled. “He only got this job because he bribed somebody. He has no right to be the warden.”

“Well, okay,” Dutch said, “that’s probably true. Ol’ Skiffles is a real turd, and I wouldn’t put it past him to bribe somebody. But he’s still going to be your warden.”

“Not my warden.”

“Yes, your warden.”

“How can you defend him?” Ernie shot back.

“I’m not defending him,” said Dutch. “I hate him.”

“Then how can you say he’s your warden?”

“Because he’s going to be the warden of this prison, and I’m in this prison. That makes him my warden.”

“But he shouldn’t be the warden,” Ernie said.

“Yes,” agreed Dutch, nodding. “He shouldn’t be. But he is.”

“Even though he cheated?”

Dutch nodded again. “Even though.”

“He eats fried kittens for breakfast, you know,” Ernie said.

“I did know that, yes.”

“Then how can you look me in the eye and say he’s your warden?”

“Because no matter how crappy he is, he’s still my warden,” said Dutch. “And you probably need to accept the fact that he’s your warden, too.”

“Not my warden!” Ernie was getting very angry by this point.

So Dutch decided to take another tack with him. “Okay, fine,” he said. “He’s not your warden. Can you at least tell me what that means?”

“It means that I’m not going to just smile and get over it,” Ernie said.

“Okay. So what are you going to do?”

“I just told you.”

“Not really. I need specifics. Does this mean you’re going to break out of prison? Because if you’re not in this prison, then he’s not your warden.”

“Of course not,” Ernie said. “I don’t want to get caught and add another dozen years to my sentence.”

“Okay, fine. So you’re in the prison where Skiffles McGee is the warden, but since he’s not your warden, does that mean you don’t have to do what he says?”

“He’s NOT MY WARDEN!!,” Ernie repeated, speaking in capital letters for added emphasis.

“But he doesn’t know that. I’m pretty sure he’s going to act like he’s your warden. So when the guards come around at night and tell you that it’s lights out, are you going to leave your light on?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about guards who are working for the guy who is not your warden. When they walk past the cell and say, ‘Lights out, Ernie,” are you going to leave your light on, because these guards are following the orders of the guy who is not your warden?”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Ernie muttered.

“I’ve heard dumber,” Dutch said.

“How can you just sit back and take it?”

“Who says I’m going to sit back and take it?” Dutch said. “I’m going to oppose him every way I can.”

“Good,” Ernie said. “I thought you weren’t going to resist.”

“Resist?” Dutch asked. “I didn’t say ‘resist.’ I said ‘oppose.'”

“What’s the difference?”

“There are a lot of things we can do to show we don’t like ol’ Skiffles. But if we ‘resist’ him that means we refuse to do what he says. And if we refuse to do what he says, the guards are going to kick our heads in. I don’t want to get my head kicked in.”

‘There are other ways to resist,” Ernie said.

“Not really,” Dutch said. “Because as near as I can tell, there are two ways he can not be your warden. One way is for you to get out of prison, and the other way is to shoot him in the head.”

“I didn’t say I was going to shoot him in the head!”

“Then how will you get rid of him?”

“I get him replaced,” Ernie said, as if it were too obvious for words.

“Great! Then get him replaced! I’ll even help you do that! But that takes time. And until he’s replaced, if you don’t shoot him in the head, and you don’t leave prison, then he’s your warden.”

“You’re an idiot,” Ernie said.

“And you smell like farts,” Dutch said.

Dutch and Ernie never spoke again. And when they were released in 2029, they blocked each other on Facebook.