Infrastructure Trumped By the Latest News

This is “infrastructure week” at the White House, with the public relations emphasis on President Donald Trump’s trillion dollar plans to make America’s roads and bridges and airports and all that great again, but you might have not have noticed. We’re only aware of it because a few of the pesky journalists who remain fixated on Trump’s latest “tweets” and the Russia thing with Trump and Russia mentioned “infrastructure week” in passing as an example of how Trump’s policy initiatives are being lost in the news.
Some attention was paid on Monday to Trump’s proposal to privatize air traffic control, the first of a series of plans that are expected to include a lot of privatizing, but another blast of presidential “tweets” got far more ink and air time. Trump continued to pursue his longstanding “twitter” feud with the mayor of the besieged city of London, sneering at his “pathetic excuse” of correctly noting that Trump had quoted him out of context, so that took up some space. The president’s lawyers have for the past few months been defending his travel ban in various courts by insisting that it isn’t a travel ban, the same line taken by the White House press secretary and other spokespeople, but Trump also defiantly “tweeted” that it is indeed a travel ban, and blasted that darned Justice Department he runs for saying otherwise, so that was another reason to not talk about privatizing air traffic control.
The week has thus far been eerily free of any bombshell stories about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia, but fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate on Thursday, and the story about Trump’s decision to not block the testimony by claiming executive privilege was another distraction. The networks will be preempting their afternoon soap operas and game shows to televise the Comey hearing, just like they used to do back in the Watergate days, and it’s going to take one heck of an infrastructure proposal to push that off the front pages.
That’s no reason not to talk about privatizing air traffic control, but none of the few stories we found about it included enough information for anyone to draw any conclusions about whether it’s a good idea or not. So far as we can tell they won’t be selling the control towers at your local airport to the highest bidder, but rather shift the power from the Federal Aviation Administration to a private but non-profit group run by a board comprised of airline and aviation and airport executives and the representatives of their employees’ unions, and shift the costs from taxpayers to airline passengers.
We rather like that last part, as we fly as infrequently as possible, but none of the stories make clear how those corporate folks will do a better job of keeping airplanes from flying into one another than the government folks have been doing. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association endorsed a nearly identical bill introduced last year by a Republican congressman, but seven other unions have protested that it won’t keep any more airplanes from running into one another, and of course what little press there’s been about it has been predictably skeptical. In any case, it’s far too dry and complicated to keep anyone from talking about the “tweets.”
It’s impossible to tell from Trump’s vaguely grandiloquent campaign rhetoric what the rest of the promised one trillion dollars or more infrastructures proposals will include, and except for the air traffic idea nothing has been spelled out during “infrastructure week,” but we expect it will include selling some government sectors to the highest bidder and handing out a whole lot of money to other private businesses. That’s not entirely a bad idea, by our old-fashioned Republican reckoning, as competitive enterprises are usually more effective than government bureaucrats that are going to get paid no matter what, but even such an old-fashioned Republican as Abraham Lincoln conceded there are certain chores that only government can do. Each of the trillion or more dollars that Trump has promised to spend will have to be separately considered accordingly, but it’s awfully dry and complicated, and what with all “tweeting” and Russia thing with Trump and Russia that’s going to be tough to cram into a 24-hour news cycle.
By our old-fashioned Republican reckoning infrastructure is best tended to at the state and county and city and neighborhood level, and federal money should be spent to infrastructure needs rather than as a part of some cockamamie planned-economy scheme, and we instinctively worry that a trillion dollars or more of anything is an invitation to graft. Something in our old-fashioned Republican souls doesn’t completely trust this Trump guy, either, and if Yellowstone National Park winds up under the Trump or Kushner brands we’ll be as angry about it as any of our newfangled Democratic friends.
There’s definitely some infrastructure that needs spending on, and at some point the private sector will wind up pouring the cement and laying the pipe and doing all the real work, and we’ll hold out hope that Trump will devise an effective deal that works down to the local level and is also graft-proof and labor-friendly enough to peel away a few Democratic votes, and won’t wind up adding another trillion or more of debt.
Even if he does, though, everyone will probably talking about his latest “tweet.”

— Bud Norman


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