The State of the Union, Such As It Is

President Donald Trump has had a good week so far. On Monday the Democratic party thoroughly botched the opening contest in its presidential nomination process, on Tuesday he got to brag on prime time television for an hour and half about his achievements with all the pomp and circumstance of a State of the Union address, and today he’s almost certain to be acquitted of the impeachment charges brought against him by the House of Representatives. He should enjoy it while it lasts.
That botched Iowa caucuses will be long forgotten by Election Day, and the damage to the Democratic party could have been worse. The embarrassingly long delay in releasing the results was prompted by concerns from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and a failure to address them would have further convinced his supporters that the Democratic National Party is rigging the game against him in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden. Sanders wound up in a tight race against South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg as the last votes were being counted, Biden was far behind in fourth place, and as incompetent as it clearly was the process didn’t seem corrupt.
Trump stuck to the script on the teleprompter, which was better written than his usual fare, and except for those audible sniffles that preceded every sentence the delivery wasn’t bad. He also had plausible reasons for bragging, as the unemployment rate is low and the stock markets are up, but Trump characteristically overstated how good things are now and how bad things were when he took office.
The gross domestic product grew at a perfectly respectable 2.3 percent rate last year, but that was down from the year before, and well below the 3 or 4 percent growth that Trump had promised, and worse than in the last years of the President Barack Obama’s administration. He only slighted overstated the job creation that occurred during the first three years of his administration, which is a bit below the number created during the last years of President Barack Obama’s administration. He claimed credit for America becoming the world’s leader in oil and gas production, but the country’s held that title since 2013. We don’t give Obama much credit for the upward trajectory of the American economy that Trump inherited and has more or less maintained, which mainly goes to the entrepreneurial genius of the American people and their still mostly free economy, but as Obama did Trump is claiming credit where credit is not due.
Trump also claimed credit for 12,000 new “factories” built during his administration, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 80 percent of them are “manufacturing establishments” with five or fewer employees, and overall the manufacturing sector of the economy is in a technical recession, with other “blue collar” sectors such as construction and mining seeing slower growth and farm bankruptcies rising, and most analysts blame that on Trump’s trade wars. The president boasted that the trade wars have yielded great deals, but the re-branded United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is little more than the usual biannual tweaking of the old North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump falsely claimed had destroyed a fourth of America’s manufacturing jobs, and the deals he’s still seeking with China and the rest of the world don’t look much more promising.
He also bragged that “All those millions of people with 401(K)s and pensions are doing far than have ever done before with increases of 60, 70, 80, 90 and even 100 percent,” but that’s obviously crazy talk. According to Census Bureau only 32 percent of Americans are invested in 401(K)s and pension plans, and according an analysis by Fidelity Investments the increase in their accounts has been more like 1 percent. There was a pledge to always force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions, even though the Trump administration continues to press a lawsuit that would completely undo Obamacare and it’s protections for preexisting condition and has offered no replacement plan. We also noticed Trump promised to get tough on all the big pharmaceutical companies while bragging how he’s streamlined the Food and Drug Administrations safety reviews, which Big Pharma probably won’t mind. He further bragged about criminal justice reform to release prisoners and paid maternity leave and planting new trees, which isn’t likely to endear to either or his admirers or his critics.
Unmentioned was the fact despite that the Greatest Economy Ever Trump is presiding over deficit spending even bigger than Obama saw when he had a Democratic Congress and severe recession to deal with, and that Trump had two years of a Republican Congress to strike the infrastructure deal Trump is still proposing and that’s less likely to win the support of all the Democrats Trump routinely mocks and taunts.
Trump’s impeachment trial wisely went unmentioned, too, even if the entirety of the speech was infused with an unmistakeable triumphalism about his inevitable acquittal today. Acquittal does not always equal exoneration in the court of public opinion, though, and Trump’s former friend O.J. Simpson might warn not to get too cocky about it. A few Republican Senators have been frank enough to say they’ll vote for acquittal even though they concede that Trump did do what’s charged with, and that it was something very bad which he ought not to have done, and a big chunk of the country will still feel outraged by the clearly rigged and evidence-free verdict even after the long slog toward Election Day.
On the other hand, Trump is such an eerily lucky fellow we sometimes suspect the famous deal-maker made a Faustian bargain, and he’ll have the good fortune to run against a Democrat. So far as anyone can tell the big winners in Iowa were the self-described socialist Sanders and the openly homosexual Buttigieg, which might be a step too far even in this age of taboo-breaking in both parties. Biden might make a more respectable showing in New Hampshire and regain his front-runner status in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, but he’s not a very formidable campaigner. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar did well in Iowa to remain in the race, and she’s a relatively sane centrist who has a long record of winning Republican votes and strikes us at the Democrats’ best bet, but this year that probably dooms her chances.
From our perspective here in the middle of the country and on the political sidelines, the state of the union is somewhat worrisome.

— Bud Norman

Keeping All the Cards on the Imaginary Table

It’s hard to imagine a worse foreign policy than the one America has been pursuing for the past seven and a half years or so, but then again we don’t have the imagination of Donald J. Trump.
We cannot conceive of any remotely plausible circumstances that might compel an American president to launch a nuclear missile at anywhere in Europe during the next four years or so, for instance, but Trump has told an interviewer on internationally broadcast television that he wants “keep all the cards on the table” just in case. Neither can we imagine the unimaginable tragedy that would result from North Korea and Japan engaging in a nuclear war, and although Trump insists he shares our preference that it never come to pass he then literally shrugs and waves his hands and adds that at least it would be over quickly and “if they do, they do.” Although we can well understand why pressure should be brought to bear on our North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners to shoulder their share of the alliance’s many burdens, we cannot envision a more-or-less peaceful world without it, but Trump openly muses about making demands that our allies “pay up, including for past deficiencies, and if it breaks up NATO it breaks up NATO.”
Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters will find all this appealing, and explain what a shrewd negotiator he is, him being the best-selling author of “The Art of the Deal” and the guy who came out ahead of his sucker creditors in four bankruptcies and numerous failed businesses and all, but the rest of the world is seeing it quite differently. Pretty much everyone at every end of the political spectrum in Europe and Asia and the Middle East are alarmed about the prospect of a Trump presidency, and the entirety of the Latin American world has its own concerns, of course, and Africa should should soon join in just as soon as Trump finds some reason to insult its unfortunate people, and although sneering one’s way into the opprobrium of an entire world of damn foreigners will also appeal to Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters it strikes us as a rather poor start to repairing the last seven and a half years or so of godawful foreign policy.
The last seven and a half years or so of godawful American foreign policy have been guided by the worst of left-wing isolationism, which holds that American is so morally corrupt that any influence it exerts on the world is bound to be harmful, and the worst of left-wing internationalism, which holds that American influence can be justifiably exerted so long as it isn’t in American interests and is approved by a bunch of damn foreigners. This is hard to beat, but the Trump response combines the worst of right-wing isolationism, which holds that America is so pure that any contact with all those damn foreigners in the outside world will be corrupting, and the most random sort of right-interventionism, which claims it was against the Iraq war even though it’s no where on record saying so and is on record saying otherwise on the Howard Stern radio show in between the nude lesbian segments, and was critical of the pull-out from Iraq but still says “Bush lied, people died,” and is one day there with boots on the ground in Syria and is the next content to “bomb the “s**t” out of them and is neutral on that whole Israel-Palestinian thing but assures us that’s just another bluff.
At least he’ll stand up to that blustery and buffoonish Putin, unlike that craven weakling Obama, but the strong man Trump has been flattered by Putin’s praise and spoken kindly of his “strength” and noted that America kills people too and suggested that the current unpleasantness in Syria is best handled by Putin and one of the crack team of top-notch men that Trump always surrounds himself with is a big investor in Russia’s state-owned natural gas company and best in known in foreign policy circles as slavish apologist for Putin, but we’re assured they’re going to make great deal. Trump’s front-running Democratic counterpart was the Secretary of State who offered that disastrous “reset button” to Russia, but at least it didn’t reset relations back ┬áto the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. The other options are the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on one the Democrat side, for crying out loud, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has used “neoconservative” as a slur but otherwise sounds at least reasonable on the other side, so we’re hoping the rest of the world well.
Perhaps Trump’s geo-political genius is simply beyond our imagination, and he’s playing some brilliant gambit by discomfiting everyone in the entire world except his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone fans, but we doubt it. In that disastrous interview with the Washington Post where he pressed on the specific of his foreign policy Trump veered from a question about the Islamic to a boast about how he’d vanquished Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the primaries by calling him “Little Marco,” and he seemed to expect that the editorial board of the Washington Post would be convinced that he could deal with any international adversaries just as effectively, and we’re sure his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone fans will agree, but we aren’t reassured and neither can we imagine any foreign leaders will be.
In that same disastrous interview Trump described his foreign policy as “America First,” which has a nice ring to it unless you’ve read enough relatively recent history to recall that was the slogan of the isolationists who would have let the Axis powers rule the world outside fortress America. We don’t that Trump has read enough to know that, but former “pitchforks brigade” insurgent outsider anti-establishment Republican candidate surely did, as he wrote a book long after the fact arguing that American darned well should have allowed the rest of the world to be ruled by the Axis powers, as it as in America’s interests, and we note that he’s endorsing Trump’s variety of nationalism.

— Bud Norman