What Happens in a Recession?

Trump loses, Uber evaporates, the social crisis gets worse.

This column is not in the business of forecasting recessions, based on inverted yield curves or any other form of augury. But when enough credentialed auguries suddenly think one might be possible, it seems prudent to speculate about the consequences if they turn out to be correct. So let’s imagine what might follow if, sometime this winter, our post-2008 economic expansion finally ends.

First, the easy part: Donald Trump loses re-election. It will be ugly and flailing and desperate and — depending on recession-era geopolitics — potentially quite dangerous, but there is no way a president so widely disliked survives the evaporation of his boom. The rules of politics have changed, but they haven’t been suspended. Polarization will keep Trump from being defeated in a landslide, but not from being beaten handily, and in a recession the Democrats can nominate any of their candidates and expect to evict the president with ease.

What comes next? In Washington, the centrists get a surprising opportunity. Blamed and written off by left and right alike, a Trump defeat would give the capital’s dwindling band of dealmakers and moderates another chance to govern — because even if it’s Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders in the White House, it’s still going to be red-state Democrats and blue-state Republicans holding the balance of power in the Senate. The left-wing revolution won’t be canceled, exactly, in those circumstances, but it will be postponed till after 2022 or 2024; in the between-time, the people who once pined after comprehensive immigration reform and deficit commissions may get a (last?) chance to prove their critics wrong.

Meanwhile, the right will have to decide whether it wants to be an opposition or an alternative. With a bad economy and a liberal Democrat in the White House, conservatives could well return to the scripts of the Obama era, rediscovering (with whatever absurd hypocrisy) the perils of deficits and big spending, and defining themselves entirely against whatever bargains the center-left attempts to make. But if the G.O.P. is reduced to a white working-class base at a time of increasing economic pain, there will also be incentives for Trump’s would-be successors to flesh out his populism rather than abandoning it. This will be the ground on which the next Republican civil war gets fought no matter what, but how long a recession lasts and how it gets interpreted will determine whether a serious post-Trump conservative populism is inevitable or stillborn.

Then outside of D.C., the immigration crisis will diminish, while the social crisis gets worse. Notwithstanding the real horrors of gang violence in their native countries, many of the people trying to cross into the United States are clearly making an economic decision when they migrate — which means, in turn, that fewer jobs here will gradually take some pressure off the southern border. But at the same time, the domestic trends that have already worsened despite a strong economy —

are likely to get even grimmer in a contraction. America’s social fabric hasn’t recovered from the rendings that followed 2008; a recession now would tear out the weakest stitching quickly.

Then in the commercial sphere, the venture-capital subsidy to American consumers will dry up. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson summed up the peculiarities of this subsidy with a recent tweet: “If you work at WeWork, drive home with Uber, and then order food by DoorDash, you’re engaging with three companies that are projected to lose about $13 billion this year.” Those losses are supposed to end with an eventual leap into profitability; in a bad economy, they may end a lot more suddenly than that. Presumably a few of the many money-losing, long-game-playing Silicon Valley companies will survive a recession — but how many? Gather your Uber rides while ye may …

Finally, to end close to home, my profession will be shellackedAs with the social trends noted above, the economic foundation for professional journalism has continued to erode amid relative economic plenty; midsize daily newspapers keep shrinking and closing, web start-ups struggle to find ad revenue, and the business of online subscriptions rewards giants like this newspaper but so far almost nobody else. For many newspapers and webzines struggling to make the economics of the business work, a slump now could be simply fatal. And academia, journalism’s comrade in “careers that made more sense in 1960,” could face its own reckoning, with midsize and small colleges closing and consolidating, like midsize and small newspapers.

So a recessionary America would find the center-left enjoying some kind of power but probably struggling to govern, a right tearing itself apart in civil war, our downscale social crisis worsening, Silicon Valley delivering substantially less than promised, and the institutions that are supposed to inform and educate struggling or in decline.

Having guaranteed Trump’s removal from office, in other words, the recession would also set the stage for Trumpism’s eventual return.

Trump’s Pinned to a Wall Few Americans Want

A grand immigration deal may be his only way to end the crisis and deliver to his base.

If President Trump hoped that shutting down the government would rally public support for a wall along the southern border, he must be disappointed. The Washington Post found that Americans continue to oppose the wall, 54% to 42%. Quinnipiac found a similar result, 55% to 43%, virtually unchanged from the pre-shutdown figure.

By a 2-to-1 margin, Quinnipiac reports, Americans reject the tactic of closing the government to force Congress to approve funding for the wall. This is bad news for the president, because Americans overwhelmingly hold him, rather than congressional Democrats, responsible for the shutdown.

The White House’s ultimate weapon—a formal presidential address from the Oval Office—did nothing to shift public sentiment about the wall. Forty-nine percent said Mr. Trump’s speech was “mostly misleading,” compared with 32% who thought it was “mostly accurate.” Only 2% said the speech had changed their minds.

.. Forty-one percent believed a wall would be “consistent with Americans values,” versus 52% who believed it would be inconsistent with them. And strikingly, most Americans reject outright Mr. Trump’s effort to link immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally with a surge in criminal activity: 29% said that these immigrants were more likely to commit crimes than American citizens, compared with 63% who did not. This helps explain why, despite the heated rhetoric of the past decade, 73% of Americans continue to believe that immigration is good for the country.

If I were a Republican senator looking for a way out of this impasse, I would pay careful attention to the public’s views. By 65% to 32%, voters said they would disapprove if the president invoked emergency powers to build a wall. Not even Mr. Trump’s base—whites without college degrees—could stomach that move. Conversely, 61% of voters, including 36% of Republicans and 51% of whites without college degrees, would support a bill that funded additional border-security measures but not a wall.

The fate of Mr. Trump’s gamble on the wall is a microcosm of a larger strategic failure of his presidency—his inability to expand his support beyond the base that brought him victory in 2016 with only 46% of the popular vote. By themselves, Republicans are not close to a majority of the electorate, and neither are conservatives. But opposition to the wall goes well beyond the president’s liberal and Democratic adversaries: 55% of independents disapprove of it, as do 59% of moderates.

Surely the White House is aware of these findings. President Trump seems to have put the emergency-powers option on hold. But he appears to be constrained by the fear that his most fervent supporters will regard a compromise on border security as a betrayal of his most significant campaign promise. A year ago, egged on by Fox News commentators and talk-radio hosts, immigration hard-liners torpedoed Mr. Trump’s tentative support for a package including both wall funding and the Democrats’ priority, legal status for beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

So what happens now? There are three options.

Mr. Trump could stand his ground, gambling that strong support for the wall among Republicans will continue to deter most Republican elected officials from breaking ranks. The downside: If he lost his bet and enough Republicans coalesced with Democrats around a border-security funding bill without the wall, he might cave in or see his veto overridden—ending up as a loser, in his vernacular.

Alternately, ignoring widespread opposition among his opponents and qualms among conservatives, Mr. Trump could choose to invoke emergency powers as the best way of keeping faith with his core supporters. Though litigation would tie up this move immediately, the president would be seen as fighting to keep his promise.

Finally, as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) and others have suggested, Congress and the White House could return to the project of broader, “comprehensive” immigration reform. Within a framework along the lines of the 2013 bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 68 to 32, President Trump could get substantial funding for his wall in exchange for a DACA settlement.

The art of the deal isn’t bludgeoning everyone else into submission; it’s providing them incentives to give you what you value most.

How the G.O.P. Built Donald Trump’s Cages

Republicans who spoke up this time should be asking themselves why a president of their party felt he was enforcing its principles by breaking apart families and caging children.

.. But many, many other party leaders have been venturing ever deeper into the dank jungles of nativist populism for quite some time, exploiting the politics of fear and resentment. Mr. Trump did not invent Republican demonization of “the other” — it came about in two ways: gradually, and then all at once.

.. From the early 1990s to 2000, the conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan kept the Republican Party on its toes, running for president three times with an explicitly isolationist message.

.. But it was during the George W. Bush years that anti-immigrant sentiment started to become more central to the party’s identity.

.. Mr. Bush made comprehensive immigration reform a priority of his second term.

.. Conservative talk radio took up the cause, smacking Mr. Bush as squishy on immigration. The very concept of comprehensive reform became anathema to many on the right.

.. The Great Recession that Mr. Obama inherited did nothing to quell nativist resentment among working-class whites, and the rise of the Tea Party pulled the Republican Party further to the right

.. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, who saw his fledgling political career almost snuffed out by his flirtation with comprehensive reform

.. in the wake of Mitt Romney’s presidential loss in 2012, after which the Republican Party briefly decided that one of its principal goals was to improve its image with Hispanic voters.

.. The resulting plan would have done everything from beefing up border security to overhauling visa categories to promoting a merit-based immigration system.

It also provided for the legalization of undocumented immigrants, which meant conservatives hated it.

..  the bill cleared the Senate by an impressive 68-to-32 vote. But John Boehner, then the House speaker, refused to bring it up for a vote in the Republican-controlled lower chamber.

.. Mr. Rubio became a pariah to the Tea Party voters who had propelled him to office three years earlier. Soon, he was denying that he had ever really supported the bill.

.. Party leaders fanned those flames, accusing Mr. Obama of being imperious and “lawless.” In one bit of twisted logic, Mr. Boehner argued that the House couldn’t possibly take up reform legislation because it couldn’t trust Mr. Obama to carry out said legislation.

.. Along the way, Republican candidates continued to play to their base’s darker impulses. On the whole, the rhetoric was subtler than that of the current president

.. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, painting Dreamers as drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

.. Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama: “I’ll do anything short of shooting them”

.. Nor was Mr. Trump the first Republican to promote the idea that within every immigrant lurks a murderer or terrorist.

.. Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, ran around warning of what came to be mocked as the great “terror baby” plot. As Mr. Gohmert told it, radical Islamists were plotting to impregnate droves of young women, who would infiltrate the United States to give birth here. The babies would be shipped back home for terrorist training, then return as adults to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting America.

.. Time and again, given the choice between soothing and stoking nativist animus, Republican lawmakers chose the low road.

.. And he has even less interest in addressing the root causes of migrant families flocking to the border.

.. In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security reported, “More individuals sought affirmative asylum from the Northern Triangle Countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) in the last three years than in the prior 15 years combined.”

.. Helping these nations stabilize themselves is key to reducing the flow of asylum seekers. But Mr.

Trump does not like complexity or long-term strategizing.

He prefers casting blame and making threats. 

.. In the administration’s budget proposals, it has sought deep cuts in aid to these countries — something Congress has wisely ignored. Removing a financial lifeline from nations already in chaos is hardly a recipe for progress.

.. Mr. Trump’s move to kick out as many people who are from these countries as possible threatens to overwhelm nations ill equipped for such an influx. And without the money that many of the immigrants living here regularly send back to their families, the economies of these countries would further crumble.

.. In 2016, 17 percent of El Salvador’s gross domestic product came from remittances from abroad.

.. America’s immigration mess is not going to be cleaned up anytime soon.

.. conservatives are terrified that the base will punish them if they concede even an inch. Speaker Paul Ryan, with one foot out the door, has no juice. And pretty much everyone assumes that nothing will move through the Senate anyway.

.. Trump is planning fresh crackdowns in the run-up to the midterms, to reassure his base that he has not lost his resolve. If anything, given the fragility of his ego, last week’s flip-flop will make him all the more desperate to prove his strength.

.. Mr. Trump is more a breaker than a fixer.

.. The question now is whether the conference will learn anything useful from this episode.

.. There is also his

  • politicization of law enforcement, his
  • attempts to undermine public faith in the democratic process, his
  • attacks on the press, his
  • family’s suspect business dealings and his
  • habitual lying

.. this is unlikely to be the last time the president puts members of his party in an uncomfortable, and perhaps untenable, position.

.. The weight of this moment should be recognized. Mr. Trump’s capitulation was not a given. With a little less media scrutiny, fewer heartbreaking photos and fewer calls from angry voters, tent cities could have kept on filling with traumatized children.

.. Having done so much to pave the way for Mr. Trump and his immigration policies, they now owe it to the American people to help keep him in check.

Meadows puts Ryan on notice on immigration

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) on Wednesday called for “new leadership” in the House Republican Conference, accusing Speaker Paul Ryan’s team of dragging its feet on holding a vote on a GOP immigration bill.

.. Meadows blasted House GOP leaders for waiting for the Senate to act on immigration before taking up legislation in the House.

 “I don’t think there’s really any conversations right now that would involve a new speaker,” Meadows said when asked if Ryan’s speakership was in jeopardy. “But there are certainly new conversations that would involve new leadership.”