Officially, a big part of the federal government shut down late last month. In important ways, however, America’s government went AWOL almost two years earlier, when Donald Trump was inaugurated.
After all, politicians supposedly seek office in order to get stuff done — to tackle real problems and implement solutions. But neither Trump, who spends his energy inventing crises at the border, nor the Republicans who controlled Congress for two years have done any of that. Their only major legislative achievement was a tax cut that blew up the deficit without, as far as anyone can tell, doing anything to enhance the economy’s long-run growth prospects.
Meanwhile, there has been no hint of the infrastructure plan Trump promised to deliver. And after many years of denouncing Obamacare and promising to provide a far better replacement, Republicans turned out to have no idea how to do that, and in particular no plan to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.
Why can’t Republicans govern? It’s not just that their party is committed to an ideology that says that government is always the problem, never the solution. Beyond that, they have systematically deprived themselves of the ability to analyze policies and learn from evidence, because hard thinking might lead someone to question received doctrine.
And Republicans still control the Senate and the White House. So even when (if?) the shutdown ends, it will be at least two years before we have a government in Washington that’s actually capable of, or even interested in, governing.
Until recently Republicans had a virtual lock on state government. Almost half the population lived in states with Republican “trifectas,” that is, G.O.P. control of both houses plus the governorship. Democrats had comparable control in California, and pretty much nowhere else.
But elections since then have transformed the picture. New Jersey and Washington went full Democratic in 2017, and six more states, including Illinois and New York, flipped in November. At this point more than a third of Americans live under full Democratic control, not far short of the Republican total.
These newly empowered majorities are moving quickly to start governing again. And the experience of states that already had Democratic trifectas suggests that they may achieve a lot.
And health care isn’t the only front for new action. For example, Newsom is also proposing major new spending on education and housing affordability. The latter is very important: Soaring housing costs are the biggest flaw in California’s otherwise impressive success story.
Now, let’s be clear: Not all of the new Democratic policy proposals will actually be implemented, and not all of those that do go into effect will live up to expectations. There’s no such thing as perfection, in policy or in life, and leaders who never experience failures or setbacks aren’t taking enough risks.
The point, however, is that newly empowered state and local politicians do seem willing to take risks and try new things in an effort to make progress against the nation’s problems.
And that’s a very hopeful sign for America, because their example may prove contagious.
Justice Louis Brandeis famously described the states as the laboratories of democracy; right now they’re the places where we’re seeing what it looks like when elected officials try to do what they were elected to do, and actually govern. If we’re lucky, two years from now that attitude may re-establish itself in the nation’s capital.
Only after becoming a novelist myself did I understand my discomfort. Philip Roth is celebrated for bringing my family’s tiny slice of the world into the American pantheon, widening the literary canon to include American Jews. It is hardly news to point out that he accomplished this feat at the expense of Jewish women.
.. Roth’s three favorite topics — Jews, women and New Jersey — all remain socially acceptable targets of irrational public mockery, and Roth was a virtuoso at mocking the combination of all three.
.. The problem is literary: these caricatures reveal a lack of not only empathy, but curiosity.
.. Shakespeare bothered to give the hated Jewish moneylender Shylock a point of view; Mark Twain bothered to imagine emotions for the runaway slave Jim. Both portrayals still reflected popular prejudice, often horribly so. But they also included a glimmer of humanity beyond it, revealing the artists’ curiosity about lives they could only imagine.
.. His strength lay in those brilliantly rendered characters and voices like his. His weakness was that those voices denigrated just about everyone else.
.. how many of these women are, after all, precisely the people who made Philip Roth’s success possible. The Jewish New Jersey women I know are talented professionals in every field, and often in those two thankless professions that Roth quite likely required to thrive: teachers and therapists.
.. literature means little; the shared humanity that great literature inspires matters even less. What endures, sadly, is Roth’s lack of imagination, the unempathetic and incurious caricaturing of others that he turned into a virtue — and which now defines much of American public life.
.. we’re still talking about Roth, just like his works taught us to do. Yet in the years to come, the real meaning of his work will emerge not in how we judge Roth, but in how we judge ourselves.
Just 16 states have adequate backup money on hand, with Alaska having almost three times as much as the state would need to keep its economy buoyant.
STATE EXTRA CASH ON HAND NECESSARY BACKUP FUNDS DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EXTRA CASH AND NECESSARY BACK-UP FUNDS Louisiana 3.10% 27.20% -24.00% North Dakota 0.70% 20.10% -19.40% Oklahoma 4.00% 16.00% -12.10% New Mexico -1.10% 10.00% -11.10% Illinois 0.40% 11.10% -10.70% Colorado 5.30% 15.10% -9.80% New Jersey 1.40% 11.00% -9.60% Pennsylvania -1.80% 6.90% -8.80% Missouri 5.40% 13.80% -8.40% Kansas 1.60% 9.20% -7.60%
In his initial application for a security clearance, Mr. Kushner failed to list a single meeting with a foreign government official during the campaign and transition. (Amended forms now reportedly list over a hundred contacts.)
.. Anyone who has ever driven on the New Jersey Turnpike knows that, at a certain point in the road, the entire Manhattan skyline appears to rise from the surrounding marshland like a close-yet-so-far Land of Oz, both tempting and terrorizing with its mysterious jutting cutouts. To traverse this roadway, as Mr. Kushner surely did as a young man, was undoubtedly to exist in a constant state of aspiration and alienation. No matter one’s personal glories, for those who call New Jersey home, and especially those who reside in Northern New Jersey, it’s difficult to forget that one is still not from “the city,” as the landmass across the river is known. Overcompensation tends to follow. Blind arrogance is an occasional byproduct.
.. it’s hard not to feel that he’s making the same mistake that so many Trump voters did regarding wealth and entitlement — namely, confusing money for virtue and accomplishment — and the luck of birth for talent.