Solving Trump’s Federal Reserve Problem

It starts, but doesn’t end, with ditching Stephen Moore.

First, the policy. Our president’s past views on monetary policy range all over the map; he has been both an inflation hawk and an inflation dove, and he obviously has no definite and deeply held views on monetary issues, as he has no definite and deeply held views on many other topics.

But as on other issues, that lack of ideological mooring has enabled him to break loose from the stale formulas, the always-1979 assumptions, that defined a lot of conservative thinking in the last 10 years.

Shaped by the battles of the inflationary 1970s, much of the right reacted to the financial crisis and its aftermath by critiquing Ben Bernanke’s Fed for its interventionism and warning about imminent inflation. A few conservative journalists and economists dissented, arguing that the situation was very different, the ’70s weren’t returning, and if anything the Fed’s policy had been too hawkish. But you had to listen hard to hear them; for the most part institutional conservatism and Republican politicians kept up a steady “inflation is coming” beat.

Actual economic trends, however, vindicated the dissidents. And now Trump himself, for instinctive and opportunistic reasons, has taken up a crude version of their argument, jawboning Jerome Powell to discourage rate increases (a self-interested position, but also the correct one) and trying to elevate Moore in part because he currently shares the White House’s dovish line.

But a lot hangs on that “currently.” Historically Moore has not been an inflation dove; indeed when it counted he was a predictable inflation hawk, calling for monetary tightening in the teeth of the Great Recession. So it’s hard to escape the impression that his newfound dovishness is simply a hack’s adaptation to whatever Trump demands. Especially because — let’s be completely blunt here — Moore’s entire record of writings and arguments are hackish, his prominence a testament to cable-television’s appetite for partisans with think-tank titles, and those titles a testament to conservatism’s decadence.

So while Trump’s embrace of dovishness is moving the Republican Party in a sensible direction on the issue, his personnel moves aren’t rewarding the dissidents who were correct ahead of time. Instead, after making some respectable but uncreative picks, he’s trying to bring in yes-men and conservative-entertainment personalities (like his other, since-withdrawn choice for the Fed, Herman Cain) and relying on their loyalty rather than their ideas to make the policy he favors.

The desire to reward loyalists rather than intellectuals is common to politicians, and many dissident-conservative intellectuals were cool to Trump during the 2016 campaign. But most presidents make some effort to instantiate their governing ideology by elevating figures who actually believe it, rather than relying exclusively on toadies and ring-kissers and guys who look the part when you turn on Fox or CNN.

Not so Trump: All instinct and solipsism, he simply doesn’t care enough about Trumpism to find people who might carry his impulses forward once he’s gone. And so he’s bidding to do for monetary policy what he’s done in domestic policy and foreign policy already: Pursue a somewhat heterodox and populist agenda, but leave its implementation — and therefore to some extent its future — in the hands of men like Moore or John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney who represent the consensus that he once campaigned against.

That desire suggests a very plausible post-Trump scenario — especially if a liberal Democrat occupies the White House next — in which the Republican Party simply abandons his heterodoxies and returns to all its Obama-era positioning, all its reflexive policy clichés. Which in turn would set the stage for yet another Trump-like populist rebellion against this orthodoxy five or 10 years down the line.

In fairness, some Republican lawmakers appear to want to avoid this kind of pointless cycle. A younger cohort in the Senate, including Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton and Mike Lee and lately Josh Hawley of Missouri, appears interested in sustaining a conservative populism after Trump has exited the stage. And as Ramesh Ponnuru noted in a recent Bloomberg column, judging by how they questioned Powell in February, some Republican lawmakers seem to be “shopping” for a different monetary policy, one that actually learns something coherent from the last 10 years.

If those shoppers are serious, they should reject Moore on the basis of his empty intellectual portfolio, not just his dumber experiments in punditry, and they should encourage Trump to make a different kind of outside-the-box pick. I have suggested Ponnuru as a possibility before; as a journalist he has a long paper trail of rigorous, mostly vindicated takes on monetary policy, and as a representative of the right’s intelligentsia he’s everything that Moore is not.

Another clever choice would be Karl Smith, another Bloomberg columnist, a former economics professor and a prolific economics blogger, who has also defended Trump’s much-criticized tax reform (in case that matters to anyone in the White House!). Alternatively, if Trump prefers someone with a current academic title, then he should tap Scott Sumner or David Beckworth from George Mason University, both of whom were elaborating the more dovish case back when Moore was still pitching the gold standard.

Of course because they’re serious people, that “dovish” case is far more sophisticated than the White House’s palpable desire for rate cuts as re-election stimulus. Also, Sumner recently called for Trump’s impeachment … so, yeah, he’s probably off the table.

But so long as Moore’s nomination is in trouble, there is an opportunity here for some entrepreneurial senator to push the White House in a new direction — toward the actual institutionalization of the president’s better instincts, rather than just the appointment of hacks who flatter him. For it will have profited conservatism nothing to have surrendered to Trump’s rebellion, if all it gains in the end is another decade submitting to the imaginary “expertise” of hacks like Stephen Moore.

Huge Trove of Leaked Russian Documents Is Published by Transparency Advocates

A group of transparency advocates on Friday posted a mammoth collection of hacked and leaked documents from inside Russia, a release widely viewed as a sort of symbolic counterstrike against Russia’s dissemination of hacked emails to influence the American presidential election in 2016.

Most of the material, which sheds light on Russia’s war in Ukraine as well as ties between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church, the business dealings of oligarchs and much more, had been released in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere, sometimes on obscure websites. There were no immediate reports of new bombshells from the collection.

But the sheer volume of the material — 175 gigabytes — and the technical challenges of searching it meant that its full impact may not be felt for some time. The volume is many times greater than the total known material stolen by Russian military intelligence from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign nearly three years ago.

Billy Graham Built a Movement. Now His Son Is Dismantling It.

If you want to understand the evangelical decline in the United States, look no further than the transition from Billy to Franklin Graham.

.. in 1949, William Randolph Hearst looked at the handsome thirtysomething evangelist with flowing blond hair and famously directed editors in his publishing empire to “puff Graham.”
.. the puffery never stopped.
.. while the nineteenth-century lawyer-turned-evangelist Charles Finney must be credited with inventing modern revivalism, Graham perfected and scaled it, turning evangelicalism into worldwide impulse that has transformed Christianity in recent decades in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
.. But almost two decades ago, Graham handed over the keys of the empire to his son, Franklin. And if you want to chart the troubled recent course of American evangelicalism—its powerful rise after World War II and its surprisingly quick demise in recent years—you need look no further than this father-and-son duo of Billy and Franklin Graham.
  • .. The father was a powerful evangelist who turned evangelicalism into the dominant spiritual impulse in modern America.
  • His son is—not to put too fine a point on it—a political hack, one who is rapidly rebranding evangelicalism as a belief system marked not by faith, hope, and love but by fear of Muslims and homophobia.

..  Graham got into bed with the wrong man in Richard Nixon. And while he must be praised for integrating his revivals (which he called crusades) and for inviting the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to deliver an invocation at his massive New York City crusade in 1957, he was missing in action when it came to civil rights legislation.

.. After King imagined in his 1963 “I Have a Dream Speech” a “beloved community” in which “little black boys and little black girls will join hands with little white boys and white girls,” Graham dismissed that dream as utopian. “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children,” he said.

..  ultimately chastened by his chumminess with Nixon

.. worked hard to transcend the racism and anti-Semitism that swirled around him as a farm boy in North Carolina

.. understood (at his best) that the Christian message (at its best) is about love rather than fear, inclusion rather than exclusion.

.. When asked to join in common cause with Jerry Falwell after the foundation of the Moral Majority in 1979, Graham refused to yoke his organization to the cultural wars of the Religious Right and the Republican Party.

.. Shortly after 9/11, Franklin Graham provided the sound bite of today’s culture wars when he denounced Islam as “a very wicked and evil religion.” He later became thestandard bearer for the view that Islam is, in his words “a religion of hatred . . . a religion of war.”

.. In addition to purveying the birther nonsense

.. suggested that President Barack Obama was not a Christian and might in fact be a secret Muslim.

.. he demonstrates no awareness of the ways in which his political pronouncements are breaking down the evangelical witness his father devoted so much energy to building up.

.. During World War II era, European churches were hurt badly by the affiliation of Christianity with right-wing political movements

.. Americans witnessed a powerful religious revival after the war, thanks in part to Billy Graham. That revival is over. Religion is now declining in the United States, and evangelicalism with it

.. the portion of white evangelical Protestants in the United States declined from 23 percent to 17 percent.

.. 27 percent of Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” and another 18 percent as “neither religious nor spiritual.”

.. There are many reasons for this decline in religious believing and belonging. But the most important in my view is the increasing identification of the Christian churches with right-wing politics.

.. Reinhold Niebuhr, who criticized Graham for his “pietistic individualism” and his neglect of social sin.

.. stuck for the most part to his simpler message that the world would be saved only through individual regeneration.

.. mistake the gospel of Christ for the gospel of American civilization.

.. Graham had a humility almost entirely lost among the public preachers of our day, his eldest son included.