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.
And so, on one day, we had an unhinged and divisive rant by President Trump in Phoenix. Then, the next day in Reno, Nev., a call for national unity and reconciliation. Multiple political personality disorder. Rhetorical schizophrenia.
The gap between Trump extemporaneous and Trump scripted is canyon-like. The normal role of a speechwriter is to find, refine and elevate the voice of a leader. The greatest professional victory comes when a president thinks: This is the way I would sound if I had more time to write and more talent with language. In these circumstances, speechwriting is not deception; it is amplification.
.. But what about speechwriting that is designed to give a leader a different voice? Here moral issues begin to lurk. Is it ethical to make a cynical leader appear principled? A violent leader seem pacific? A cruel leader seem compassionate?
.. Or maybe a speechwriter can hope a president will eventually rise to the level of his teleprompter.
- The real voice defending a supporter who had been fired by CNN for writing “Sieg Heil” on Twitter.
- It was the real voice expressing greater passion in criticizing journalists than white supremacists.
.. his transparency reveals a disordered personality.
his Phoenix remarks indicate a loose connection to reality.
- His response to the violence in Charlottesville was, in his view, “perfect.”
- The North Koreans, he claimed, are learning to “respect” America (for which there is no evidence).
- “I don’t believe that any president has accomplished as much as this president in the first six or seven months,” Trump claimed of himself. “I really do not believe it.”
What if Trump really believes what he claims? Then he would be not deceptive, but deluded.
.. Trump is not merely acting unpresidential; he is erratic and grandiose.
On the evidence of the Phoenix speech, Trump believes that a government shutdown is preferable to giving up on funding for the southern border wall. This involves a different type of delusion. Poll after poll demonstrates that about 35 percent of Americans support Trump’s wall. You can’t hold national parks and veterans’ payments hostage over an issue like this and expect to win.
.. “It also takes careful management of the levers available to the administration in a shutdown to keep it from becoming a nightmare immediately, and OMB [Office of Management and Budget] is not doing the work to prepare. Incompetence is the death of these guys over and over.”
.. The unified control of House, Senate and presidency means little when the president lives in a reality of his own.