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“Currying Favor To Conservatives”: Be Afraid Of How Much Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Could Change America

It’s now been well over a month since the expiration of Donald Trump’s self-imposed deadline for coming up with a list of candidates from which he would choose Supreme Court nominees, including the one he would name right away to fill the seat of the late Antonin Scalia. When asked about the list, Trump said he thought it would be ready to be released before the convention.

This is not a promise conservatives are going to let him ignore perpetually, and conversely, there’s no particular evidence he cares enough about constitutional law to make this a serious bone of contention.

But, in fact, conservative fears about Trump’s lack of fidelity to their supreme value of limited government could lead to demands for truly radical Court nominees who embrace the idea that right-wing judicial activism is needed to restrain the executive and legislative branches alike.

We are already hearing arguments from conservative legal circles that an atmosphere of lawlessness associated with the Court’s failure to kill Obamacare has contributed to the frustration and extremism reflected in Trump’s successful drive for the GOP presidential nomination. And some of the same critics point accusingly at Trump’s long-standing support for widespread use of the power of eminent domain as showing his contempt for property rights and willingness to use government aggressively.

So it’s not enough to say that conservative legal activists don’t trust Donald Trump any more than other conservatives do: They actually believe he’s a prime example of a politician that judges need to restrain without the deference to the political branches of government that conservatives used to believe in (and that Chief Justice John Roberts exhibited in allowing Obamacare to survive).

And thus: Regular old-school “judicial deference” conservatives like Roberts will not be acceptable to a lot of conservative opinion leaders, particularly coming from Trump. You can expect more and more demands for Justices who share the “constitutional conservative” belief  in absolute property rights that permanently debar Congress and the president alike from enacting or administering social-welfare programs or business regulation. This was the philosophy supported by the Court during the early-20th-century period when a chain of decisions begun by Lochner v. United States stymied progressive legislation until FDR’s threat of court-packing and then turnover in justices forced its abandonment.

There’s now a powerful movement in conservative legal circles to bring back Lochner, and there’s probably no quicker route to its restoration than a Trump administration trying to buy favor with those on the right who fear the Donald’s tyrannical tendencies.

If and when Trump releases his SCOTUS prospect list — which he’s promised he will prepare in consultation with the Heritage Foundation — there are a couple of names to look for in particular. One is Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willet, an outspoken neo-Lochner advocate. Another is Utah Senator Mike Lee, who makes no bones about his belief that the New Deal was and is unconstitutional. And still another might be Lee’s best friend in the Senate, Ted Cruz, if he patches things up with Trump and decides the bench rather than the White House is his destiny.

For progressives, the thing to comprehend is that there are worse things that could come from Trump Supreme Court nominations than the expected fifth vote to restrict or overturn Roe v. Wade or to cripple public-sector unions, terrible as either of those things would be. Precisely because Trump is a loose cannon, he may be convinced to promise his new conservative friends what they really want on the Court: Justices who want to turn the clock back not just to 1972, when abortion was illegal in most states, but to the early 1930s when what we think of as the social safety net was considered a radical and unconstitutional idea.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 8, 2016

May 9, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not So Fast”: No, Ted Cruz Is Not an ‘Economic Populist’

There are few words in the political lexicon more frequently misused and abused than populist, particularly in times of strong public hostility toward elites, like the present. Still, Time magazine has truly jumped the shark in publishing an interview with Ted Cruz in which he is encouraged without contradiction to call himself an “economic populist.” If Cruz is an “economic populist,” then the term has truly lost all meaning beyond the pixie dust of rhetorical enchantment.

We are supposed to believe Cruz is a populist because he opposes a few relatively small but symbolically rich corporate-subsidy programs like the Export-Import Bank and regulatory thumbs-on-the-scale for the use of ethanol — both objects of ridicule among libertarians for decades. In the Time interview, he leaps effortlessly from the argument that sometimes government helps corporations to the idea that government should not help anybody.

[B]oth parties, career politicians in both parties get in bed with the lobbyist and special interest. And the fix is in. Where Washington’s policies benefit big business, benefit the rich and the powerful at the expense of the working men and women.

Now the point that I often make, and just a couple of days ago in Wisconsin I was visiting with a young woman who said she was a Bernie Sanders supporter. And I mentioned to her that I agreed with Bernie on the problem.

But I said if you think the problem is Washington is corrupt, why would you want Washington to have more power? I think the answer to that problem is for Washington to have less power, for government to have less power over our lives.

Is there any K Street or Wall Street lobbyist who would not instantly trade whatever preferments they’ve been able to wring from Washington in exchange for a radically smaller government that lets corporations do whatever they want? I don’t think so.

Yet it’s hard to find a politician more inclined to get government off the backs of the very rich and the very powerful. My colleague Jonathan Chait summed it up nicely this very day in discussing Cruz’s Goldwater-ish extremism:

In addition to the de rigueur ginormous tax cut for rich people, Cruz proposes a massive shift of the tax burden away from income taxes to sales taxes. So, not only would Cruz’s plan give nearly half of its benefit to the highest-earning one percent of taxpayers (who would save, on average, nearly half a million dollars a year in taxes per household), but it would actually raise taxes on the lowest-earning fifth …

He advocates for … deregulation of Wall Street, and would eliminate the Clean Power Plan and take away health insurance from some 20 million people who’ve gained it through Obamacare. He has defined himself as more militant and uncompromising than any other Republican in Congress, and many of his fellow Republican officeholders have depicted him as a madman.

Cruz would have you believe his unsavory reputation among Beltway Republicans flows from his identification with the working class as opposed to the special interests. As a matter of fact, he’s considered a madman (or a charlatan) for insisting Republicans ought to shut down the federal government rather than compromise or abandon their anti-working-class policies (and their reactionary social policies as well).

Aside from the policies Chait mentions, Cruz also favors (in contrast to Donald Trump) that populist perennial, “entitlement reform,” including the kind of Social Security benefit cuts and retirement-age delays promoted by George W. Bush back in 2005.

And for dessert, in a position that would certainly make William Jennings Bryan roll in his grave, Cruz is on record favoring tight money policies to combat the phantom menace of inflation, along with a commission to consider a return to the gold standard.

One might argue the description of Cruz as an “economic populist” is a small journalistic excess justified by the heat of the GOP nominating contest. But in a general-election matchup between Cruz and Hillary Clinton, we could find ourselves hearing misleading contrasts of Cruz as a “populist” to Hillary Clinton, the “Establishment” pol. Let’s head that one off at a distance, people. Whatever you think of her set side by side with Bernie Sanders, compared to Cruz she’s a wild leveler and class-warfare zealot, favoring minimum-wage increases, more progressive taxes, large new mandates on businesses, continuation and expansion of Obamacare, action on global climate change, a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and (of course) opposition to the many reactionary policies Ted Cruz holds dear.

Get a grip, gabbers and scribblers: Call Ted Cruz a “constitutional conservative,” as he would have it, or the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater, as many of us regard him. But he’s no economic populist.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 7, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Economic Populists, Monetary Policy, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“As Confused As Goats On Astroturf”: The Clueless GOP Establishment Is Fueling Hurricane Donnie Trump

Elites tend to be… well, elite. As in, “clueless” about what your everyday working stiff is thinking.

This is not a problem for most hoity-toities, for they don’t deal with the great unwashed. But cluelessness about the masses can become a major occupational hazard for political elites — including campaign operatives, candidates, pundits, and the big-money donor class. And while this is a problem for the establishments of both major political parties, today’s Republican establishment now finds that it is so out of touch with regular voters that it now faces a howling, Category-5 hurricane that’s threatening to implode the Grand Old Party.

None of the elites saw Hurricane Donnie coming, and with the blow-hard now raging at full force, the GOP’s upper-crusters still don’t seem to know what hit them, much less what to do about it. They are so out of it that they even tried to blunt his surge by having Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush rush out and say bad things about The Donald, imploring voters to turn their backs on him. To see these two buttoned-down pillars of the moneyed establishment huffing and puffing at the storm was hilarious – and as hopeless as them trying to blow away a real hurricane.

What the aloof, affluent leaders of the Republican Party don’t get is that the source of the storm presently wrecking them is not Trump, but infuriated, rank-and-file, working-class voters who feel betrayed by them. None other than Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, the Koch brothers, the corporate CEOs and lobbyists, Mitt & Jeb, and the other well-off swells who run the GOP are the ones who’ve stripped the party of any blue-collar appeal. They’ve single-mindedly pushed a plutocratic agenda of trade scams, tax cuts for the rich, and subsidies for runaway corporations, while constantly slashing at Social Security, Medicare, and other programs that their own non-affluent voters need.

The Party powers now wail that Trump is stealing their voters. But he’s not — he’s just picking up the people the GOP elites threw away.

All that said, the Republican Party’s establishment has come up with a secret plan to peel off its long-faithful, blue-collar supporters from the Donnie Trump spectacle. Their plan is code-named: “Operation Paul Ryan.”

Good grief — the GOP’s old line clique of congressional bulls, corporate funders, lobbyists and right-wing think tanks is as confused as goats on Astroturf when it comes to grasping a core part of Trump’s appeal. He’s reaching out to longtime Republican voters who’ve finally realized that it’s the party’s own Wall Street elites who knocked them down economically and the party’s insider cadre of K-Street influence peddlers who’ve shut them out politically.

The party powers are trying to comfort themselves by insisting that The Donald is winning only because he’s drawing voters who’re ignorant, racist, xenophobic and misogynistic. In fact, he’s drawing huge numbers of disaffected Republicans who’re mainly antiestablishment and deeply-anti the party’s own power players. These hard-hit, angry voters are not Koch-headed, laissez-faire ideologues — they like Trump’s opposition to job-busting trade scams, his mocking of big-money campaign donations, his call to hike taxes on Wall Street’s pampered hedge-funders, his support for Social Security, etc.

For these voters, “Operation Paul Ryan” is a dud, a farce … and an insult. Rep. Ryan has long been the kept-darling of the Wall Street/K Street crowd and the Koch brothers. The obtuse establishment snootily calls him “serious” presidential material — only because he champions such plutocratic policies as privatizing Social Security, cutting taxes on the superrich, deregulating Wall Street, and turning Medicare into a voucher system. The only thing serious about Ryan’s agenda is that it’s a dead-serious loser with the great majority of Americans.

Trying to knock-off Trump for Ryan is a sign of the GOP’s irreversible decline into cluelessness and political irrelevance.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, April 6, 2016

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trade, Labor, And Politics”: Whatever They May Say, Politicians Who Espouse Rigid Free-Market Ideology Are Not On Your Side

There are a lot of things about the 2016 election that nobody saw coming, and one of them is that international trade policy is likely to be a major issue in the presidential campaign. What’s more, the positions of the parties will be the reverse of what you might have expected: Republicans, who claim to stand for free markets, are likely to nominate a crude protectionist, leaving Democrats, with their skepticism about untrammeled markets, as the de facto defenders of relatively open trade.

But this isn’t as peculiar a development as it seems. Rhetorical claims aside, Republicans have long tended in practice to be more protectionist than Democrats. And there’s a reason for that difference. It’s true that globalization puts downward pressure on the wages of many workers — but progressives can offer a variety of responses to that pressure, whereas on the right, protectionism is all they’ve got.

When I say that Republicans have been more protectionist than Democrats, I’m not talking about the distant past, about the high-tariff policies of the Gilded Age; I’m talking about modern Republican presidents, like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Reagan, after all, imposed an import quota on automobiles that ended up costing consumers billions of dollars. And Mr. Bush imposed tariffs on steel that were in clear violation of international agreements, only to back down after the European Union threatened to impose retaliatory sanctions.

Actually, the latter episode should be an object lesson for anyone talking tough about trade. The Bush administration suffered from a bad case of superpower delusion, a belief that America could dictate events throughout the world. The falseness of that belief was most spectacularly demonstrated by the debacle in Iraq. But the reckoning came even sooner on trade, an area where other players, Europe in particular, have just as much power as we do.

Nor is the threat of retaliation the only factor that should deter any hard protectionist turn. There’s also the collateral damage such a turn would inflict on poor countries. It’s probably bad politics to talk right now about what a trade war would do to, say, Bangladesh. But any responsible future president would have to think hard about such matters.

Then again, we might be talking about President Trump.

But back to the broader issue of how to help workers pressured by the global economy.

Serious economic analysis has never supported the Panglossian view of trade as win-win for everyone that is popular in elite circles: growing trade can indeed hurt many people, and for the past few decades globalization has probably been, on net, a depressing force for the majority of U.S. workers.

But protectionism isn’t the only way to fight that downward pressure. In fact, many of the bad things we associate with globalization in America were political choices, not necessary consequences — and they didn’t happen in other advanced countries, even though those countries faced the same global forces we did.

Consider, for example, the case of Denmark, which Bernie Sanders famously held up as a role model. As a member of the European Union, Denmark is subject to the same global trade agreements as we are — and while it doesn’t have a free-trade agreement with Mexico, there are plenty of low-wage workers in eastern and southern Europe. Yet Denmark has much lower inequality than we do. Why?

Part of the answer is that workers in Denmark, two-thirds of whom are unionized, still have a lot of bargaining power. If U.S. corporations were able to use the threat of imports to smash unions, it was only because our political environment supported union-busting. Even Canada, right next door, has seen nothing like the union collapse that took place here.

And the rest of the answer is that Denmark (and, to a lesser extent, Canada) has a much stronger social safety net than we do. In America, we’re constantly told that global competition means that we can’t even afford even the safety net we have; strange to say, other rich countries don’t seem to have that problem.

What all this means, as I said, is that the Democratic nominee won’t have to engage in saber-rattling over trade. She (yes, it’s still overwhelmingly likely to be Hillary Clinton) will, rightly, express skepticism about future trade deals, but she will be able to address the problems of working families without engaging in irresponsible trash talk about the world trade system. The Republican nominee won’t.

And there’s a lesson here that goes beyond this election. If you’re generally a supporter of open world markets — which you should be, mainly because market access is so important to poor countries — you need to know that whatever they may say, politicians who espouse rigid free-market ideology are not on your side.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist,  The New York Times, March 28, 2016

March 28, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, International Trade Agreements, Protectionism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Republican Elite’s Reign Of Disdain”: The White Working Class Failed Itself

“Sire, the peasants are revolting!”

“Yes, they are, aren’t they?”

It’s an old joke, but it seems highly relevant to the current situation within the Republican Party. As an angry base rejects establishment candidates in favor of you-know-who, a significant part of the party’s elite blames not itself, but the moral and character failings of the voters.

There has been a lot of buzz over the past few days about an article by Kevin Williamson in National Review, vigorously defended by other members of the magazine’s staff, denying that the white working class — “the heart of Trump’s support” — is in any sense a victim of external forces. A lot has gone wrong in these Americans’ lives — “the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy” — but “nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.”

O.K., we’re just talking about a couple of writers at a conservative magazine. But it’s obvious, if you look around, that this attitude is widely shared on the right. When Mitt Romney spoke about the 47 percent of voters who would never support him because they “believe that the government has a responsibility to take care of them,” he was channeling an influential strain of conservative thought. So was Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, when he warned of a social safety net that becomes “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”

Or consider the attitude toward American workers inadvertently displayed by Eric Cantor, then the House majority leader, when he chose to mark Labor Day with a Twitter post celebrating … business owners.

So what’s going on here?

To be sure, social collapse in the white working class is a deadly serious issue. Literally. Last fall, the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton attracted widespread attention with a paper showing that mortality among middle-aged white Americans, which had been declining for generations, started rising again circa 2000. This rising death rate mainly reflected suicide, alcohol and overdoses of drugs, notably prescription opioids. (Marx declared that religion was the opium of the people. But in 21st-century America, it appears that opioids are the opium of the people.)

And other signs of social unraveling, from deteriorating health to growing isolation, are also on the rise among American whites. Something is going seriously wrong in the heartland.

Furthermore, the writers at National Review are right to link these social ills to the Trump phenomenon. Call it death and The Donald: Analysis of primary election results so far shows that counties with high white mortality rates are also likely to vote Trump.

The question, however, is why this is happening. And the diagnosis preferred by the Republican elite is just wrong — wrong in a way that helps us understand how that elite lost control of the nominating process.

Stripped down to its essence, the G.O.P. elite view is that working-class America faces a crisis, not of opportunity, but of values. That is, for some mysterious reason many of our citizens have, as Mr. Ryan puts it, lost “their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” And this crisis of values, they suggest, has been aided and abetted by social programs that make life too easy on slackers.

The problems with this diagnosis should be obvious. Tens of millions of people don’t suffer a collapse in values for no reason. Remember, several decades ago the sociologist William Julius Wilson argued that the social ills of America’s black community didn’t come out of thin air, but were the result of disappearing economic opportunity. If he was right, you would have expected declining opportunity to have the same effect on whites, and sure enough, that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

Meanwhile, the argument that the social safety net causes social decay by coddling slackers runs up against the hard truth that every other advanced country has a more generous social safety net than we do, yet the rise in mortality among middle-aged whites in America is unique: Everywhere else, it is continuing its historic decline.

But the Republican elite can’t handle the truth. It’s too committed to an Ayn Rand story line about heroic job creators versus moochers to admit either that trickle-down economics can fail to deliver good jobs, or that sometimes government aid is a crucial lifeline. So it ends up lashing out at its own voters when they refuse to buy into that story line.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that Donald Trump has any better idea about what the country needs; he’s just peddling another fantasy, this one involving the supposed power of belligerence. But at least he’s acknowledging the real problems ordinary Americans face, not lecturing them on their moral failings. And that’s an important reason he’s winning.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times, March 18, 2016

March 20, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, White Working Class | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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