Thursday, July 16, 2020


Hi, I'm back. Thank you, Yas!

While I was away, I read this Greg Sargent post and had some thoughts:
The Trump presidency is often described as whipsawed by competing impulses. In this telling, Trump’s reactionary, illiberal, anti-democratic tendencies periodically flare up and do targeted damage, but they often run aground against competing forces — his incompetence and the distraction of narcissism.

The shorthand version of this: Imagine the damage a competent and effective Trump could do!

But a new paper that develops a theory of leadership amid pandemics ... point[s] toward a more coherent narrative of Trumpian failure....

The paper offers a theory of “executive underreach,” and applies it to leaders like Trump and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil....

Defining executive underreach isn’t easy.... So the paper suggests this:
Underreach occurs when domestic and international legal sources are widely seen to authorize, if not also encourage or oblige, an executive to tackle a particular sort of problem with particular sorts of tools and yet the executive declines to do so.
Bothe Trump and Bolsonaro seem to have concluded that addressing the spread of the cornavirus isn't their job. The authors of the paper -- David Pozen and Kim Lane Scheppele, both law professors -- argue that the inaction of both Trump and Bolsonaro on the coronavirus is populist authoritarianism.
Both President Trump and President Bolsonaro have defended their underreach by appealing to populist themes and attacking the legitimacy of domestic and international public-health institutions. Both have tried to compensate for or distract from their failures by manipulating the truth, denouncing the media, and threatening to overreach on other margins, as by compelling states to reopen.
This is plausible -- though I'd argue that in America, at least, "executive underreach" is simply standard-issue conservatism.

We know the Trump administration's approach to the pandemic:
White House officials ... hope Americans will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day, according to three people familiar with the White House’s thinking.... Americans will “live with the virus being a threat,” in the words of one of those people, a senior administration official.
Is there any difference between this and how Republicans respond to school shootings? The GOP message after every mass shooting is that guns are a fact of life and nothing can or should be done to slow the spread of the carnage they inflict. Regular school massacres are simply the cost of freedom.

The larger message of conservatism is that the government should be, as the libertarians put it, "the night watchman state" -- it should do nothing but protect the country militarily, deter ordinary crime via the police and the courts, and enforce contracts so business can flourish. Public education? Public parks? The management of public health? All regrettable societal developments.

Republicans want the functions of government that aren't "night watchman" functions to be perceived as failures, so the Democratic Party, which is associated with government social programs, will lose more elections. With that in mind, Republicans undermine non-night-watchman functions whenever they can. They don't want to repeat the mistake they made with Social Security and Medicare: they allowing these programs to demonstrate their effectiveness, and now they're popular. Obamacare slipped past them, and it's becoming popular too, so they want the courts to kill it to prevent the public from getting any more dangerous ideas about the usefulness of government.

Trump's underreach in response to the pandemic is extreme. But rejecting activist governmrnt is boilerplate Republicanism.

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