Thursday, September 17, 2020


The Atlantic's Derek Thompson has a theory about why the president isn't trying harder to pass another coronavirus relief package:
President Donald Trump faces an array of obstacles on his path to reelection. But he could do one thing, right away, that would, in all likelihood, immediately improve his odds with almost no downside risk: Call for Congress to open the cash spigot and buoy the lackluster economy on a wave of stimulus.

All he has to do is announce his intention to sign a second major economic relief bill—a CARES Act II, essentially—and count on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to muddle through. Such a law would almost certainly improve the financial state of countless families at a time of mass desperation, and just weeks before the election.

But, oddly, the White House has expressed practically no interest in supercharging the economic engine that could drive the president to victory....

What in the world is Trump thinking? ...

According to several conversations with Republicans, the answer is that the president is stuck in a Pollyannaish fantasy of his own making.

On the campaign trail and in his television ads, Trump proclaims that a great and historic economic recovery is afoot. The notion that the economy is sick enough to require a trillion-dollar booster shot is in direct tension with the claim that it’s thriving. So, the theory goes, Trump is unwilling to advocate for stimulus, because he doesn’t want to acknowledge that the economy is broken in the first place.
Is that it? I have my doubts. Remember, this is the guy who, early in the year, couldn't decide whether his reelection slogan should be "Make America Great Again" (again) or "Keep America Great." He didn't seem concerned that the former slogan would convey the sense that he hadn't made America great -- he just wanted to use whichever slogan sounded better.

Right now, he's arguing that "The Great American Comeback" (a) will happen next year and (b) is already happening.

So why wouldn't he seek a stimulus now while simultaneously arguing that the economy is already in awesome shape?

The answer is that he's too lazy and incompetent to get involved seriously in working out a stimulus deal. He's the boss. That's work for underlings.

Being the boss also means he never actually has to understand the details of anything being done in his name. Details are complicated! And tedious! For Trump, getting personally involved in negotiating a stimulus package would be like walking to the green when there's a golf cart handy, even if the walk is fifty feet. In both cases, he's entitled to be conveyed where he wants to go, with no effort on his part.

But what about other Republicans? Thompson has a theory about them as well:
... the GOP, as a group, has also convinced itself that more stimulus is unnecessary. Republicans are more dubious about Keynesianism than Democrats.... They don’t believe that states and local governments need a huge bailout. They’re reluctant to top off unemployment-insurance checks with hundreds of dollars in pandemic bonuses.
Makes sense so far. But Thompson continues:
The generous interpretation is that Republicans believe the economy will rebound without federal assistance; the critical one is that, just as Trump is delusional about economic realities, the GOP is delusional about economic policy. The Great Recession demonstrated clearly that without emergency support after sharp recessions, state and local governments lay off workers, whose unemployment delays the overall recovery. But the GOP, refusing to learn from the experience of past economic conflagrations, is clasping anachronistic ideas about economics with both hands.
Actually, the critical interpretation is that Republicans don't care what happens to the economy most of us experience. They already have the result they (and their donors) want: a booming stock market. Mission accomplished. In fact, a K-shaped recovery, in which the rich get richer, everyone else suffers, inequality widens, and state and local governments have to lay off thousands of workers, is, in their estimation, the economy functioning as it should.

They'll win plenty of elections this year the way they always do, by pumping up the culture-war rhetoric (and, these days, by letting QAnon tell their voters that all Democrats are cannibal pedophiles). And if they don't win enough elections this year and there's a Democratic wave, they'll just make America as ungovernable as possible for President Biden and plan for a comeback starting in 2022. Keeping ordinary people poor and desperate is a means to that end, because those people will presumably blame their suffering on the newly elected Democrats by 2022.

So for Republicans, what's the point? They don't think we're in a crisis. And the president is still waiting for the little people to take care of everything for him.

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