The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Ending the Week with Hard Truths

Protesters hold signs during a “March For Our Lives” demonstration demanding gun control in New York City, March 24, 2018. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A line from an essay by Sally Quinn in Politico, on President Trump, the media, and the prevalence of lying in American politics:

Bob Woodward told me he wonders whether we still have the same commitment to accountability in our political culture: “Lying is bad public policy and bad for human relations but it doesn’t always have the consequences it should. That’s the problem … the penalties for lying are insufficient in many cases.”

That’s one way of putting it. Or, to flip it, the reward for telling the truth is insufficient in many cases.

Will the voters reward you if you say that our annual deficits and the debt are too high, and that addressing the problem will require cutting spending, raising taxes, or both? No. If you tell them that changing demographics make the entitlement programs unsustainable, and that the only way to avoid a collapse is to reduce benefits, raise taxes, or shift workers to a riskier form of personal investing for retirement, how do they respond?

Do they sit down, look at the numbers, do the math for themselves, and carefully contemplate which path is least painful for themselves and the country as a whole? Or do they vote for the guy who promises to “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts” and who contends he can solve the entire problem just by eliminating “waste and abuse”?

Will the voters reward you if you say that health care is complicated and expensive, and that any health-care system can only offer two of the three desired qualities — good, fast, or cheap?

Localities (e.g., Seattle’s city council) keep learning the hard way that massive tax increases chase away businesses. Do voters like hearing this?

Do people like hearing that while the quality of schools are important, the single most important factor in a child’s success is parental involvement and engagement?

Do they like hearing that no government-jobs program can help them if they don’t have a work ethic and the drive, ambition, and dedication to succeed?

How many people will cheer if you say that police work is challenging and difficult, that police officers are human beings and that they make mistakes, that while we can attempt to hold bad cops accountable we’ll never have a perfect system, and that if officers get less aggressive in how they police a minority community, the rate of violent crime will probably increase?

If you tell Democratic primary voters that no gun-control proposal is going to end violent crime, how do they take this? If you tell Republican primary voters that it probably makes long-term financial sense to spend some money on anti-recidivism programs, to steer criminals away from repeat offenses, what percentage is receptive?

Do fans of a border wall know that two-thirds of illegal immigrants now enter legally and overstay their visas? Do they realize that their preferred solution won’t address this aspect of the problem?

How many voters will cheer if you say that our options in foreign policy basically amount to Iraq versus Syria — the consequences of intervention in dangerous situations versus the consequences of nonintervention in dangerous situations? “It’s not our problem, let them fight it out” sounds appealing until the caravans and boatloads of refugees show up at your borders. How many voters want to hear that a problem that seems far away and irrelevant to our lives — like some bearded yahoo in a cave declaring war against the United States — can one day end up transforming our lives forever?

Governing, like life, is full of choices and trade-offs. Sometimes you need to sacrifice a little freedom for security, and sometimes you have to accept a little risk in order to enjoy freedom. The problems are complicated, and the solutions are rarely simple or easy.

But the voters give the same preferred answer to this conundrum pretty frequently: Give us the guy who promises everything can be solved quickly and easily.

President Trump’s Instinctive, Unplanned Attack on U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May

I think the best part is this diplomatic incident is that President Trump probably doesn’t think that he’s meddling in British politics; he’s just saying what he thinks —  which, of course,  amounts to a knife in the back of the prime minister who is hosting him:

Theresa May’s new soft Brexit blueprint would “kill” any future trade deal with the United States, Donald Trump warns today.

Mounting an extraordinary attack on the PM’s exit negotiation, the President also reveals she has ignored his advice on how to toughen up the troubled talks.

Instead he believes Mrs May has gone “the opposite way”, and he thinks the results have been “very unfortunate”.

His fiercest criticism came over the centrepiece of the PM’s new Brexit plan — which was unveiled in full yesterday.

It will pour nitroglycerine on the already raging Tory Brexiteer revolt against the PM.

And in more remarks that will set off alarm bells in No. 10, Mr Trump also said Mrs May’s nemesis Boris Johnson — who resigned over the soft Brexit blueprint on –Monday — would “make a great Prime Minister”.

If all of this ends with Trump’s preferred figure, Boris Johnson, becoming prime minister, then the provocative interview with The Sun may be remembered as shrewd maneuvering: the seven-level chess that the president’s fans insist he’s always playing. But if the topping of Theresa May ends with Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn — a man who characterized supporting ISIS as a “political point of view” that did not warrant prosecution — as prime minster, then it is Trump living down to all of his critics’ accusations: blundering, loud, unthinking, oblivious, and counterproductive.

Of course, this morning, in a joint press conference with May, Trump declared, “Whatever you’re going to do is okay with us. Just make sure we can trade together.” He also called the claim that he criticized May to be … “fake news.”

“I didn’t criticize the prime minister,” Trump said. Er … okay, pal.

Ho-Hum, Lefty Londoners Are Protesting an American President Again

Back in 1982, “115,000 anti-nuclear protestors gathered in Hyde Park” to protest President Ronald Reagan’s visit.

Then in 2003, “tens of thousands of demonstrators in Trafalgar Square cheered and whistled Thursday as a papier-mâché effigy of President Bush, painted gold to resemble the toppled statue of Saddam Hussein, was yanked to the ground at a peaceful rally.”

I’m sure that those protesters in London that day believed that Bush was the worst American president ever, the personification of all that was dangerous and malevolent in the world, a force for chaos and instability and xenophobia and hatred, and so on.

Except … he wasn’t.

Sure, you can argue with any one of Bush’s decisions or all of them — it’s rather shocking to hear John McCain call the Iraq War “a very serious mistake” — but the protesters in London today, launching their “Baby Trump” balloon in the air, probably ought to hoist a “Sorry We Were So Harsh, President Bush” banner or two. George W. Bush supported NATO, the World Trade Organization, free trade, human rights, insisted Islam was not the enemy, visited a mosque a week after 9/11, was much more welcoming of immigrants both legal and illegal, and his Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief probably saved a couple million people in Africa. Those protesters in London ought to get down on their knees and thank Gaia that George W. Bush was president from 2001 to 2009; by their own measures, Bush made the world a better, safer, healthier place. Instead, they and much of the broader European political establishment held Bush and his administration in glowering contempt.

When the European Left insists that Ronald Reagan is the most dangerous man in the world, and then a decade and a half later insists George W. Bush is the most dangerous man in the world, and then a decade and a half later insists Donald Trump is the most dangerous man in the world … you feel pretty confident that in 2033 or so, they’ll be insisting that another Republican president is the most dangerous man in the world.

ADDENDA: Apparently about 1,000 or so of my Twitter followers were bots. Dang, these Cylons get better at blending in every year.

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