The Morning Jolt

Economy & Business

Spring Is Coming, but Fiscal Conservatism Remains in Hibernation

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney holds a press briefing at the White House. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

If you consider yourself a fiscal conservative, who wishes to see lower levels of federal spending and a more open, transparent, and accountable budgeting process, then this morning is not bright and cheery. This is not a particularly good omnibus spending bill, coming after a mixed-at-best deal on the “spending caps.”

It includes about half the money for the Gateway Tunnel that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer wanted, with a few strings attached. It includes the “Fix NICS” legislation. It includes $1.6 billion for border security, including $641 million for 90 miles of fences and levees along the southern border, which is close to but not quite the president’s “wall.” Another $360 million to the states for “election security.” A $50 million-a-year grant program for training to recognize signs of gun violence.

It adds up to $1.3 trillion, 2,232 pages, and most members of Congress were given less than 48 hours to review it.

But take a look around the Right-o-sphere, and see what’s been firing them up lately. The top story on Fox News this morning is President Trump and Joe Biden threatening to beat each other up. Hannity’s angry that the “media cheer on the deep state attacks on Trump.” Each day brings a new development in Robert Mueller’s probe, followed by a lot of fuming, focus, and finger-pointing.

The conservative movement is pretty heavily Trump-ified, meaning that whatever is on the president’s mind is also what is on the minds of most of the right-of-center media voices and media consumers. Trump didn’t run as a budget-cutter or advocate for entitlement reform. He might be mildly irked about signing a omnibus spending bill, but it’s just a matter of time before he sees something else that irks him more — some celebrity or cable-news talking head. The spirits that animated the Tea Party movement are sleeping, dormant, in a cave somewhere, with no particular sign of awakening anytime soon.

Why Is Sudden Violence So Inescapable for Seemingly-Ordinary Americans?

The family, friends, and acquaintances of the Austin bomber describe themselves as beyond stunned, claiming that the quiet young man that they knew seemed an extraordinarily unlikely figure to go on a terrifying killing spree. The police chief described a 25-minute message on his phone as “the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point” and said there was no sign of hatred or political or religious extremism.

It feels a bit like the Las Vegas shooter, where the life of the perpetrator does not offer any clear explanation as to why he chose mass murder to deal with his life’s problems. This morning, the New York Times offers a detailed look at the final days of the Las Vegas shooter, reviewing lots of surveillance footage . . . concluding it is “remarkable in its banality.” The Austin police chief’s reference to “challenges in [the bomber’s] personal life” is reminiscent of the Isla Vista shooter, who decided that his lack of success with young women meant that he was entitled to murder them in a crazed spree.

Over in The Week, Matthew Walther points to some eye-popping statistics about growing rates of teen suicides and points out that the traditional explanation, about the need for more counseling and mental-health services, doesn’t quite add up: “Mental health care has never been more widely available at any point in the history of civilization. The remaining obstacles to it cannot be solely or even largely responsible for the fact that young people are killing themselves in greater numbers than they were a decade and a half ago.”

He concludes:

There is a quiet despair in this country, one that has manifested itself in the lives of children and adults alike, in the increase in drug taking (death by heroin overdose among teenagers increased by 20 percent last year). Its causes are wide ranging, but surely it has something to do with the subsumption of countless facets of what used to be ordinary life into technology and the disappearance of meaningful work; it is somehow, one thinks, bound up in the social and economic anxieties of generations quietly realizing that they will be less comfortable than their parents and grandparents, with the pressures of conformity and the feeling that every mistake, from a bad score on a quiz to an ill-advised tweet or Facebook post, is inexorable.

I’d like to write that he’s wrong, but . . . I’m doubtful that he is.

The cover story of Psychology Today this month is about loneliness, and the article includes this important observation: “What’s missing for lonely people, after all, is not just social contact but meaningful contact — the bonds that come from being your authentic self with another person.” We can be around people — classmates, co-workers, neighbors, even family members — and never quite feel like we can really say what’s on our mind or “be ourselves.”

Civil society usually required us to try to represent our better selves in most public places; a more polite, respectful, courteous version of ourselves, hiding the constantly running monologue inside our heads. It feels like modern society is beset by two forces working against both sides of this impulse: We see behavior that is not polite and respectful all the time; it’s particularly intense with the anonymity of online encounters. Some people — celebrities, reality-television-show contestants, COUGHpresidentsCOUGH — seem to behave as pure ids, letting out every thought and expressing every emotion they have as they have it, and usually escaping any serious negative consequence.

But we also have the fear of being suddenly publicly shamed. We’ve seen the social-media mobs suddenly swarm, pounce, and demonize random individuals for expressing some thought, idea, or view that is controversial, politically incorrect, “wrong,” beyond-the-pale.

This is no way to run a free society, or more accurately, what we’re living in may no longer fit the definition of a free society. But we’re a long way from a solution.

Why You Need to Read Well Beyond the Headline and Opening Paragraph

The next-to-last sentence of a ten-paragraph article in The Hill about the Federal Elections Commission writing to Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, requesting information about contributions from three donors that appear to violate campaign-finance rules: “Such letters to political campaigns are not uncommon.” Or, if you believe in clarity of writing, “common.”

As OpenSecrets wrote, last cycle, campaigns returned more than $100 million in contributions for a wide variety reasons — including, as alleged in the FEC letter to Nunes, people giving amounts above the legal limit. The FEC’s letter inquires about two donors who reportedly separately donated $300 above the legal limit, and one corporation donated $10,000 without establishing a separate segregated fund for campaign donations.

ADDENDA: Rush mentioned my doubts about the effectiveness of Cambridge Analytica on his program yesterday.

You can hear my funny and wide-ranging conversation with Jonah on The Remnant here.

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