The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The Public Likes Tax Cuts, Worries About Mental Health, and Is Divided on Gun Control

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer looks on during a news conference about the Republican-sponsored Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 20, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Let’s start off the week with some surprising poll numbers. For starters, despite a near-unanimous tone of media coverage praising the old Assault Weapons Ban and pointing to it as the solution to mass shootings, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds Americans are about evenly split on the idea.

But Americans are roughly split on this proposal, with 50 percent in support and 46 percent opposed, a stark contrast from the 80 percent support for the ban in 1994, the year it was enacted. The current level of support is little different from 51 percent in 2016.

Also . . .

A slight 51 percent majority of parents with children under 18 who live at home say the Florida shooting could have been prevented if teachers were able to carry firearms, compared with 38 percent of Americans without young children. There is a smaller parental divide in support for banning assault weapons, a policy backed by 46 percent of parents and 51 percent of non-parents.

What’s more, Americans are fairly unified in seeing mass shootings as a mental-health problem, much less so than seeing it as a problem with gun laws or the Second Amendment.

Americans are more unified in saying improved mental health screening and treatment could have prevented Florida’s attack, with more than three-quarters of Democrats, Republicans and independents in agreement on this question.

Asked about mass shootings more broadly, the public says by a roughly 2 to 1 margin that they reflect problems identifying and treating people with mental health problems rather than inadequate gun control laws. Fully 8 in 10 Republicans say mass shootings are mainly reflective of problems dealing with mental health issues, as do more than 6 in 10 independents. A slight majority of Democrats, 52 percent, say they mainly reflect inadequate gun laws.

Meanwhile, the New York Times and Survey Monkey ask Americans how they feel about the recently passed tax cuts, and surprise! They like them more with each passing month.

The tax overhaul that President Trump signed into law now has more supporters than opponents, buoying Republican hopes for this year’s congressional elections.

The growing public support for the law coincides with an eroding Democratic lead when voters are asked which party they would like to see control Congress. And it follows an aggressive effort by Republicans, backed by millions of dollars of advertising from conservative groups, to persuade voters of the law’s benefits.

That campaign has rallied support from Republicans, in particular. But in contrast with many other issues — including Mr. Trump’s job approval rating — it also appears to be winning over some Democrats. Support for the law remains low among Democrats, but it has doubled over the past two months and is twice as strong as their approval of Mr. Trump today.

Over all, 51 percent of Americans approve of the tax law, while 46 percent disapprove, according to a poll for The New York Times conducted between Feb. 5 and Feb. 11 by SurveyMonkey. Approval has risen from 46 percent in January and 37 percent in December, when the law was passed.

The tax cuts, Net Neutrality, gun control legislation . . . it’s as if Democratic leaders in Washington interpreted Remy’s “PEOPLE WILL DIE!” music video as a how-to manual instead of a parody.

America the Tribal

David Brooks writes about a group that facilitates small, respectful discussions between citizens in “Red America” and “Blue America” and concludes:

We don’t really have policy debates anymore. We have one big tribal conflict, and policy fights are just proxy battles as each side tries to establish moral superiority. But just as the tribal mentality has been turned on, it can be turned off. Then and only then can we go back to normal politics and take reasonable measures to keep our children safe.

To have a policy debate, you have to know about policy. That takes time and usually some reading. You need to know what the law is, how it is applied and enforced, how it could be applied and enforced differently, and the trade-offs. That requires some thinking. You usually have to be a particular kind of person — a wonk — to find it enjoyable.

After a shooting, it’s not hard to find people screaming, “this is why we need to ban automatic weapons and machine guns!” oblivious to the fact that they are already illegal. Those who intensely study gun laws, statistics, and history tend to revise their perspective that more gun laws will stop mass shootings, and start preferring mental-health programs, prioritized restraining orders, and mentoring programs for troubled young men.

Sorting out different policy options, and accounting for all of the strengths and weaknesses — it’s hard to do that on even a cursory level in anything shorter in length than a newspaper column. A magazine piece probably does that better. But policy analysis doesn’t always make for good television or radio. It’s rarely entertaining. It does not build an audience.

But tribal arguments do.

“Stand up to those gun nuts” is a tribal argument. It essentially contends, “We are the good people, and they are the bad people; everyone who does not associate with our side is a terrible person who deserves scorn.”

Elsewhere in the New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin writes that “Visa could easily change its terms of service to say that it won’t do business with retailers that sell assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks, which make semiautomatic rifles fire faster.” In other words, having failed to persuade lawmakers to make these changes he prefers, Sorkin wants the executives at economically powerful institutions to create a de facto ban on legal products and blacklist companies for holding a different view. What could go wrong, right?

Sorkin casually acknowledges, deep in the column, “the banks’ actions would affect millions of their own law-abiding customers, effectively dictating what they can and cannot buy.” This is a future he is comfortable with, a world where CEOs at companies decide what you’re allowed to purchase; Sorkin is fine with that as long as the companies are banning things he doesn’t like.

And You Thought We Had It Bad with Russian Meddling in Our Politics . . .

Oh, hey, the leader of the Labour Party over in the United Kingdom . . . might have been a spy for the USSR-aligned Czechoslovakian secret police back during the Cold War.

Jan Sarkocy, a former Czech spy who worked for the Statni Bezpecnost (StB) secret police during the Cold War, says he met Jeremy Corbyn a number of times in 1986 and 1987 – including twice in the House of Commons and once in the Islington North MP’s constituency office.

Mr Sarkocy, who operated under the name Jan Dymic, claims there were more than 10 meetings between the two.

He says the Labour MP was a paid informant, known by the codename Agent Cob, who passed on information as part of a process of “conscious cooperation.”

The former agent dismissed Mr Corbyn’s claims that he believed he was meeting a Czech diplomat, not a spy, saying: “Everybody knew that ‘diplomat’ was just a cover for spy. It was a conscious cooperation. Diplomat and agent were the same thing.”

Of Mr Corbyn, he said: “He was our asset. He had been recruited. He was getting money from us.”

Mr Sarkocy was expelled from the UK by Margaret Thatcher three years after the meetings, having being exposed as a spy.

He says the now Labour leader had warned him to be careful by giving him a newspaper cutting about MI5 clamping down on foreign spies . . .

Records appear to confirm three meetings between Mr Corbyn and Mr Sarkocy in 1986 and 1987: two in Parliament and one in Mr Corbyn’s constituency office.

Czech authorities have also confirmed the meetings, but say Mr Corbyn was not an informant. There are signs that Czechoslovakian intelligence officials made attempts to hide Mr Sarkocy’s true identity from the Labour MP, they said.

Of course, perhaps Corbyn’s best defense against accusations of being a Soviet agent is that most Soviet agents wouldn’t be so obvious. In 1991, he gave a speech lamenting the breakup of the Soviet Union:

I have never accepted the idea that Soviet Union was about to march across Western Europe, get the ferry from Dover and come up the Holloway Road and then nuke the job centre . . .

There have been people in this room condemning what has been happening in Cuba in the past thirty years. Have some caution . . .

I am concerned at the break-up of the Soviet Union and the leadership it gave and the break-up of the Socialist International, which was always very weak. It means that there is no international forum for putting forward socialist ideas and seeking to organise those.

I love the new hardline stance of America’s Democrats on Vladimir Putin and Russia, but I doubt it will last long once Trump departs the scene. Democrats never complained that loudly over Russia’s invasion of Georgia, occupation of Crimea, shooting down the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, or many other hostile gestures, stances, and actions from Moscow.

If Democrats were really worried about Russia attempting to exert influence over Western democracies, instead of merely liking him as a scapegoat about Hillary Clinton’s loss, they might be grumbling about Corbyn right about now.

ADDENDA: Our publisher, E. Garrett Bewkes IV, offers a few words about the how and the why of’s recent redesign and overhaul.

I’m scheduled to appear on HLN at 12:30 this afternoon.

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