Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Why Is Trump Still Popular?

I was surprised when Donald Trump was elected President. I thought his personal weaknesses were so outrageous that it would never be close.

I hadn’t tried to understand his appeal, because he was such a colossal jerk. I forgot that the American public is often mesmerized by powerful jerks, people who are bad and show it off. Millions of TV viewers paid to see the mobsters on “The Sopranos”, continuing a public fascination with showy criminals, real and imagined, from Al Capone to Bonnie and Clyde to the Godfather.

I didn’t see the importance of the Trump persona. Trump was rich, white and free. He could do whatever he wanted without apology, and get richer doing it. People like the Clintons fawned all over him and acted as if his constantly shifting, remarkably ignorant political ideas were just fine with them.

His magnetism for people who venerate celebrity gave his ideas some credibility. That’s all he needed.

His message was simple: I can do the economy better than anyone else. He had been saying that for decades, but in the years after the worst depression since the Great Depression millions of Americans wanted to believe him.

The experts of capitalism, moving smoothly among Democrats and Republicans and politicians all over the world, had brought us to a terrible place. Just like they said it would, the world economy had been booming for decades. After each unpredicted temporary implosion, the engine started up again. Unprecedented wealth has been created and shared around among the already rich, the experts themselves, politicians of all stripes, and quite a few people of modest means who found ways to succeed by being lucky and working hard.

I was one of those modest people. My father the refugee and my mother the secretary and the whole country told me that I could succeed. I could go to college, get a good job, keep it, make a better living. It’s all come true for me, and for many others I know.

But most Americans were going nowhere. Hourly wages for the typical worker have stagnated for 40 years. Those without a college degree did even worse. The median household income of a high school graduate fell by 25% from 1973 to 2013, as over 7 million manufacturing jobs disappeared. Instead of making automobiles, workers were serving hamburgers.

The hope for success, the so-called American dream, decayed, as the number of permanently underemployed, paycheck-to-paycheck survivors has grown.

Why not believe the promises of a larger-than-life businessman, whose wealth is beyond spending, who not only says he feels your pain, but who has a simple answer. I can fix everything, because I am great at whatever I’ve done. I understand now how many Americans, especially in the American places that the experts have forgotten, would see hope in the big man’s message.

From thousands of conversations with voters since the election, analyzed in countless reports, it is clear that other parts of Trump’s message resonated widely, finding a bigger audience than I had believed or wished. Trump’s adoption of the birther myth told us everything about that side of his appeal. Seeking an ever bigger stage to present himself as master of the universe, the rich man found a nasty idea to make his own. The former Democrat could easily take the whole stupid story away from the few crazies who had been promoting it and put his face on it.

The birther fantasy was always going to fail. No matter how many stories Trump made up about investigators and discoveries, his quest was a failure. Except that so many Americans wanted to believe that Barack Obama really didn’t deserve to be President.

Facts didn’t matter. Race mattered. For Trump, success didn’t matter, just trying was enough.

So Donald Trump was elected by a combination of the economic hopes and the racial resentments of white America.

I get that now. What I don’t get is that after 9 months of accomplishing nothing but alienating people across the world, creating a cabinet where the most important question is “Will he resign?”, reneging on promises to offer better health care for most Americans, not getting Mexico to pay for a wall, sucking up to the Russian hackers into our elections, draining no swamp and improving nothing for anybody, and lying, lying, lying, those white Americans are sending money to the billionaire Trump’s campaign fund.

Almost everybody who believes that white people have no social or economic advantages over black people supports Trump. Nearly half of Trump supporters think that whites face the most discrimination in America today. 70% of Trump voters agree that “white people are currently under attack in this country”.

So it doesn’t matter if Trump tries to take away their health insurance or give giant tax breaks to the rich. It doesn’t matter that he can’t deliver on any of his campaign promises. It doesn’t matter that he displays dangerous ignorance about every issue he steps into.

Is anything better for anyone in America because of what he has done?

No. What matters is that he has made American racism respectable.

Steve Hochstadt
Springbrook WI
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 10, 2017

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Doing Things The Right Way

Doing things the right way is hard. It takes more time, energy, and resources than any of the other possibilities that we think of to ease the load. Daily compromises are unavoidable.

Doing things the wrong way in public means running the risk of being caught, the risk that your shortcuts, maybe justifiable, maybe not, are publicly discussed. Those moments are revealing about people who don’t try to get things right.

Tom Price was Cabinet Secretary of Health and Human Services, confirmed by the Senate, right at the center of American politics. He must have thought that appointment was a promotion from his House seat, Newt Gingrich’s seat in Georgia, where he had no primary challenger and beat his opponent for his seventh term 62% to 38%.

Now he could play a dominant role in achieving his political dream, getting rid of Obamacare and recreating America’s entire health care system, having led the Republican charge since 2009. After that, maybe he could go one step further and get rid of Medicare: his organization, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, publishes “The Physicians Guide to Opting Out of Medicare” and works to make vaccinations optional.

What a dream job. But now, as the Minneapolis StarTribune headlined on Saturday, “High-flying Price takes off”. From May to September, Price took a flight every week on private charter planes at taxpayers’ expense, costing us $400,000 in just a few months. He spent $25,000 of public money to fly from Washington to Philadelphia, when a train costs $72 and takes about the same time.

Price didn’t steal anything. All of his very expensive travel was on government business. His mistake was thinking that his time and comfort were worth a great deal to us, the people who are paying, at the same time as he was arguing that the government is spending much too much on our health care. Price is a hypocrite who doesn’t care a bit about the values of “Trump voters” or any voters.

In the wake of Price’s ouster, other Trump appointees have hastened to draw a clear ethical line. Billionaires Betsy DeVos and Wilbur Ross pay for all of their travel on their own planes, and others like Ben Carson and Alex Acosta fly commercial unless they are with the President or Vice President. They are clear that they would never use government money to pay for personal travel. That would be stealing.

So where does that leave Steven Mnuchin? The Secretary of the Treasury requested that a government jet take him and his bride on their honeymoon to Scotland, France and Italy this summer. Mnuchin is worth about $300 million. Mnuchin is also not guilty of stealing, because his request was turned down. But he tried, in a textbook attempt at corruption.

Now he says he’ll do the right thing in the future: “I can promise the American taxpayer the only time that I will be using milair [military aircraft] is when there are issues either for national security or where ... there’s no other means.”

Is the swamp being drained? Seems not.

Price resigned under pressure. Before his flights became a public scandal, Trump announced to the Boy Scouts that if Price failed to get the votes to repeal Obamacare, Trump would say “Tom, you’re fired.” A “senior White House official” complained that Price was “nowhere to be found” in the Republicans’ final effort to kill Obamacare. Price made the boss look bad, not because he wasted our money, but because he couldn’t deliver.

He’s gone, but the swamp is deeper.

Price’s luxury travel is the visible tip of the iceberg of the wider corruption of values and morality of those in power. Price said “all of this travel was approved by legal and HHS officials.” The Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin took his wife to Europe, where they visited four palaces, took a river cruise, and watched the Wimbledon tennis tournament, paid by taxpayers. He did a bit of work, too. The VA said that its “ethics counsel” okayed everything. The Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who is proposing big cuts in his department, which includes the EPA, flew an entourage in private jets to the Virgin Islands for 3 days. Not a peep out of the swamp-drainer-in-chief.

Mnuchin will still decide what taxes we all will pay in the future. He and his fellow multi-millionaires will save enough by the tax cuts to take European vacations whenever they want.

Trump’s voters thought that draining the swamp in Washington would be the right thing. There is no evidence that it’s happening. Trump’s hand-picked advisors are living it up in unprecedented fashion at our expense. His ethics watchdogs say it’s all okay.

That’s not doing anything the right way.

Steve Hochstadt
Springbrook WI
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 3, 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Health of the Senate

The Senate is about to vote on legislation affecting the health and welfare of millions of American families. Even the disastrous hurricanes, which changed the lives of so many people, won’t have the broad impact of the vote to replace the Affordable Care Act with the latest version of Republican health care thinking.

The outcome is uncertain. This new law could stand or fall by one vote. It’s a Republican-only bill, designed without public hearings or Democratic input, and they can spare at most 2 “no” votes. So all the attention is on the possible “no” Senators. What is swaying them one way or the other?

There’s no reason to mention their names. They have gotten enough attention to their political and moral agonies. What about the 50 or 49 other Republican Senators who are all in?

Barely anyone in America likes this legislation outside of Republican politicians. For most of its life, a majority of Americans have expressed opposition to “Obamacare”. Its approval rating has been below 40% since 2011, the year after it passed. But in March, approval reached 49%, finally beating out disapproval. At that time, a majority of Republican respondents approved of its major provisions and favored spending more money on health care.

In June, many polls showed that Americans rejected the “replace and repeal” version passed by the House, called the American Health Care Act (ACHA), by a more than 2-1 margin. Only about one third of Republican voters approved.

Another detailed survey, which informed respondents about current and proposed laws, found that one quarter of Republican adults found the Republican health care bill “unacceptable”. Combined with overwhelming Democratic and Independent rejection of the legislation, a majority of voters even in the most Republican districts said “unacceptable”.

In July, another poll found that people preferred Obamacare to the Republican alternative 2 to 1. Nearly three times as many people preferred that our government “provide coverage for low-income Americans” rather than “cut taxes”.

More directly personal, a poll found that more than half of Arizona voters were less likely to vote for Republican Sen. Jeff Flake because of his support for various Republican plans. A majority approved of the opposition to Republican health care by the other Senator from Arizona, John McCain.

The only poll thus far about public reaction to the latest version, the Graham-Cassidy health care bill, shows less than a quarter of Americans like it. Another way of putting that is that ordinary voters reject it by 2 - 1, with another quarter still unsure. Big majorities understood exactly what Graham-Cassidy would do: costs for most people would rise; fewer people would be covered; protections for people with pre-existing conditions would be scaled back. By 3 - 1, people wanted Congress at least to wait for a detailed analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. By an amazing 5 - 1 margin, Americans agreed to two principles: “no one should be denied lifesaving healthcare coverage for themselves or their families because they can't afford to pay,” and “changes to the health care law should be bipartisan and should include hearings that take into account the views of experts, patients, and providers like doctors.” Even most Trump voters agreed with those ideas.

The unanimous voices of the people who take care of our health have consistently rejected the Republican bills. In March, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association scorned the AHCA. In June, the AMA, the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the Federation of American Hospitals opposed the Senate bill that later died. Now all major organizations of doctors,the whole health insurance industry, plus organizations of hospitals, the Catholic Health Association, the AARP, and dozens of other organizations oppose Graham-Cassidy.

The health care numbers can be confusing, especially when each side chooses the numbers they talk about. So let’s get specific about my demographic, old people. The CBO explained in May how the AHCA would affect people over 64 who earn $26,500 a year in 2026. That’s the median income of seniors. Instead of paying $1700 a year in insurance premiums under current law, premiums would rise to over $13,500, more than half their income. For a person with an income of $68,000, the numbers are very different: premiums fall from $5100 to under $2000 for a 21-year-old; from $6500 to under $3000 for a 40-year old; and remain about the same for a 64-year-old. Unless you are well off, you would be deeply hurt.

Why don’t most Republicans in Congress worry about voting for such an unpopular policy? It’s not voters who matter, but donors. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado told his Republican colleagues, “Donors are furious. We haven’t kept our promise.” Big Republican donors are angry that the Republican majorities have accomplished little. Republican politicians are worried about money they could raise for the 2018 elections, not about depriving millions of their health care. Their donors want to slash Medicaid, so that’s what they’ll vote for. Republican senators apparently don’t even know in detail what their bill contains.

The devil is in the details. Will the billionaires win, while the rest of us lose?

Steve Hochstadt
Springbrook WI
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 26, 2017