Media (241)


The Trump Team

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

After the election you could initially often hear that Trump ‘should be given a chance’ and that maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as it appeared to become, because after all he had been a Democrat most of his life, and during the campaign he hadn’t shown a lot of affection for Republican orthodoxy.  Since then a month has passed, and those voices have thoroughly been silenced by the president-elect.  His choice for Attorney General was once denied a federal judgeship because of racist statements he had made.  His projected Secretary of Health and Human Services is dead set on repealing Obamacare and abolishing Medicare.  His Education Secretary hates public education and will do whatever she can to undermine it, and the only qualification of his pick for Housing and Urban Development appears to be that he is black and grew up in an inner city.  This candidate recently said that he’s totally unqualified to run a government department, and believes that poverty is a choice, as well as homosexuality.  He might have made a fine Surgeon-General, but is now entirely out of his league.

And that’s only the beginning. Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency is an advocate for the fossil fuel industry and has been feuding with the EPA most of his career.  He was appointed shortly after Trump met with both Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio, suggesting that he was open to change his view that climate change is a Chinese hoax.  This administrator can expect to work well with the Secretary of the Interior, who belongs to the ‘drill baby drill’ crowd.  Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary is possibly the weirdest duck in his pond.  He opposes an increase of the minimum wage and has a peculiar fondness for scantily clad women who eat burgers, but is also a strong proponent of bringing foreign workers into the American labor market, the more the better and of all skills levels, to keep labor costs low.  Of all Trump’s choices his Transportation Secretary appears to be the most normal, except for the fact that she somehow finds Mitch McConnell an attractive man.  But she has government experience and can probably cook too.

Two of the cabinet posts, Defense and Homeland Security, will go to retired four-star generals, possibly because Trump is convinced that he knows more than the military brass and can order them around.  For the Treasury and his Council of Economic Advisors he has dipped in the reservoir of current and ex Goldman Sachs executives, after criticizing Hillary Clinton for being too close to the financial industry, and the Governor of South Carolina gets the UN job.

For Secretary of State, a post that is still open, Trump appears to have settled on the CEO of Exxon Mobil, after having bamboozled Mitt Romney into thinking that he had a shot and dumping Rudy Giuliani for being too unhinged to be considered.  The fact that the candidate is close to Trump’s main sponsor, Vladimir Putin, must have helped him considerably.

And as scary as Trump’s cabinet will be, what he’ll have in the White House will be even scarier.  His National Security Advisor made his name as a bounty hunter in Afghanistan but is crazy as a doorknob, and his Senior Counselor comes straight from the dark side.

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The Empty Headed Presidency

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Like many Americans, Barack Obama undoubtedly included, I wake up every day with fear in my heart about the upcoming Trump presidency.  As stress management manuals tell us, one way to overcome that fear is to analyze its cause rationally by dissecting it into its composing parts, ranking them in order of importance, and finding ways to cope with each of them.  In Trump’s case that is quite a pyramid to deal with.  At the bottom I would put the almost certainty that Trump, in conjunction with his children, will abuse the presidency to enhance his business interests.  This will potentially harm the US, but in most cases it will be visible and a possible ground for impeachment, although it is hard to imagine that the Republican majority in Congress would have enough of a moral backbone to come to that conclusion.  Second comes the vulgarity of Trump’s behavior, both verbally and in writing.  On a Sunday morning show I just heard his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, say that ‘when the president does it, it is presidential.’  It’s a new standard.

As irritating as Trump’s public communications are, and as much as they demean the US, there are higher layers in the pyramid.  For me, next comes the racism and discrimination his presidency will generate.  This has been a theme throughout Trump’s campaign, starting with the announcement of his candidacy, but now that he has won the Electoral College white supremacists feel emboldened to act out their prejudices, which has already resulted in numerous civil rights violations.  Trump’s despicable attitude towards the press constitutes the next layer.  The statement by his former campaign manager and current advisor, Cory Lewandowski, that the editor of the New York Times should be in jail for publishing some of Trump’s tax returns, sums it up.  Trump’s constant attacks on the media threaten the freedom of the press and therefore the First Amendment.  The final layer in my pyramid has to do with what goes on in Trump’s head, or rather, what is missing there: an awareness of culture, history and morality, and respect for the truth.

Except for skills that have enabled him to optimize the returns on a series of business scams and to license his name to anything tall and glitzy, Trump’s head is basically empty, and that explains why he can only function in a fact free environment.  To operate anywhere outside the world of real estate transactions and golf courses he needs to recreate the playing field and set new rules, because he doesn’t know the existing ones.

This is already manifesting itself nationally and internationally.  Traditionally politicians try to do at least some of the things they promised the voters, but Trump appears to have forgotten most of them.  By accepting a phone call from the prime minister of Taiwan  he wants to completely reset the relationship with China, ignoring decennia of diplomacy.

The dangers of having a president with an empty head are obvious.  In DC, all the maniacs he puts in charge of departments can live out their dreams, and outside of the US many fires that have been put out will start burning again, because the Fire Chief has amnesia.

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A Desk Murderer

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

I have ‘chronic idiopathic demyelinating peripheral neuropathy.’  It means that my feet are gradually becoming numb, and if I don’t get treatment I’ll soon be walking with a cane, then with a walker, and eventually I’ll be in a wheelchair.  The only known treatment, IVIG, is a biweekly infusion with a substance that is made of the blood plasma of at least 100 people, so it is very expensive.  When I was diagnosed with the condition five years ago I still had private health insurance through my employer.  To make sure that I would get the treatment my neurologist wanted to run some tests, but the insurance company didn’t give him permission to do that.  Since he was confident that his diagnosis was correct he wrote the prescription for the treatment anyway, and submitted it to the insurance company for approval, which was denied because the tests had not been done.  With his support, I appealed that decision.  My first appeal was rejected, but after an appeal of that decision I was informed that I would have to appear in front of a panel of experts.

That committee, consisting of doctors and nurses, would make the final decision about my treatment.  I acknowledged that I would appear before the panel, but also informed the insurance company that I would file a lawsuit if I didn’t get the treatment.  The night before I was scheduled to appear before the committee I got a phone call that the meeting had been cancelled and that the treatment was approved.  Obviously the insurance company had been trying to save some money, and in most cases they would have succeeded.  As my neurologist said: “How many people would go as far as you did in fighting them?”  This year I turned 65 and now I have Medicare.  With Medicare there was no problem continuing the treatment, because the program’s only criterion is whether the treatment is appropriate in light of the diagnosis and what is considered good medical practice. Which brings me to Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, who has been intent on ending Medicare ever since he read Ayn Rand as a boy and decided that government couldn’t do any good.

If Ryan has his way, Medicare will be transformed into a voucher program via which seniors get a certain amount of money to buy private health insurance.  Those who can afford it can supplement the voucher money with their own to buy a plan that covers all their conditions, those who cannot afford it have to accept the coverage the plans they can afford with the voucher money offer, and leave conditions that are not covered untreated.

The term ‘desk murderer’ was coined by Hannah Arendt in her reporting about Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem.  It refers to a bureaucrat who condemns people to death with the stroke of his pen, as the consequence of a policy he implements.  Paul Ryan is no Eichmann, but people who could be cured will die if his Medicare plan is implemented.

With the election of Donald Trump Paul Ryan may very well have become the most powerful man in DC.  During the campaign Trump has said that he won’t allow changes in Medicare to be made, and we’ll soon find out if he has the cojones to stand up to Ryan.

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Why Hillary lost the Rust Belt

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Almost two weeks after Donald Trump won a majority in the Electoral College the discussion about what went wrong with Hillary Clinton’s campaign has all but faded and been replaced by a discussion about what the US will look like under president Trump.  Still there is one aspect of Hillary’s loss that has hardly been analyzed so far.  Her campaign blamed the unexpected debacle that turned the Democrats from a party potentially in control to a party in crisis exclusively on FBI Director Comey’s letters to members of Congress, suggesting that the second letter did even more damage than the first one, which had already halted Clinton’s momentum.  They undoubtedly have a point, but it’s incomplete.  Obviously Comey’s intervention didn’t help, but neither did the paranoid way in which grandma Hillary handled her emails, and probably even more damaging was the way in which the Clintons squirreled over $200 million together after Bill’s presidency.  But ultimately Hillary Clinton’s defeat can only be explained by her campaign’s messaging.

Granted that it would have been difficult to execute a coherent communications strategy while the email controversy kept popping up, it was even harder because of the lack of a comprehensive message.  The Clinton campaign seemed to tell the voters three things, first that Donald Trump was totally unqualified for the presidency, second that in contrast to Trump’s divisive language we would be stronger together, and third that it was Hillary’s turn, embedded in slogans about electing the first female US President.  In a TV show last week veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum mentioned that this was the first time in his memory that a Democratic candidate ran without an economic message.  The reason for this fatal omission is probably that the Clinton people were bamboozled by the official US unemployment rate, currently 4.9%, and by the way Barack Obama was touting that percentage as a major achievement. However, although his policies after the crisis of 2007 have contributed to the creation of millions of jobs, the unemployment rate is a bad measure of their success.

In most countries of the world a person is considered unemployed if he or she is a potential employee but doesn’t have a job.  In the US someone is only considered unemployed if he or she is actively looking for a job, which implies being registered with a State Department of Labor and going through all the required moves.  If and when that person gives up looking for a job and decides to get by in another way he or she is no longer counted.

Social scientists are well aware that the real percentage of Americans without jobs is much higher than 4.9%.  Not the 42% Donald Trump occasionally mentioned, but probably anywhere between 10% and 20%, although nobody knows for sure.  Intuitively Trump realized this as well, and he tapped into a reservoir of disgruntled voters that Hillary ignored.

The bad news for those voters is that president Trump won’t do anything for them.  Jobs that went to low wage countries won’t come back, coal mines will not reopen because gas is much cheaper, and infrastructure investments turn out to be tax discounts for builders.

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Terrible Times

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Denial, anger and depression don’t solve anything, acceptance can only be conditional, and with regards to Donald Trump’s being elected US President bargaining is hardly an option, as Barack Obama will soon find out.  However, since Trump is a prime example of the dog that caught the car, and poorly prepared to staff the White House and form a cabinet, there is some room to negotiate an imaginary future, obviously with the caveat that the assumptions may be as wrong as those that led most of the pollsters astray this week.  The first assumption is that Trump will be a very lazy president.  During the campaign he is alleged to have offered the Vice Presidential slot to John Kasich, who would have full responsibility for both domestic and international policy, leaving plenty of time for the Commander in Chief to tend to his business interests and play golf.  It appears that the same arrangement has now been made with Mike Pence, who will shortly be staffing departments with the same insiders his president campaigned against.  Of all the empty slogans the campaign produced the most recent, ‘drain the swamp,’ takes the cake.

If Pence will effectively be the most powerful man in DC, immediately followed by Paul Ryan, the cabinet will consist of a collection of characters that would make any Halloween party too scary for children.  Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General, John Bolton or Newt Gingrich at State, General Flynn, a paid contributor to Putin’s propaganda station RT, as Secretary of Defense, ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the most racist person in law enforcement in the US, at Homeland Security, climate change denier Myron Ebell as head of the EPA, and Sarah Palin as Secretary of the Interior.  No cigar for Chris Christie, who will be punished for having put Jared Kushner’s dad in jail. Every organization rots from the top, and so will those departments, with a highly dysfunctional government as result.  The White House won’t be any better.  Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon are competing for the Chief of Staff position, a fight that the latter will probably win because Trump realizes that Priebus next to the Oval Office would give Ryan too much control.  Maybe he’ll try to balance Bannon’s Alt-Right mentality with Kushner as his deputy.

A government of that dubious a quality, supplemented by some minor players like Larry Kudlow as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Laura Ingraham as Press Secretary and Cory Lewandowski as CIA Director can do tremendous damage in a very short time, both nationally and internationally.  In the US, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and the LGBT community, and internationally NATO members and refugees from Muslim countries have to be frightened.

The irony of Trump’s election is that he won’t do anything for the white male underclass that was the core of his electorate.  There may be some benefits from a comprehensive infrastructure program, of the kind that Obama never got funding for from congress, but they will be offset by 20 million Americans losing their health insurance and austerity caused by tax cuts for the rich.

The environmental impact of Trump’s policies will be devastating, and at the end of four years Trump will have been outmaneuvered by Putin in every area.  Iran will have nuclear arms, unless Israel has started a war that would dwarf the current fight with ISIS.

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