THE MORNING PLUM:
Steve Bannon appears to be consolidating a great deal of power in the Trump White House. According to Axios, Republicans on Capitol Hill are astonished at his reach of influence: He had a big hand in writing President Trump’s inaugural address, which was brimming with unvarnished, America-first nationalism; and he was instrumental in crafting Trump’s executive orders fleshing out his ugly, cruel immigration agenda.
Not only that, but Trump himself also has to be really high on Bannon, because many members of the corrupt elite media are buzzing this morning about the tirade that Bannon just unleashed on them, one that is worthy (okay, that’s not quite possible) of the great one himself:
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Mr. Bannon said in an interview on Wednesday.
“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”…
“The elite media got it dead wrong, 100 percent dead wrong,” Mr. Bannon said of the election, calling it “a humiliating defeat that they will never wash away, that will always be there.”…
“That’s why you have no power,” he added. “You were humiliated.”… He said, with ironic relish, that Mr. Trump was elected by a surge of support from “the working-class hobbits and deplorables.”
Yes, the media, including the inhabitant of this little corner of the blogosphere, really did blow this election. But not in the manner Bannon claims. It is true in some respects that many of us underestimated Trumpism’s appeal. But the far more important institutional failing was to inadequately convey to voters the stakes in this election, both in terms of policy and what it means for the future of liberal democracy here and abroad.
Axios reports that some observers think Bannon’s tirade against the media was a power play, an effort to outmaneuver a competing power center in the White House run by chief of staff Reince Priebus. And no doubt, Trump is very likely pleased with Bannon’s assault.
But I’m going to suggest that despite his bluster about the “humiliated” and “powerless” media, Bannon’s attacks actually reveal that he knows he has a problem on his hands. Bannon’s suggestion that the media is the “opposition party” is only the latest in a series of efforts that are designed to undermine the press’ institutional legitimacy, or to put it another way, to erode the possibility of shared agreement on legitimate sources of authority and even on reality itself.
But Bannon is a pretty shrewd guy, and he has to know that this delegitimization effort is likely to fail. An aggressive, undeterred press corps actually poses a serious threat to the Trump presidency — and to Bannon’s grand designs.
The bottom line is that facts and reality are major problems for the Trump administration. Bannon likes to talk tough about how Trumpism is a rejection of the impurities of crony capitalism. But Trump himself is a veritable minefield of cronyism. Dogged investigative reporting may dig up all manner of Trump conflicts and even corruption, and if this happens, it could chip away at the protective wall that congressional Republicans have built to guard him from ethical accountability and oversight.
Meanwhile, Trump’s agenda — both in its fealty to the traditional, regressive GOP vision and in its more Trumpian elements — is also seriously vulnerable to challenge in the real-world arena of concrete policy reality. Look what is happening now with his border wall. The vow of a wall — and the promise to make Mexico pay for it — were important in symbolic terms, signifying Trump’s mythic aura of toughness and his willingness to protect working-class whites from larger forces such as globalization and immigration flows. But now that the press is focusing hard on the details, the result is a cringe-worthy clown show. The Trump White House is dissembling about paying for it with a tax on imports, but that would likely pass costs on to consumers, not “make Mexico pay for it.”
On Obamacare, Trump’s vows to cover everybody are central to his appeal as the guy who can fix health care easily and the guy who is ideologically different from other Republicans when it comes to caring for the poor and sick. But at some point, the GOP replacement will be revealed in sharp relief as a plan that means more disruptions and more dysfunction and that kicks millions off coverage. On immigration, Trump is rolling out executive orders that promise stepped-up deportations and a ban on entry that may well evolve into an effective Muslim ban. But both of these will likely run into heavy weather either legally or in terms of implementation, or both. The Trump/GOP tax plan will be revealed as a massive giveaway to the rich.
Intense media scrutiny of these things — the wall, the looming Obamacare replacement that leaves millions uncovered, the draconian immigration crackdown — is likely to make them harder to accomplish, not easier, because, well, the reality is that they are terrible policies, and many of them are deeply inhumane. Even if some of these things do advance, that scrutiny will likely cause the broader public to recoil, despite Bannon’s posturing about how the media does not speak for the Real America (the “working-class hobbits” and “deplorables”) that elected Trump.
The correct response to Bannon’s bluster is to keep on digging, and keep on pointing out the lies.
* TRUMP DEMANDS MEXICO TREAT THE U.S. ‘FAIRLY’: Tensions are rising between the U.S. and Mexico over Trump’s demand that Mexico pay for the wall. Now Trump is telling Republicans that a tax on imported goods may be necessary to pay for it, “unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly” and “with respect.”
Trump, as always, gets to define what “fairly” means. In this case, it means giving him a way to claim that he honored his idiotic campaign vow to make Mexico grovel down before his greatness by paying for his wall.
* U.S. CONSUMERS MAY PAY FOR THAT WALL: NPR has a good look at the flap, noting that any tax on imported goods used to pay for the wall might be passed on to U.S. consumers. But that’s fine, says White House press secretary Sean Spicer, because:
Spicer … argued that cost would be outweighed by the reduction in illicit border crossings. “What it’s going to do is lift up the wages of American workers,” Spicer said. “Right now we’ve got an influx of cheap labor. It’s going to put the American consumer back, net-net, to make sure that American workers get lifted up as well.”
If you believe this, I have, well, a wall to sell you.
* TRUMP’S WALL COULD PROVOKE A TRADE WAR: Politico reports that the border tax idea could spark a trade war that passes further costs down to consumers:
Longtime trading partners — and not just Mexico — could retaliate, making American consumers pay more for everything from food to electronics and putting U.S. companies out of business. The so-called “border adjustable tax” could trigger cases before the World Trade Organization, spur other countries to slap levies on American products and put some U.S. companies at a disadvantage with international competitors.
No doubt those costs, too, would be recouped by soaring wages resulting from keeping undocumented immigrants out. Also see The Post’s very good editorial warning what this all portends.
* TRUMP POLICIES MAY HURT AMERICAN WORKERS: Paul Krugman points out that Trump’s bluster about Mexico and other policy hints suggest he’ll take a “meat ax” to our trade arrangements, which could end up hurting U.S. workers more than helping them:
There will, inevitably, be huge dislocation: Some U.S. factories and communities will benefit, but others will be hurt, bigly, by the loss of markets, crucial components or both….And the biggest losers, as with health care, will be white working-class voters who were foolish enough to believe that Donald Trump was on their side.
But Trump must be pro-worker, because he bullies CEOs into giving him credit for “saving” jobs here and there (they’ll pretend his “toughness” did this, in exchange for slashed taxes and regulations).
* ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER TRUMP FALSEHOOD: Trump claimed in his interview with ABC that two people were shot and killed in Chicago during Obama’s farewell speech, to show that crime is out of control. The Chicago Tribune tracked down the pesky facts:
Not only did no homicides take place in Chicago during Obama’s address of about an hour Jan. 10, but the official Police Department records and the Tribune’s crime database show that no shootings at all occurred over that time frame.
Whether this was a mistake or a deliberate lie, the pile-up of casual falsehoods alongside the Big Lies continues to be striking.
* NO END TO THE LIES AND DISTORTIONS: Post fact checker Glenn Kessler has a great roundup of many of the lies and distortions that Trump has told since becoming president. As Kessler concludes: “He continues to make misleading statements, based on incomplete information, inaccurate statistics or flights of fancy.”
One noteworthy thing about this rundown of falsehoods is how many of them are designed to inflate his popularity, renown and accomplishments. His exaggerations concern everything from inaugural crowd sizes to the popular-vote outcome to the number of environmental awards he has won and the number of times he appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
* AND REALITY KEEPS REFUSING TO VALIDATE TRUMP: The Post reports that Trump personally called the National Park Service’s acting director, Michael Reynolds, to demand aerial photographs that would prove the media was dishonestly diminishing his inaugural crowd. Note this detail:
Reynolds was taken aback by Trump’s request, but he did secure some additional aerial photographs and forwarded them to the White House through normal channels in the Interior Department, the people who notified The Post said. The photos, however, did not prove Trump’s contention that the crowd size was upward of 1 million.
Trump, of course, continued blasting the media for accurately reporting on the size of the crowd. Reality persistently refuses to produce the adulation that Trump knows he deserves. Sad!