By Stump Connolly

         While the President golfed and Vice President Mike Pence was skiing in Vail, the $900 billion Covid relief package sat unsigned on President Trump’s desk. Twelve million Americans lost their unemployment insurance, millions more faced eviction by the end of the week, Covid-19 infections in America topped 19 million, hospital ICUs were at capacity, the government was on the brink of a shutdown . . . and President Trump tweeted, “Courts are bad, the FBI and “Justice” didn’t do their job, and the United States Election System looks like that of a third world country. But when it is all over, and this period of time becomes just another ugly chapter in our Country’s history, WE WILL WIN!!”

End the Charade

         “I don’t understand what’s being done, or why, unless it’s just to create chaos and show power and be upset because you lost the election,” Adam Kinzinger, a Republican representative from Rockford, scolded on CNN.

         “This president is leaving office in an avalanche of chaos, corruption and confusion,” John Garamendi, a Democrat from the Sacramento Valley, echoed on MSNBC.

         “Mr. President, it’s time to end this dark charade,” Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, a staunch ally, editorialized on its front page Sunday under the headline STOP THE INSANITY. “You had every right to investigate the election. But let’s be clear: Those efforts have found nothing . . . We understand, Mr. President, that you’re angry that you lost. But to continue down this road is ruinous.”

Trump’s Last Stand

         In the final hours of the weekend, Trump finally did sign the Covid relief bill and budget authorization to avoid a shutdown, but he remains as committed as ever to making the January 6 session of Congress, where they will receive the Electoral College vote, his last stand. He is twisting the arm of every Republican still afraid of his shadow to overturn the results and calling for his legion of followers to demonstrate outside. Let’s see how many answer the call.

         At this point, Donald Trump is all show, and no go. His lies have caught up with him. No one in Congress trusts him, or ever should have.

         “Let’s go back to the very first day the President was inaugurated,” Garamendi said. “He lied about the size of the crowd, and he’s lied every day since. He holds to nothing. Whatever comes to his mind at that moment is where he is. And that’s the confusion and the chaos that he has sown into this entire four years. The fact of the matter is you can’t believe anything the President says, or tweets, or writes.”

Health Care

         Take health care. The mantra of Republicans since Obamacare was passed 10 years ago has been “Repeal and Replace.” During the 2016 campaign, Trump went around the country saying repeal “is going to be easy.” At various times, he has called his various health care plans “terrific, “fantastic” and “phenomenal.” But none of them ever made it onto paper.

         The closest he came was in his first year when, with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, he held a celebration at the White House for a House bill he called “incredibly well-crafted,” then he denounced it as “mean” when he tried to get it through the Senate. He throttled down funds for Obamacare enrollment, repealed the individual mandate and nibbled at the edges of “wasteful” health care spending, but offered no alternative.

         Instead, he issued an executive order lauding his administration’s commitment to more healthcare options, lower prices and covering pre-existing conditions. But he never put that commitment into legislation because the health care industry, which makes up 16 percent of the economy, is complicated. Donald Trump does not do complicated.

The Economy

         You have to be living under a rock not to know Donald Trump presided over “the greatest economy in the history of our country,” or so he says.

         But how much credit does he deserve? (My brother, a disciple of Milton Friedman, says not much because today’s global economy responds more to market forces than government interference.)

         Let’s acknowledge the U.S. economy was running on all cylinders before the Coronavirus shutdown in March. The Dow Jones index was bobbing around 29,000 in February. Unemployment was 3.5 percent, a record low, and “more Americans are working by far than ever before, almost 160 million people,” Trump boasted. Was that because of the economy or population growth? In 1930, for instance, 160 million people couldn’t be working because there were only 130 million people in the country.

         And for seven of the ten years that the economy was rising to its peak, Barack Obama was the presiding officer. Monthly job growth in Obama’s last term was higher than in Trump’s first, and annual deficits left over from the Wall Street bailout in 2008 were shrinking.

         Trump’s contribution came largely from a tax reform package House Speaker Paul Ryan put together that took effect in January 2018. For years, Ryan had championed a tax reform package that would lower the corporate tax rate from 35 to 28 percent, offset by closing tax loopholes. His aim was a revenue neutral simplification of the tax code.

         In Trump’s hands, Ryan’s balanced approach quickly became the “Cuts, Cuts, Cuts” act, and the reforms disappeared. Trump insisted the corporate rate drop to an unrealistic 21 percent, most of the loopholes remained in place (especially for real estate) and a bunch of little tax benefits were sprinkled in for the middle class, like a higher standard deduction, expanded family tax credits, and realigned tax brackets. The benefits amounted to an extra $390 to $930 for the 80 percent of American who earn under $150,000, but the wealthiest one percent (earning over $732,000) saw savings of $51,140.

         And the Cuts, Cuts, Cuts act was anything but revenue neutral. It blew a $1 trillion hole in the annual federal budget, fueling a surge in consumer spending, but anticipated new tax revenues from corporate re-investment never materialized; so the national debt, which was $19.5 trillion when Trump took office, is $27 trillion as he leaves.

Immigration

         “I will build a great wall,” Donald Trump promised. “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

         Nothing says Donald Trump like a wall – “an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” – to stem the tide of illegal immigrants flowing into America. Sometimes he said it was going to run sea-to-shining sea (1,954 miles). Or it was going to be 60 feet high, with cameras and sensors to stop tunneling below and helicopters floating above. It was going to be whatever popped into his mind at a rally because it was all a mirage, a figment of his imagination.

         In his four years in office, President Trump begged, borrowed or stole $15 billion from various federal budgets to build his wall. He shut down the government to get money out of Congress, declared a national emergency, trekked to the Supreme Court to release $2.5 billion from the Defense Department budget, and never got a dime out of Mexico.

         And what does he have to show for it? 423 miles of new wall, all but nine miles of it built to replace crumbling old barriers constructed decades ago. Forget what a boondoggle this has been for the world’s greatest builder. The cost per mile of his wall is five times what it was during the Obama administration. Forget the human cost of separating children from their families, the strain on immigration courts, the fear his rhetoric spread through our immigrant communities.

         What has it done to cut off illegal border crossings from Mexico? Under President Obama, Custom and Border Protection statistics show apprehensions of illegal immigrants along the southwestern border averaged 46,000 a month, versus 33,000 under Trump. But this October and November, the latest numbers available, the CBP statistics show there were 70,000 illegal border crossing a month – about 5,000 more than in the same months under Obama.

         The irony is Trump had his greatest success cutting off illegal border crossings early in his term when the only weapon at his disposal was his mouth. Illegal border crossings averaged 20,482 a month in the first six months of his term, a low not seen again for the rest of his administration, but rose as high as 144,000 a month in subsequent years.  

         Maybe if we really want to secure our borders, we should put out a bunch of stuffed Trump effigies every couple hundred yards along the border, like farmers put out scarecrows. We can put a sound chip in them that says, “This is Donald Trump, and I’m still here.” That will scare anyone off.

And So Forth

         And don’t forget our trade war with China. “Trade wars are good, and easy to win,” Trump promised. But after three years of yo-yo tariff hikes back and forth, our trade deficit with China is worse than when he started. Or his determination to “Put America First” on the world stage where, after spending countless billions of dollars on military hardware, our prestige among world leaders is half what it was when he came into office. Or his promise to drain the swamp in Washington. Don’t get me started.

         All the problems Donald Trump so cavalierly promised to fix have been snowplowed down the road to this moment in time when a crisis ­– a real crisis he said would magically disappear like the flu – has revealed the breadth of his ignorance and his reckless governance.

         All we can do now is sit at the bottom of the hill in the logjam of his incompetence waiting for someone who knows what they are doing to pull us out.


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