Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Perils of a Trump Presidency (Part I)

Trump’s election on its own is bad enough, but through a few quirks, narrow down ballot victories and dumb luck timing, the stars are aligned for a major shift in our country that you would think occurred because of massive Republican landslide victories instead of a popular vote defeat at the Presidential level.

Consider the Supreme Court. Senate Republicans took the unprecedented step of blocking President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland and will now rubber stamp a Trump appointment, all but ensuring a return to the 5-4 conservative majority that had existed before Justice Scalia’s death. But it potentially goes much further than that. Justice Ginsberg is 83, Justice Kennedy is 80 and Justice Breyer is 78. All that is stopping Trump and Republicans from securing a 7-2 (!) conservative majority is good health and the collective hope that these three justices care more about the country than handing Trump the power to appoint their replacements. If any one of these three dies or retires in the next four years, the court will lean further right and if all three are replaced, a conservative majority could stretch well into the 2030s, a run of dominance that goes back to the 1980s and would represent one of the longest uninterrupted eras in the Court’s history.

Had Democrats won two more Senate races, they could have at least tempered Trump’s options, but with a Republican majority and the temptation to elevate a 40- or early 50-something conservative justice to the bench, do not be surprised if the filibuster rule is eliminated so such an appointment can take place. Moreover, the 2018 Senate map is very favorable for Republicans, with Democrats defending seats in states like Montana, West Virginia, Indiana, and Missouri. Senate Republicans may seat 58 or 59 senators come January 2019.

Now think about the bedrock pillars of the social safety net – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. A narrow Trump win aided by gerrymandered Congressional districts and that small Senate majority may result in massive changes to these programs. Speaker Ryan’s euphemistic “premium support” plan for Medicare was part of the Romney/Ryan 2012 campaign and would mean offering senior citizens vouchers to pay for private health insurance. If this sounds familiar, Ryan argues against Obamacare, which gives subsidies to people who cannot get health insurance through their employer (or are self-employed) to, yup, you got it, buy health insurance on the private market. 

Putting aside the hypocrisy, tossing seniors to the predations of the health insurance market would be catastrophic for them, but no matter – members of Congress are ensured lifetime health benefits so long as they serve 5 years, so what do they care? Medicaid will most assuredly be “block granted” back to the states which will allow them to trim assistance (just look at the variations in unemployment insurance) and because the media and Republicans have convinced younger people Social Security will not even be around when they retire, a massive boon to Wall Street is in the making in the form of “partial privatization” of Social Security. The pitch will be that younger people should be allowed to invest some of their money themselves, but who but Wall Street brokers can help you navigate the complex financial system?

This does not even speak to what will happen to the Affordable Care Act and the nearly 20 million people who are now covered under it. Whatever “replacement” is offered will surely provide less coverage, bring back tissue thin catastrophic policies that offer little while providing a second boon to health insurers, who got huge boosts under Obamacare with the addition of millions of new customers and will now likely be able to dump the people who need coverage the most, again boosting their corporate bottom lines.

There is also likely to be massive debt spending. I know what you are thinking. Weren’t Republicans screaming about borrowing under Obama and forced “off sets” in government spending if new spending was requested? Yes, but that was different. You see, Obama is a Democrat, Republicans have no qualms about running up the government’s credit card bill when one of their own is in the White House. 

But adding insult to injury will be the inevitable tax cuts that go along with the spending spree. If this movie sounds familiar, we have seen it – twice – and know how it ends. Republicans run up massive debt and deficit and a Democrat comes in and the belt suddenly gets tightened. But unlike the mess Bill Clinton cleaned up or Barack Obama for that matter, our debt is now close to $20 trillion and our annual budget deficit is north of $400 billion. And because our debt continues to accumulate regardless of spending because of the interest we pay on what has already been borrowed, a typical Republican “borrow and spending” spree could actually bankrupt the country this time, but again, Democrats have no power to do anything about it.  

Put it all together, and when Democrats are running for President in 2020 they may be seeking an office neutered of what it once was. Assuming Trump was a one-off and the country comes to its sense, an incoming 46th President may have no Supreme Court nominations to make and a court that is openly hostile to everything from voting rights to abortion, a social safety net that has been rewoven to funnel billions to Wall Street, pharmaceutical companies, and health insurers, and a budget and debt burden that crushes any attempt at investing in our nation’s future or paying for anything other than the bare necessities. Dystopian? Sure, but entirely plausible too.

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