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The Budget and the Bully

By Steve Hamelman

With the national budget nearing the trillion dollar mark and fears of recession rising daily, the government of the United States, these days not much more than an emblem of monumental dysfunction, lurches toward the next election under the “leadership” of President Donald Trump, whose understanding of political economy is as deficient as his diplomatic skill.

Readers can rub their eyes all they want. When they open them again, they will see the same number staring back at them. An $800 billion deficit. What’s being done about it?

Washington Post (21 August) business reporters Jeff Stein and Jonnelle Marte are sufficiently professional to avoid subjective asides, but the rest of us are free to express our opinions about what they reveal in their August 21 article, where they discuss the national debt as well as strategies to stave off a recession, such as whether or not the Fed should cut interest rates. The President thinks they should be cut “sharply.”

For non-experts trying to make sense of the situation, two things jump off the page.

The $800 Billion Deficit

First, there’s that deficit, which, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, is “on track to push the nation into levels of debt unseen since the end of World War II.”

Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike: Do the math. 2019 minus 1945 equals 74 years—a measure of how badly we’re doing.

Someday someone will have to settle that debt. As long as our government dithers and politicizes the issue, the more certain that that “someone” will be our posterity—children, grandchildren, and onward unto generations cursed by our folly.

Second, although national economies are enormously complex entities whose health is shaped by countless domestic policies and codes and by international financial conditions either competing against or collaborating with our self-interests, we Americans must accept the fact that the Republican tax breaks of 2018 are a key reason for the pessimistic forecast.

You get what you pay for. If you “pay” for Republican leaders, and if they give you tax cuts (cuts, it must be said, that disproportionately benefit corporations and wealthy individuals), then you get soaring deficits and threats of recession—not to mention everyday things like stagnant wages, underfunded social programs, and crumbling infrastructure.

At a time when strong, sane leadership of all parties and all Americans is bottoming out, what else do we get?

The Bully

We get Donald Trump blathering on in the same old reductive way, contradicting himself at every turn, and ultimately, on cue, turning to personal affront: “The only problem we have is Jay Powell and the Fed. He’s like a golfer who can’t putt, has no touch,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “Big U.S. growth if he does the right thing, BIG CUT—but don’t count on him! So far he has called it wrong, and only let us down.”

Not incidentally, just last year Donald Trump nominated this same “bad putter,” Jerome H. Powell, to chair the Federal Reserve.

Trump’s tweet is standard fare from the most powerful bully in the land. Shout down or demean someone sarcastically, the bully intuitively believes shifting the blame to that person will take the heat off the bully himself, around whom weak-minded and/or loyal individuals will rally, thereby propping up the bully’s self-esteem.

All well and good—the psychology of a bully, whether of the playground or the presidential variety, and his supporters is easy enough to understand.

But look where it goes next. The same day, with the American economy facing upheaval, the President busied himself accusing the Prime Minister of Denmark for being “nasty and inappropriate.” Her characterization of his idea of buying Greenland (!) as “absurd” offended him.

Why is it so hard to be “patriotic” by backing up our president in spats like this?

Because forever ringing in our ears are his own nasty and inappropriate words about Jews who vote Democratic, about Muslims, about immigrants, about Mexicans, about journalists, about overweight people, about Democratic congresswomen, about Michael Cohen (remember him?), about—well, the list goes on.

Bullies—quick to offend and to be offended.

As everything unravels, unpredictability reigns—except for that something nasty is sure to come, any second now, from the mouth or the tweeting fingers of the President of the United States of America.

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