Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from> around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.
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Paul Krugman: The Empty Quarters of U.S. Politics
Howard Schultz, the coffee billionaire, who imagined that he could attract broad support as a “centrist,” turns out to have an approval rating of 4 percent, versus 40 percent disapproval.
Ralph Northam, a Democrat who won the governorship of Virginia in a landslide, is facing a firestorm of denunciation from his own party over racist images on his medical school yearbook page.
Donald Trump, who ran on promises to expand health care and raise taxes on the rich, began betraying his working-class supporters the moment he took office, pushing through big tax cuts for the rich while trying to take health coverage away from millions.
These are, it turns out, related stories, all of them tied to the two great absences in American political life.
One is the absence of socially liberal, economically conservative voters. These were the people Schultz thought he could appeal to; but basically they don’t exist, accounting for only around, yes, 4 percent of the electorate.
The other is the absence of economically liberal, socially conservative politicians — let’s be blunt and just say “racist populists.” There are plenty of voters who would like that mix, and Trump pretended to be their man; but he wasn’t, and neither is anyone else.
Understanding these empty quarters is, I’d argue, the key to understanding U.S. politics.
There is increasing angst in the circles of the wealthy about more frequent calls from prominent Democratic politicians to raise taxes on the richest Americans. It’s not just that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wants to tax wealth itself in excess of $50 million or that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) says the marginal tax rate on income in excess of $10 million should be 70 percent. It’s not simply that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) would like to roll back the estate tax so that it begins at $3.5 million. It’s that polls show that millions of Americans support hitting the wealthy in the wallet.
How could this have happened? Here’s a thought: Blame Donald Trump. Like no one else, Trump proves that the United States’ 40-year infatuation with tax cuts and trickle-down economics was a sham. Instead of trusting the wealthiest that the money would flow down, the dollars, like heat in an apartment, always went to the top.
Donald Trump says his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening will be about “unification”. But Trump discussing the state of the union is like pyromaniac discussing lighter fluids. His goal is, and has always been, disunion.
The man thrives on divisiveness. It’s how he keeps himself the center of attention, fuels his base and ensures that no matter what facts are revealed, his followers will stick by him.
There’s another reason Trump aims to divide – and why he pours salt into the nation’s deepest wounds over ethnicity, immigration, race and gender.
He wants to distract attention from the biggest and most threatening divide of all: the widening imbalance of wealth and power between the vast majority, who have little or none, and a tiny minority who are accumulating just about all.
“Divide and conquer” is one of the oldest strategies in the demagogic playbook: keep the public angry at each other so they don’t unite against those who are running off with the goods.
Donald Trump has set a low bar for other billionaires who are contemplating a run for the White House.
Why not me, they ponder? Trump had no experience in government before he won the 2016 Republican nomination. He was just a popular TV reality star who branded his name on every piece of real estate he built. He wasn’t even that successful in business, going bankrupt more than once. He’s a lazy-bones, too, rarely hitting the Oval Office until 11.30am, according to Axios, which obtained his daily schedules. His approval ratings may never again cross 40%. If President Trump runs again, he certainly looks beatable.
The latest self-deluded billionaire to be fooled by this magical thinking is Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks. He’s out hawking a book in hopes of boosting his name recognition and telling interviewers he’s “strongly considering” a presidential run as an independent. It’s completely unclear what, beyond his money (he could self-finance a national campaign) and ego is compelling him to run.
When the Chinese government blocks foreign internet companies for political reasons, the United States should treat the tactic as the anticompetitive economic strategy that it is.
As China and the United States engage in high-level negotiations over a possible trade deal, it’s puzzling to see what’s been left off the table: the Chinese internet market. China blocks or hinders nearly every important foreign competitor online, including Google, Facebook, Wikipedia in Chinese, Pinterest, Line (the major Japanese messaging company), Reddit and The New York Times. Even Peppa Pig, a British cartoon character and internet video sensation, has been censored on and off; an editorial in the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper once warned that she could “destroy children’s youth.”
China has long defended its censorship as a political matter, a legitimate attempt to protect citizens from what the government regards as “harmful information,” including material that “spreads unhealthy lifestyles and pop culture.” But you don’t need to be a trade theorist to realize that the censorship is also an extremely effective barrier to international trade. The global internet economy is worth at least $8 trillion and growing, yet the Trump administration has focused chiefly on manufacturing, technology transfers and agriculture, and does not seem to have pressed for concessions on this issue.