Thursday, November 10, 2016

Shock treatment or catastrophe?

During one of the GOP's exercises in debt ceiling terrorism, I think in 2013, Jonathan Chait wrote (in a piece I can't locate) that Republican extremism would lead to catastrophe eventually (here is a variant).

That forecast played in my mind whenever I looked ahead at elections -- not just to 2016, but beyond. My thought was, it's a two-party system, and Republicans have to win the presidency sooner or later. Would we win a breathing space in which Democratic reforms could be cemented and the GOP would finally begin to moderate? Which would happen first, Republican victory or moderation?

Now we have our answer. In 2012, Obama told donors that if he won reelection, 'the fever would break." He won, and it went to 106 degrees, and spread to half the electorate.

Sometimes catastrophe is the route to progress -- as in the Great Depression, which ushered in FDR's huge and long-lasting majorities in Congress and ultimately led to enduring acceptance of the pillars of the welfare state: social security, unemployment insurance, labor protections, bank regulation.

Will President Trump swiftly cause the kind of catastrophe that triggers immediate suffering and electoral response? (That is, if he doesn't succeed in killing the institutions that enable electoral response). Republicans could move swiftly on several regulatory fronts that would have bad-to-disastrous long-term effects, but the effects may not be felt for some time. Those would include dismantling regulations reducing greenhouse gas emissions, dismantling the Dodd-Frank banking reform, and dismantling the ACA in stages. Massive tariffs, tax cuts and deportations could trigger a recession or worse. Reckless military posturing -- or failure to take preventive measures against, say Russian incursions against neighbors -- could trigger major war.

So one question is: how much suffering before a healing political response is triggered?  If it is at all. When the arc of history bends toward injustice, it sometimes rides the curve for a very long time. In one worst case, gutting the global climate deal could trigger (or rather halt effective efforts to stop) upheavals that upend human society. In less apocalyptic fashion, Bush's Supreme Court appointees opened the door to voter suppression that may have brought Hillary Clinton down. Trump won Wisconsin by 27,000 votes; 300,000 would-be voters were turned away by the state's strict voter i.d. laws. Now it's Trump who'll fill Supreme Court vacancies, likely opening the door to further voter suppression. The white backlash may bend long.

We don't know whether a Trump administration will lead to 4-8 years of non-catastrophic suffering, trigger the destruction of liberal democratic society, or something in between. It's hard not to feel terror, though. As Pope Francis strongly implied, Trump is a terrorist.

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