Friday, December 1, 2017

BTRTN November 2017 Month in Review: Trump Hits New Lows in a Historic Time

Tom with the latest BTRTN month in review, a look back on yet another astonishing month.


The month of November was a watershed month in the long struggle for women’s rights, when a huge spotlight was finally trained on the darkest of corners, the crudest expression of unspoken male control, the sexual prerogatives of men in power.  Harvey Weinstein was not the first to be outed for sexual harassment and assault by those whose careers he could make or break, but his turn under that spotlight was the textbook definition of a “tipping point.”  Since then, of course, emboldened women have been outing their abusers by the dozens, and the entertainment, media and business worlds have been and continue to be rocked on a near daily basis (say goodbye to Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor).

Not surprisingly, the political world is now being roiled as well.  First came the accusations against Senate candidate Roy Moore from Alabama.  Then Al Franken, the Senator (and potential presidential hopeful – at that time, but no longer) from Minnesota, and Representative John Conyers from Michigan.  More will come.  These men and others at the state and local level are being rightly penalized in various ways, from long-overdue public humiliation and ridicule, to abrupt loss of their powerful perches and, in some instances, to litigation.  They all are getting their comeuppance.

With one exception:  Donald Trump.  Our President, who has been accused by no fewer than sixteen women of various unwanted sexual overtures, and, of course, was caught on tape bragging about them, remains untouched by the scandal.  There is no serious dialogue underway about whether his abuses should be investigated, no serious talk of removing him from his job and, indeed, Trump has concluded, in the case of Roy Moore but surely for his own defense, that denial is in itself proof of innocence.  And no one is holding him accountable.  While he has brazenly waded into this area, in attacking Franken and even questioning the validity of the tape that captured his own words, he is not suffering any immediate consequences.  I suspect those consequences, though, will reverberate in 2018 and 2020, if Trump is still around to feel them.

The other two big stories of the month were the tax legislation that is being rammed through Congress at this writing, and the end-of-month careening by Trump that suggests that he is, unbelievingly, becoming ever more outrageous in his behavior.

The tax bill appears on the way to passage, although an 11th hour glitch is being managed at this writing.  If it becomes law in early December, it will be touted as a huge GOP win and a badly needed, to put it mildly, legislative accomplishment.  But make no mistake that the GOP has yet again put together an unpopular bill that could easily come back to bite them, even in 2018.  This is a bill that is needlessly weighted toward big business and the wealthy, relying on the long-debunked ”trickle down” theory of economics.  The benefit to the middle class, such as it exists, has a sundown provision in 2025 (the corporate tax breaks are permanent), and the benefits to the lower class are virtually nil. 

We borrow the graph below from The Washington Post to make the point.  The bill, as of a few weeks ago when the poll was done (and there is no reason to believe things have changed that much in the perception of the bill), has roughly a 30% support level, which ranks it below the 1993 “HillaryCare” health bill and just above the 1993 GOP health care bill, both of which failed, and all three are in the nether regions of the list.  Other relatively unpopular legislation, such as the 2009 ACA (ObamaCare) or the 2008 TARP (bank bailout) bills, stand well above it.  And there is another chart that proves that it is the least popular tax reform/reduction bill in decades as well.

The glitch involves the deficit hawks, led by Trump-nemeses Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, who are unhappy with the finding by the non-partisan Joint Commission on Taxation that says the GDP growth that will result from the bill will only add about $400 billion in tax revenue, far short of the $1.5 trillion cut, thus leaving a staggering $1 trillion plus deficit increase over ten years.  The first fix – a trigger mechanism to add taxes or reduce spending if the growth did not pay back the deficit – was ruled unacceptable by the Senate parliamentarian in terms of the rules of reconciliation (which enables the GOP to pass the bill with only 50 votes plus Pence).  The GOP is now feverishly trying to find new ways of bridging that trillion dollar gap and placating Corker and Flake.

The month ended with an utterly astounding set of actions by Trump that took his standards for presidential behavior to a new low, which is a phenomenal statement.  All in a matter of days earlier this week, Trump called Elizabeth Warren ”Pocahontas” again in a White House ceremony honoring Navajo veterans (staged in front of a picture of Andrew Jackson, no less, famed for ripping Native Americans from their own land and marching them out west); ripped Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to shreds in a Twitter-fit hours before a negotiation meeting to avoid a government shutdown (they cancelled, sidetracking hopes for a good faith compromise); discussed with aides that the famed Access Hollywood tapes might be fraudulent (even though he had already apologized for them); renewed his doubts about Obama being a U.S. citizen (even though he had announced that he no longer contested that fact); and, finally (for now), re-Tweeted videos depicting violence by Muslims that had been shared originally by a British extremist group.  That impulsive re-tweet was widely condemned, including, in an unprecedented rebuke, by British Prime Minister Theresa May, who leads the nation known as our closest ally.

The assessments of the collective weight of these outbursts ranged from “Trump is truly a madman” to “Trump is growing ever more comfortable in his role and thus this craziness will only escalate.”  Neither is a particularly comforting conclusion, especially with the knowledge that Trump has to decide whether to allow North Korea to become a full-fledged member of the nuclear family, or blow them to smithereens and sacrifice tens of millions of South Koreans in the process. 

And there was much more in the month.  Trump used his otherwise vanilla and non-consequential Asia trip to support President Putin in the latter’s suggestion that Russia had nothing to do with the U.S. elections, thereby once again denying (or disagreeing with) the consensus conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community.
He continued to inflict his peculiar and erratic form of policy on the nation:   his xenophobic travel ban was actually partially upheld in court, but his desire to cut funding for so-called “sanctuary cities” was denied.  He confounded his conservative backers by saving the elephants in Africa and opposing the ATT-Time Warner merger (a “vertical” merger than does not involve combining directly-competing businesses).  His government issued a damning report on the ravages and potential devastation of climate change that directly contradicts his own stated views and that of his EPA director.  And he continued to say that he would do something about guns in the wake of yet another mass killing in Texas, and say the same about North Korea in the wake of yet another successful test of a missile that shows the potential to reach our borders with a nuclear warhead attached.

Oh yes, Trump is also apparently going to fire Rex Tillerson within the next few weeks.  Tillerson will be the tenth senior Administration official to be shown the exit door in Trump’s first year, which has to be a record (Flynn, Priebus, Spicer, Scaramucci, Comey, Price, Bannon, Dubke and Gorka preceded him, if you are keeping score). We’re not even counting Sally Yates and Richard Cordray.  Speaking of Cordray, only in the Trump Administration could two officials claim to be running a major U.S. government department on the same day.  A U.S. judge ruled in favor of Trump on this one, ousting Cordray’s own replacement at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in favor of Trump appointee Mick Mulvaney, who happens to have another reasonably significant job, that of White House Budget Director.

December will be an amazing month.  We have before us the latest from the Mueller investigation, with a central focus on Mike Flynn, whose lawyers have stopped communicating with White House lawyers, presumably in anticipation of a plea bargain.  We have ongoing fall-out from the post-Weinstein era, with more politicians to be outed and an absurdly anti-victim set of protocols in Congress under intense scrutiny, including the fantastic fact that taxpayers are paying for Congressional harassment settlements without any transparency into who is using the fund.  And we have a congressional agenda that is chock full of critical deadlines, including the presumed passing of the tax bill, trying to avoid a government shutdown, some sort of DACA fix, an attempted rescue of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (aka CHIP), and the end of the 60-day window for the Iraq sanctions.

Not to mention the Alabama Senate race, in which Roy Moore now appears to be in the lead again, with the showdown on December 12.  And if you think that will end the Moore controversy win or lose, think again – McConnell is on the record with wanting to expel Moore if he wins, which will overshadow the congressional agenda in the first part of 2018.  Stay tuned.


It is hard to argue that Trump is being badly damaged by the chaos, but his approval rating did come back to its low point at 39%, a level seen once before in August.  This level has been relatively constant for six months now, but the general drift has been downward.



Trump appears to be relying exclusively on his base for support.  Whether this is a Bannon-driven strategy, or Trump’s own instinct or simply the natural outgrowth of his need for ecstatic approval, it is a dangerous way to run a first term.  It ensures that moderate politicians have nothing to fear from Trump, since independents and moderates do not follow Trump, and it relies entirely on turnout to win re-election.  That 48% approval rating that Trump started with is in the zone for re-election, similar to those of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama near the ends of their first terms.  But 40% is unelectable, especially if the Democrats manage to nominate a candidate who is better liked than Hillary Clinton, which is virtually any candidate at all, at least apart from Al Franken.


The “Trumpometer” jumped from +15 to +20 in the last month, as the stock market continued its furious rise (the Dow is up 23% since January 20, 2017) and the Q3 GDP was revised from +3.0% to +3.3%.   The Trumpometer is a measure of how key economic indicators have moved since Inauguration Day, and it is a good story for Trump, as those indicators have increased, on average, by +20%.  Why 90% of his tweets are not about the economy is one of the many mysteries of the Trump presidency.

End Clinton  1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
Trump 10/31/2017
Trump 11/30/2017
% Chg. Vs. Inaug. (+ = Better)

  Unemployment Rate
  Consumer Confidence
  Price of Gas
  Dow Jones

As we have said, it would be astonishing for the stock market, widely viewed as overvalued even as it races ahead, to not experience some significant pullback at some point.  Similarly, no one thinks a 3+% GDP growth rate is sustainable.  Since Trump claims credit for the strength of the economy (credit that more rightly belongs to Obama), he will take the blame when the inevitable erosion from these levels occurs.   And if the tax bill becomes law, he will have no one to blame if the economy goes south at some point.  Plus he will have to explain deficit expansion that will be well beyond what occurred under Obama. 

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