Monday, April 20, 2020

Donald Trump, Superman and the Suit of Kryptonite

I was skeptical when Donald Trump announced he was running for President.  I was however, by election time very much in his camp and up until January or February I thought he’d been an extraordinary president.  But this Coronavirus has changed the calculus.

Since the problem was first brought up, he hasn’t done what almost any modern President would be inclined to do… He hasn’t taken charge of or nationalized anything.  Not hospitals, not pharmaceutical companies, not healthcare manufacturers not university research labs.  He hasn’t used the power of the office to require citizens to shelter in place, nor demanded testing nor quarantine or tracking of those with the virus.  The bottom line is, he hasn’t used the power of the federal government to take charge of this crisis and impose a solution.      

Most certainly Hillary Clinton would have done so.  As would have Barack Obama and probably John McCain and even George Bush… But Donald Trump didn’t… And that’s to his credit and our good fortune.

Just as Sol Wachtler famously said "a grand jury would 'indict a ham sandwich,' if that's what you wanted."; had virtually anybody else been in the White House during the Coronavirus pandemic, you can be certain that the Executive Branch would have usurped a vast array of powers from state and local governments, created new previously unimagined powers on the thinnest of Constitutional grounds and in turn created a plethora of new agencies with vast powers that would undoubtedly lasted far longer than the “crisis” itself.  But it wasn’t anyone else in the White House, it was Donald Trump, and he didn’t do any of those things.

He has managed this crisis almost perfectly.  It hasn’t been without problems, but he has done what an American president is supposed to do.  He utilized the Constitution and its inherent federalism to help states and governors to respond as best as they could to their particular circumstances.  He didn’t dictate, but rather, he gave assessments and information and suggestions and came to the aid of states and cities when they called.  In a word, he acted like a President in the Constitutional sense.
This is particularly notable because of the extraordinary claims experts were producing via a variety of “models” that were supposed to predict the future.  Two million or more Americans dead.  Three hundred million Americans infected.  This was the Black Death incarnate.  But Donald Trump didn’t bite.

He actually did what Presidents are supposed to do in war… take the advice of the generals, of his advisors and decide what is best for the country.  Generals are often accused of wanting to bomb the enemy into the Stone Age.  That’s usually wrong, but it is the case that a general’s job is to win a battle or a war.  That is their focus and for outsiders who don’t understand the dynamics of what the military is tasked with, the generals and admirals focus on attacking and killing or neutralizing the enemy can seem barbaric.  But it’s not.  That’s their job… but it’s the President’s policy to set policy, taking their input into consideration along with that of the State Department, the intelligence community and other players.  Generals are focused on the battlefield but the President is focused on the country and the world.

The same holds true here.  While the “experts” were looking at the worst case scenarios and  predicting Armageddon, Donald Trump was taking a 30,000 ft. perspective and trying to figure out what made sense and what didn’t, and deciding what he should do and say.  And in the process, he tried to remind the country that economics matter and jobs matter and prosperity matters, both in dollars and actual lives.  In the process, rather than taking over industries or companies, he partnered with the private sector to advance everything from manufacturing ventilators and PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) to developing testing kits to searching for drugs that help protect from the virus or treat it. And he enlisted the Navy and the Corps of Engineers to increase capacity when governors thought they needed it.  Things haven’t proceeded perfectly, but they’ve worked far better than they would have had some proto dictator with a D next to his or her name been sitting in the Oval Office. 

On the ground some governors have applied a light hand in navigating this virus while others revealed the petty autocrats within as they revel in their newfound “emergency” powers – with diktats which often ignored or even set fire to the Constitution and individual rights.  All the while the President resisted calls for the White House to “take command” and issue decrees as to how the country should deal with this virus.  While he listened to the experts, he understood they, like generals in war, are not the only voices to be heard.  The result has been a combination of daily information, regular suggestions as to how states and citizens might comport themselves, and an aggressive suspension of regulations that would have otherwise hindered potential problem solvers.

As if all of this was not enough, Donald Trump has somehow managed to shine throughout this crisis despite having spent the last four years battling the Democrats, Never Trumper “Republicans” and the media on a daily basis. From tax evasion to being paranoid about wiretapping to removing MLK’s bust from the Oval Office to Mike Flynn to Michael Cohen to the 25th Amendment & incapacity to kids in cages to being a racist to simple incompetence to the Emoluments Clause to the Russian Collusion hoax to the Ukraine hoax to impeachment to claims that he ignored warnings of the coming Coronavirus, the last four years have been an unrelenting hail of vicious attacks.  I can’t help but wonder how most of us would fare if we had to deal with such abuse every day of our lives, and had it broadcast to the world to boot!

Yet somehow, in the face of these withering daily assaults coming from every direction, Donald Trump has not only managed to largely keep his cool, but he’s been able to be an extraordinarily effective president the entire time, from bringing the economy back to recalculating the Judiciary to exiting the absurd Paris climate agreement and the preposterous Iran nuclear arms deal to streamlining bureaucracy to rebuilding the military.  He’s not been perfect, nor has he always kept his cool, but somehow, in the face of endless, pernicious attacks from all sides, Donald Trump has gotten up every day and done his job in leading the American people and the nation.  The equivalent, I think, would be Superman spending 4 years saving the world despite his enemies having clothed him in a suit of Kryptonite from which he could not escape. 

Donald Trump is neither perfect nor warm and fuzzy, but neither is what American needed in 2016 and is not what it needs today.  We need a leader who not only articulates a road ahead that allows Americans to get back to doing what we do best, which is drive freedom and prosperity, but do so in a way that minimizes the yoke of the bureaucratic apparatus built by generations of a swamp culture.  Just as the Civil War gave Lincoln an opportunity to rise to a level few imagined he could, the Coronavirus may give Trump the opportunity to demonstrate leadership that will create his legacy despite the incessant attempts to damage and defame him.  Perhaps 100 years from now we’ll see his visage on Mount Rushmore.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Coronavirus may well become a disaster of historic proportions, but probably not in the way you imagine...

Today, on the 6th of April, 2020 the national death toll from Coronavirus is sitting at approximately 10,500.  My guess is that we're probably less than a week away from the oft discussed apex of the curve and whenever the end of this virus pandemic is eventually declared, the country will have suffered fewer than 50,000 deaths, possibly far fewer.  I could be wrong on both counts of course, and perhaps by a lot… but we’ll have to wait and see.

There are two questions that are resonating in my head about when this unprecedented overreaction is finally over.  The first is the economy.  How long will the economy take to rebound?  On the one hand, 60% of the economy is still functioning…  Supermarkets, hospitals, police stations, restaurants – of the take out or delivery variety – Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix, UPS, the military, gas stations, lawn maintenance, construction and many more pieces.  Nonetheless, a lot things are idled:  Gyms, movie theaters, schools, churches, dine in restaurants, countless small businesses, everything wedding related, the NBA, MLB, Golf, NASCAR and many other pieces.  Every one of those shuttered businesses, and many of those still functioning have a long list of suppliers - of both the service and goods variety - who have been impacted by this shutdown. Some of the businesses who have found themselves shuttered will never reopen.  Those that reopen will likely find challenges getting back on their game, not only from the perspective of the ramp up in demand from customers, but simple logistics and figuring out how to get their supplier pipelines moving as well. 

Whatever is the case, the economy will come back, and given the combination of government largesse and pent up demand, there could be a short term surge in many areas as people leap out of their homes and dash into coffee shops, restaurants and possibly stores.  The question is however, how long will it take to ramp back up to the point where we return to the trajectory we were on the end of 2019 and a $22 trillion economy, and what will that economy look like?

That last point brings me to the second of my questions… and the far more important one.  What will the economy and the country look like?  After Uncle Sam injects $2.2 trillion into the economy and the Fed greases the wheels to the tune of twice that, what will come of the free market?

Assuming that the economy doesn’t do a complete face plant, which I don’t expect but is a realistic possibility, Keynesians and progressives of all stripes are going to assert that if stimulus works during an emergency, we should use it – including guaranteed universal income – all the time.  Taxes could easily be raised on millionaires and billionaires to cover any outlays and the stimulated spending by the working class would help drive the economy.

Those faulty economics and their inflation and stagnation inducing polices are not even the biggest concern for the nation!  The real concern is that this staggering overreaction will have set a precedent.  Without a serious, demonstrated threat to the wellbeing of the nation as a whole, going only with models that predicted millions of dead, governments across the country have essentially quarantined more than 80% of the American population and 100% in the largest metro areas. 

Months or years from now, when history shows us that the Americans were basically quarantined, $10 trillion of stock market value was wiped out and trillions of dollars of economic activity evaporated almost overnight because of a virus that ended up taking fewer than 50,000 lives, what will politicians, activists and the media do for something like global warming, which we’re told for certain will cost the lives of tens of millions of people around the world?  Or how about the next Chinese virus?  I can hear the argument now:  “Covid 19 only killed 50,000 people BECAUSE of the lockdowns… This new XYZ virus is even more virulent and we need to do the same thing otherwise tens of millions of Americans will be dead within a month.”  Lockdown!  Shut down the economy.  Close schools, theaters and every other meeting place!  Churches too!  And churches that refuse refuse to comply with service cessation orders? Close them!  First Amendment be damned! 

Nor will it necessarily be a virus that causes the next lockdown(s).  How many times have we heard that the carnage from murder in cities like Baltimore or Chicago is an emergency or a crisis?  How much resistance would there be to mayors or governors deciding that they have the power to supersede the Constitution to deal with their “crisis”?  And pointing to the Covid 19 precedent as proof that they have the authority.  Second Amendment be damned! 

No longer will science have to prove that something is an actual threat to humanity or Americans or even a city or town in order for the government to mandate anything.  From forcing employers to hire certain workers, to compelling companies to make these or those products, from seizing assets to  coercing citizens to curtail activities protected by the Constitution… where does the line get drawn?  Make no mistake, precedent can be a bear, particularly in the hands of progressives who seek to use the power of government to undermine the individual rights of virtually every American, except of course, criminals.

Coronavirus may well turn out to be a disaster of epic proportions, but probably not in the way you imagine.  It very well may be the nose that allows the progressive camel of tyranny into the tent under which the American experiment flourished for so long.  And once the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Ralph Northam, Bill de Blasio and the rest of the progressive fascists on the left take control freedom as we understand it and the Constitution as a functioning document will be but mere memories.  “Constitution? Federalism? Individual liberty? Free markets?  Sorry, we’re temporarily suspending them… We’ve got a crisis to deal with!”