The Less Frightening Alternative

In response to yesterday’s post, a CH reader who despises President Trump to a degree that I find remarkable emailed me a link to a Youtube video of Lawrence O’Donnell, Ron Klain and some guy from Mother Jones on MSNBC, telling us how terrible it is that Trump’s running up the national debt (https://youtu.be/Y_9GEEq8S_k). After watching the clip, I responded that I actually found the video kinda funny, in a painful sort of way – like listening to three drunks lecture the world about sobriety. I told him I would write a post about the experience – and, more substantively, about why I think Trump is the less frightening choice on deficit spending.

So here goes:

As soon as I saw Lawrence O’Donnell I knew what to expect: three Trump-haters, weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth about our growing national debt. I also knew that their motives were purely partisan – I’m quite sure that you could search old MSNBC clips forever without finding similar expressions of concern about the fact that the national debt was doubling during the Obama years. Only CNN is in a league with MSNBC as far as consistent left-wing bias in broadcasting is concerned. You go to either network, you know what you’re going to get.

Even so, the facts that O’Donnell and his friends were citing, contrasting Trump’s campaign promises to reduce the national debt with its current, dramatic increases and frightening trajectory were accurate, as far as they went. That’s all true. But why is it true, who is to blame and what is to be done about it? They laid it all at Trump’s feet, implying that if we could only get rid of him, the problem would abate. Hogwash.

***

It would be equally true, and nearly as simplistic as the MSNBC hit piece, for me to respond that because all spending bills must originate in the House – the only part of the federal government (well, other than the permanent bureaucracy) controlled by Democrats – it’s all the Democrats’ fault. In two senses, this analysis holds up: it is broadly true (based on that old Constitution thingy) that only the House can crank up the spending; and in a narrower sense it’s also true that of late the House’s Democratic leadership has been using threats of a government shutdown to get the President to spend more money on more things than he would like to. Thus I would have every bit as much justification to blame the House leadership as O’Donnell does to blame the President for our current deficits. And I would be nearly as wrong.

The Democrats’ pushing for ever more spending on everything except border security and national defense and President Trump’s acquiescence to their demands are both serious problems. Ideally, they would put politics aside and sit down together to find a more sustainable path for the nation – but I don’t expect that to happen, and neither do you.

The reason we don’t expect a peaceable lions-and-lambs get-together is that neither side has any interest at present in acknowledging the extent or fundamental nature of our fiscal problems. Our deficits are rising inexorably because of our entitlement programs – and those programs benefit mostly middle-class voters who have been convinced by generations of false accounting that their benefits are already bought-and-paid-for. Politicians on both sides of the aisle believe that if they’re the first to deliver the bad news that Social Security and Medicare are going to bankrupt us because there are no trust funds and the government has promised more than it can afford to deliver, they’ll be rewarded with a permanent trip to Palookaville. So much better to try to kick the can down the road and hope that the big fiscal (and, thereby, social) crackup comes on the next guy or gal’s watch…  

Entitlements are the issue. Everything else – including really stupid spending on lots of things that Trump would love to veto and the tax cuts that the MSNBC talking heads would have us believe are more or less the deficit’s sole cause – are just background noise. A look at the long term trends tells the real story: entitlements are eating the budget (https://www.forbes.com/sites/miltonezrati/2018/02/09/entitlements-threaten-the-entire-federal-budget/#25294f485892).  

And that President Trump hasn’t so much as opened his mouth on this topic breaks my heart.

***

I’ve been railing about our nation’s entitlement spending problem for as long as I’ve been writing this blog – nearly seven years. Over the long run, I think the national debt and national defense are the issues that matter most, because if our fiscal problems remain unaddressed we may find ourselves in a social confrontation that could tear the nation apart as fully as any foreign enemy. Many tens of millions of people will rightly feel betrayed when the promises that the government has made to them, on which they relied in good faith, are broken.

Even so, and in spite of President Trump’s lack of leadership on this issue of fundamental importance, I support him. Why?*

If you re-read yesterday’s post, the answer should be clear: I am quite sure that any of Trump’s Democratic opponents would be worse – much worse. Every one of them is promising to increase our nation’s entitlement commitments, and thereby to pour oil on our nation’s already raging bonfire of fiscal irresponsibility. At least I don’t expect Trump to add new entitlements and augment existing ones.

I believe that the only way that our fiscal problems might be addressed before they reach crisis proportions would be with a Republican-led House and a second term, Republican president. Only a president who is beyond the reach of the voters, with strong backing in Congress, could take the gamble of re-setting the nation’s expectations and its fiscal course.

Will that happen under a re-elected President Trump? A bettor would say no – but it’s the only chance I see. The Democrats are too in thrall to the beneficiaries of government largess and to the spend-it-all, die-hard Socialists among them to do anything but step on the gas.

Politics is the art of the possible, and on matters of fiscal responsibility I see Trump, and the Republicans generally, as the less frightening alternative.

M.H. Johnston   

*I should add that I also have positive reasons for supporting Trump, beginning with the way he’s cutting regulations, remaking the judiciary by appointing judges who actually pay attention to the Constitution and taking on China for its technology thefts and its overtly aggressive foreign policy, but even if Trump were a patsy on those issues I would support him from fear of how today’s hard-left Democrats would make our fiscal problems worse.

2 comments to The Less Frightening Alternative

  • John Primm, MPM  says:

    Well said. I trust your voice Mark. Thank you for writing.

  • Vivian Wadlin  says:

    You left out one co-conspirator in the dumbing down of an electorate that now can’t handle the truth about our fiscal mess… the educational institutions.

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