Friday, December 20, 2019

Is Trump the Only Adult in the Room?

By Victor Davis Hanson

Donald Trump certainly is mercurial at times. He can be uncouth.  But then again, no president in modern memory has been on the receiving end of such overwhelmingly negative media coverage and a three-year effort to abort his presidency, beginning the day after his election.

Do we remember the effort to subvert the Electoral College to prevent Trump from assuming office?

The first impeachment try during his initial week in office?

Attempts to remove Trump using the ossified Logan Act or the emoluments clause of the Constitution?

The idea of declaring Trump unhinged, subject to removal by invoking the 25th Amendment?

Special counsel Robert Mueller's 22-month, $35 million investigation, which failed to find Trump guilty of collusion with Russia in the 2016 election and failed to find actionable obstruction of justice pertaining to the non-crime of collusion?

The constant endeavors to subpoena Trump's tax returns and to investigate his family, lawyers and friends?

Now, frustrated Democrats are trying to impeach Trump, even as they are scrambling to find reasons why and how.

Most presidents might seem angry after three years of that. Yet in paradoxical fashion, Trump suddenly appears more composed than at any other time in his volatile presidency.

Ironically, Trump's opponents and enemies are the ones who have become publicly unhinged.

Leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden recently had a complete meltdown while campaigning in Iowa. Biden called a questioner who asked about his son Hunter's lucrative job with a Ukrainian energy company "a damn liar." An animated Biden also challenged the 83-year-old ex-Marine and retired farmer to a push-up contest or footrace.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, fared little better. On the first day of his committee's impeachment inquiry, Nadler stacked the witness list by bringing in three left-wing law professors, as opposed to one Republican centrist witness -- as if partisan academics might sway the nation.

None of the three presented any new information or evidence. All three seemed angry, petulant and condescending. At least one came into the proceedings with paper and video trails of anti-Trump animus.

The nadir came when one of the witnesses, Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, was reduced to making fun of the president's 13-year-old son.

At one point, Nadler appeared to fall asleep while chairing the hearing.

Nadler's Judiciary Committee was supposed to be empowered by the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment report. But the contents of that report were overshadowed by the revelation that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the Intelligence Committee, had obtained data on the private phone calls of ranking Republican House Intelligence Committee Member Devin Nunes, Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, journalist John Solomon, former Giuliani associate Lev Parnas and others. Schiff had obtained the data via congressional subpoena.

If the chairman of a committee overseeing an impeachment inquiry is secretly digging into the phone records of his own colleague, a reporter and the personal attorney of the president of the United States, how can anything he reports be trusted?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference to announce plans to proceed with articles of impeachment. But she would not say which particular charges would be brought against the president.

Then, Pelosi lost her cool and shook her finger at a reporter who simply asked her, "Do you hate the president?"

At that point, a furious Pelosi shouted back, "Don't mess with me!"

She then retreated behind the shield of her religion by lecturing the questioner that as a good Catholic, she was simply too moral to be capable of hatred. Pelosi finished her sermon by boasting that she "prayed" for the unfortunate Trump.

At a NATO summit in London, Trump was playing the unaccustomed role of NATO defender by challenging French President Emmanuel Macron's curt dismissal of the alliance. Macron said NATO is experiencing "brain death."

Meanwhile, in an unguarded moment, a few heads of NATO nations crowded around Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he chattered and ridiculed Trump in the fashion of a gossipy teen -- unknowingly being recorded on video, much to the delight of Trump's critics back home.

The common denominator of all this petulance is exasperation over the inability to derail Trump.

Trump's many enemies fear he will be re-elected in 2020, given a booming economy and peace abroad. They know that they cannot remove him from office. And yet they fear that the more they try to stain him with impeachment, the more frustrated and unpopular they will become.

Yet, like end-stage addicts, they simply cannot stop the behavior that is consuming them.



Actually, class warriors, skyrocketing inequality may be a myth

Jeff Jacoby

DEMONIZING THE RICH and condemning disparities of wealth have been pillars of Democratic Party politics for decades. Franklin Delano Roosevelt lambasted wealthy Americans who "did not want to pay a fair share" in 1936. Barack Obama pronounced income inequality "the defining issue of our time" in 2012. Few left-wing tropes are more familiar than the avarice of the well-to-do.

Bernie Sanders denounces current levels of wealth inequality as "outrageous," "grotesque," and "immoral." Elizabeth Warren accuses the rich of having "rigged the system" to "hollow out" the middle class.

These days, the most fervent bash-the-rich rhetoric comes from Democratic senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both of whom are proposing steep new taxes on the accumulated wealth of America's most affluent families. Sanders denounces current levels of wealth inequality as "outrageous," "grotesque," and "immoral," and declares flatly that "billionaires should not exist." Warren accuses the rich of having "rigged the system" to "hollow out" the middle class, and insists that "runaway wealth concentration" is poisoning American society.

The idea that wealth and income inequality is off the charts — that the "1 percent" has cleaned up at the expense of everyone else — has gotten considerable support from the work of three influential economists, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman. It's their research that Warren and Sanders rely on when they decry the super-rich for amassing ever more wealth while the vast majority of Americans is losing ground.

But what if Piketty, et al., got it wrong?

"Just as ideas about inequality have completed their march from the academy to the frontlines of politics, researchers have begun to look again," The Economist reported last month. "And some are wondering whether inequality has in fact risen as much as claimed — or, by some measures, at all."

Two of those researchers are economists Gerald Auten of the US Treasury and David Splinter of Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation. In a recent paper that has drawn respectful attention in the profession, they make the case that Piketty, Saez, and Zucman fumbled their data, and that their most explosive conclusions about rising inequality aren't supported by the facts. They conclude that, once taxes and government transfer payments are properly accounted for, the share of income going to the top 1 percent in the United States has barely changed since the early 1960s.

One point critics have been making for years is that data on wealth and income ought to reflect the nearly $2 trillion paid out by the government each year via Medicare, Medicaid, and other social welfare programs. Since most taxes are paid by upper-income Americans, while most transfer payments go to lower-income Americans, a good deal of inequality is constantly being neutralized by government antipoverty spending.

To that familiar correction, Auten and Splinter add more subtle ones.

They note, for example, that Piketty and his colleagues focused on tax returns filed by households, which show the income reported by the 1 percent outstripping everyone else. But the focus on household income, as opposed to individual income, skews the bottom line. Marriage rates have fallen disproportionately among poorer Americans, which means that income is divided among more lower-income households, though not among more people. When incomes are ranked by individuals, there is a lot less inequality.

Something else those beating the class-warfare drum tend to ignore is the sharp increase in corporate profits flowing to middle-class taxpayers through pension and retirement funds. Thanks to the advent of IRAs and 401(k)s, corporate ownership has been radically democratized. In 1960, Auten and Splinter point out, retirement funds owned just 4 percent of the US stock market. Today that figure is above 50 percent.

Yet another correction has to do with the way US incomes have been reported to the IRS since 1986. A major change in tax law that year encouraged small businesses to operate as "pass-through" entities, meaning that their income — previously included in corporate returns — could henceforth be included in individual tax returns. As a result, high incomes that used to be sheltered within corporate tax filings began getting reported as individual income: a surge in personal wealth on paper, but not in reality.

Academic analyses of taxpayers' earnings can be "fiendishly complicated," the Economist acknowledges. Politicians and ideologues generally aren't interested in nuance; they prefer to treat issues of income, wealth, and inequality as black-and-white morality tales. But the incessant claim by Sanders and Warren that working-class Americans are being impoverished as plutocrats in the "tippy top" grow ever richer is just not plausible.

There is more to wealth, after all, than hourly wages. "If you argue that income has shrunk you also have to claim that four decades' worth of innovation in goods and services, from mobile phones and video streaming to cholesterol-lowering statins, have not improved middle-earners' lives," the Economist comments. "That is simply not credible." As Don Boudreaux of George Mason University points out, the humblest working-class American today enjoys a standard of living and an array of amenities and comforts — from air travel to contact lenses to overnight package delivery — far superior to most of what even a billionaire like John D. Rockefeller could have commanded a century ago.

Perhaps this is why progressive passion for soaking the rich and closing the wealth gap rarely seem to be shared by most voters. When Gallup earlier this year asked Americans to name the "most important problem facing this country today," just 1 percent cited the gap between rich and poor. When respondents were given a list of a dozen "priorities" for Congress and the president to tackle, "the distribution of income and wealth" tied for last place.

Contrary to progressive belief, America is not divided into rigid economic strata. The incomes of the wealthy often decline, while many taxpayers go from being poor at one point to not-poor at another. Research shows that more than one-tenth of Americans will make it all the way to the top 1 percent for at least one year during their working lives.

The very rich, wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, "are different from you and me." Are they, though? You'd never know it to hear Warren and Sanders fulminate, but the gaping inequality they rail against might just be an illusion.



Trump Now Leads All of His Likely Rivals in National Polls, Even Biden

The fallout from the Democrats' impeachment of Trump keeps getting worse for Democrats. Not only do a plurality now oppose impeachment and removal, but Trump is now leading all of his likely Democrat rivals for the White House in head-to-head match-ups, according to a new USA Today/Suffolk University Poll.

According to the recent national survey, President Trump is "defeating former Vice President Joe Biden by 3 percentage points, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by 5 points, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren by 8 points." He also bests Pete Buttigieg by 10 points, and Michael Bloomberg by 9 points.

While obviously polls this far out from the election are hardly reliable indicators, several factors make it clear that Trump is in a very strong position. At this time in the 2012 election cycle, Obama was consistently beating Romney in national polls. Given Trump's already overwhelmingly negative media coverage, the partisan impeachment hearings of the Democrats were the best chance to knock Trump's numbers down, but instead of all his likely rivals crushing him in national polls, he's now beating them.  What does that tell you?

Trump spent most of the 2016 election underwater in terms of national polling—so much so that pundits were almost universally predicting Hillary's coronation.

With the exception of an economic collapse, the height of an impeachment inquiry should be the worst possible thing for Trump. He's had Democrats being given hours and hours of air time claiming him to be a criminal. Yet, here we are — support for impeachment is underwater, and he's outpolling his likely rivals. Many underestimated him in 2016—including me—who should be looking at the numbers today and realizing that save for an economic downturn, Donald Trump will be extremely difficult to beat in 2020,



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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