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American Failure

When are we going to hit the wall?

After seven years of griping about Obamacare, the Republican Party finally failed to repudiate it. They hold both houses of Congress, and the presidency — but still, they failed. I don’t know that last night’s failure was a bad thing for the country. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know; I don’t follow policy closely. But reading a variety of media reports about how it all went down, it looked like the Republicans were in disarray, and just wanted to pass something so they could say they passed something.

This was without question a terrible failure for the GOP. In the Trump era, the Republican Party cannot govern. Trump, as is his way, is faulting Senate Republicans today for the Obamacare repeal disaster, but of course he did next to nothing to make it happen. Obamacare needs to be reformed. These Republicans had years to prepare for that reform if and when they came to power. And this is what we got.

John McCain said he voted no as a protest against the ridiculous way his GOP colleagues tried to get this thing passed:


He’s right about that. So I’m glad he did what he did.

John Podhoretz holds the president primarily responsible. Excerpt:

Trump wandered around the White House eating two scoops of ice cream and watching TV and tweeting. He left the communicating to Republicans on Capitol Hill, who proved uniquely incapable of making any kind of case for anything. But cut them some slack—with no administration involvement whatever, they were both shaping bills and trying to keep Republicans on board and figuring out tricky ways to pass legislation without triggering the need for 60 Senate votes. For them also to be in charge of selling the bill when selling isn’t really part of either Paul Ryan’s or Mitch McConnell’s skill set was jawdroppingly negligent.

There is only one possible salesman for a major national shift in policy, and that is the president of the United States. And Trump is a salesman. The problem is he knows only how to sell himself. He has no clue how to sell anything else.

Ryan and McConnell had to focus on bringing together people with wildly varying constituencies and purposes, and basically ended up throwing crap against the walls to see what would stick. The final humiliation of the process on Thursday—in which the Senate basically agreed to debate a bill that night that had only come into existence at lunchtime—was the necessary end result of seven months in which the president of the United States ate up all the oxygen in Washington with his ugly, petty, seething, resentful rages and foolishnesses as expressed in 140 illiterate characters.

That’s one view, and it’s a correct one. The one that I think is most important is Chris Arnade’s view from 30,000 feet, expressed in a tweetstorm last night that began like this:





It goes on.

You would do well to look over Arnade’s work for The Guardian, writing about his travels in the Other America. His tweetstorm made me think about when I gave up on the Republican Party for good. It was 2008. The GOP led us into the greatest foreign policy disaster since Vietnam — and perhaps even a greater one, we don’t yet know — and they would not take responsibility for it. It took Donald Trump, of all people, to be the first major Republican to speak the truth about the Iraq disaster. These people, the Republicans, could not acknowledge reality, much less own the GOP’s leading role in it. And they still wanted the American people to trust them with national security?

For me, personally, the Katrina response from the federal government was a big part of it. Yes, the government of Louisiana, and New Orleans city officials, displayed gross incompetence. One thing that stuck out in my mind, though, is that the Bush administration put in charge of FEMA a numbnuts who had no experience managing disaster relief and recovery, but lots of experience being a faithful party loyalist.

Then came the financial crash. Both parties were to blame there, as anybody who knows the history of the Clinton administration and its coziness with Wall Street knows. That was a bipartisan failure, and failure to hold the bankers responsible was also bipartisan. There’s no need to go through the ugly details again here, to find out if the Republicans were 64 percent responsible, or whatever. But if you think that it’s all the fault of Republicans, read this 2015 William D. Cohan piece from The Atlantic. Both parties are the party of Wall Street.

And read Chris Arnade’s reflection from the 2016 campaign, explaining why his 20 years on Wall Street caused him to judge that a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean more of the same. Excerpts:

I owe almost my entire Wall Street career to the Clintons. I am not alone; most bankers owe their careers, and their wealth, to them. Over the last 25 years they – with the Clintons it is never just Bill or Hillary – implemented policies that placed Wall Street at the center of the Democratic economic agenda, turning it from a party against Wall Street to a party of Wall Street.

That is why when I recently went to see Hillary Clinton campaign for president and speak about reforming Wall Street I was skeptical. What I heard hasn’t changed that skepticism. The policies she offers are mid-course corrections. In the Clintons’ world, Wall Street stays at the center, economically and politically. Given Wall Street’s power and influence, that is a dangerous place to leave them.


The use of bailouts should have also been a reason to heavily regulate Wall Street, to prevent behavior that would require a bailout. But the administration didn’t do that; instead they went the opposite direction and continued to deregulate it, culminating in the repeal of Glass Steagall in 1999.

It changed the trading floor, which started to fill with Democrats. On my trading floor, Robert Rubin, who had joined my firm after leaving the administration, held traders attention by telling long stories and jokes about Bill Clinton to wide-eyed traders.

Wall Street now had both political parties working for them, and really nobody holding them accountable. Now, no trade was too aggressive, no risk too crazy, no behavior to unethical and no loss too painful. It unleashed a boom that produced plenty of smaller crisis (Russia, Dotcom), before culminating in the housing and financial crisis of 2008.

The response to that crisis was Mexico 1995 writ large: bailout the banks and save Wall Street. This time executed by an Obama administration filled with veterans of the Clinton administration, including Hillary Clinton and Larry Summers. Prior to joining Obama’s administration as a senator, Hillary Clinton voted to bail-out the banks, a vote she still defends.

More than 23 years following Bill Clinton’s election, Wall Street is very much intertwined with the Clintons: they helped fundamentally change Wall Street, and Wall Street fundamentally changed the Democratic party.

Hear me clearly: I am not saying that the Republican Party is blameless. It certainly is not. I’m saying that if you cling to the idea that the Democrats are the party of the working man, against Wall Street, you’re very naive.

The main point is that the elites keep failing, but there’s no accountability for them. They look after each other. I lost faith in the Catholic Church institution from years of studying and reporting on the abuse scandal. The gap between the Church’s public face, and what many bishops and some priests were doing behind the scene, was staggeringly wide. People like to say, “Well, the church is made up of people” — as if that’s any kind of defense for the systematic rape and abuse of children, the grinding down of their families, and the coddling of rapist priests. As you know, I eventually lost my Catholicism, but the one thing I have not lost is the inability to trust religious institutions of any sort. I’m not saying that all priests and others who work for religious institutions are untrustworthy. Some of my closest friends are Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant clergy. I’m saying that I find it impossible to trust the system. Maybe that’s wrong. But I just don’t have it in me to do it anymore. That got burned out of me from 2001-2006.

Which, come to think about it, is almost the time I quit believing in the Republican Party and American politics.

I don’t have faith in American universities anymore. I don’t believe in general that they really know what education is. I struggle with belief in the media. I’ve worked in newsrooms, and I know that most reporters are fair-minded professionals, and I believe they do good work. But I also know the strong cognitive biases of most journalists, and how thick is the bubble within which they work. And I know that there are more than a few of us Americans that they think of as the wicked — if they think of us at all.

I want to believe in the military as an institution, but I have heard too many stories from friends who served during wartime, and who told me of their own disillusionment at their higher-ups, and their loss of faith that things could change. So I don’t know.

Having lost faith in institutions, or at least having that faith sorely tried, is not the same as ceasing to believe in anything. I believe in the Holy Trinity. I believe in Orthodox Christianity (of which the institutional church is an indispensable part, but only a part). I believe in my wife and kids. I believe in my friends. I don’t think any of these (except for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) are perfect, but I believe that we are trying hard  to seek goodness and truth, and to live them out in our own lives. I believe that everything we do has ultimate meaning, and that all things — even the bad things that happen — can be opportunities for redemption. I have friends I believe in serving in the military, in government, in media, in the classroom, in holy orders, in medicine, in business, and everywhere else. To some extent, they see what I see. The fact that we all see each other at the same time, and that we all see God’s hand at work, makes a big difference.

So that’s why I am not hopeless, even though I am not optimistic. But look: if you have to lie to yourself about what’s really happening to keep from losing your equilibrium, you are on very shaky ground.

John McCain took a stand for the Senate to return to open, normal procedure. I applaud him for that, but I have to say, in an Arnadian vein: Really? That’s what it took to say the system is broken and we can’t continue like this?

Here, in a tweet by a Democratic US Senator from Connecticut, is one of the core problems with American life:


No. It’s not true. It’s not true when a liberal Democrat says it, and it’s not true when a conservative Republican preacher says it.

UPDATE: Reader Kgasmart, from a related thread:

Pretty much the end of the Republican Party, isn’t it? But the Dems are hardly in better shape – do they have an emerging leader younger than 70 or so? Do they actually stand for anything beyond #Resistance and letting Frieda who was yesterday Fred share a public shower facility with your pre-teen daughter?

Yep. I saw an interview today in which Sen. Ben Sasse said that both political parties are “exhausted.” He’s right.



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