Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Democracy is dead. Long live King Donald.


That’s what the future looks like.

I may have over-reacted with the title of this post. Democracy may not be dead - yet. But it looks to me like Trump is moving toward anointing himself as King Donald. He is maneuvering to give himself the freedom to do whatever he pleases, whatever his “gut” tells him to do. All that without any effective constraints on his maniacal whims and malicious grudges.

Consider the out-flow from the Trump administration of ‘adults in the room’ - either by being forced out by the resident autocrat, or by fleeing a vision of impotence, or by taking issue with said autocrat.

Nikki Haley, ambassador to the U. N., is leaving this month. Gary Cohn, economic advisor, gone. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, gone. Generals McMaster, Kelly, and now Mattis, all gone or soon to be gone. With Mattis’ departure, there is no one left in the White House to resist Trump’s impulses (that are driven by inexperience, incompetence, and indifference to consequences).

"This is a rogue presidency,” said Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general.

Following on, ’A rogue presidency’: The era of containing Trump is over writes Phillip Rucker, White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post.

Rucker certainly knows the implication of that assertion. If we can no longer contain Trump, then Democracy is dead, to be replaced by a corrupt monarchy.

… the result has been disarray. The federal government is shut down. Stock markets are in free fall. Foreign allies are voicing alarm. Hostile powers such as Russia are cheering. And Republican lawmakers once afraid of crossing this president are now openly critical.

"Trump wants total freedom to do what he wants when he wants and he’s much closer to getting that, which is what will terrify not only Congress but the rest of the world as well,” said Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution.

"In Trump’s mind, and those of some of his supporters, he’s shedding those establishment figures who have prevented him from following his instincts and fulfilling his campaign pledges,” said David Axelrod, a political strategist who was a White House adviser to President Barack Obama. “But his instincts are impulsive, almost always grounded in his own narrow politics and often motivated by spite. An unbridled Trump is a frightening proposition.”

… alarm bells rang last week throughout the foreign policy establishment. The resignation of Mattis was held up as a singular moment. Eliot A. Cohen, a senior official in the State Department during the Bush administration and Trump critic, wrote in the Atlantic, “Henceforth, the senior ranks of government can be filled only by invertebrates and opportunists, schemers and careerists.”

“They may try to manipulate the president, or make some feeble efforts to subvert him,” Cohen added, “but in the end they will follow him.”

The characterization of Trump’s remaining followers as “opportunists, schemers and careerists” sounds an awful lot like the courtiers in a corrupt court ruled by a Mad Monarch.

Let’s push the analogy to a monarchy further. A Parliament, such as that in the UK, should place constraints on what a monarch can do. Our House of Commons will flip to the opposing party in January. But our House of Lords remains loyal to King Trump. Moreover, the Lords have the vote on who sits on the highest court in the land.

The saga is not yet done. More damage to our democracy is on the horizon. The latest salvo from the throne is Trump’s attack on the Fed, blaming the Fed Chair, Jerome Powell, for the stock market sell-off. The NY Times reports that the Stock Market Rout Has Trump Fixated on Fed Chair Powell. Of course, the erratic behavior of a Mad King would have done nothing to trigger said rout - nothing but fueling it with chaos and uncertainty.

For example, CNN Business reports that the Confusing signals from Washington send markets plunging.

Alarmed investors drove the Dow more than 650 points lower in a shortened trading session on Monday. Markets plunged after the Trump administration sent out confusing signals about markets and the economy.

The S&P 500 fell 2.7% and the Nasdaq was off 2.2%. The Dow, which fell 2.9%, and the S&P 500 suffered their biggest Christmas Eve declines ever.

Dear America
This is the most beautiful, biggest and best stock market crash ever.
Merry Christmas
Signed King Donald the First

Stocks initially fell on Monday following a statement from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that he had checked on the health of the country’s largest banks.

The market recovered late morning, but then slid even lower after President Donald Trump tweeted: “The only problem our economy has is the Fed.” Investors are concerned that Trump may fire Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

And all Trump could do is tweet: “The only problem our economy has is the Fed. They don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders. The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can’t score because he has no touch - he can’t putt!” And that display of ignorance and psychological projection served to worsen the market.

Stocks are on pace for their worst December since the Great Depression. On Friday, the Dow ended its worst week since 2008. The Nasdaq is in a bear market.

After another brutal day on Monday, the Dow is 18.8%, or 5,036 points, off its peak reached on September 20. The S&P 500, also near a bear market, is down 19.8% from its high point October 3. Oil fell more than 6% on Monday to below $43 a barrel.

Adding to investor concerns: The partial shutdown of the federal government will continue at least until Thursday, and possibly into January. Although the closure of some government services isn’t expected to hurt the economy, the inability of lawmakers and President Donald Trump to put politics aside to enact a budget is unnerving to investors.

“The confusion and disorder surrounding this week’s spending debate suggest fiscal deadlines in 2019 — including the debt limit deadline, which we expect to fall between August to October — could be more disruptive than they have been since the 2011–2013 period,” Goldman Sachs economists wrote in a research note.

The stock selloff in part reflects concern about a looming slowdown in economic growth. Investors’ worries were exacerbated last week when the Federal Reserve signaled no slowdown in its plans to continue raising interest rates next year. The market is also reacting to the Trump administration’s trade war with China. The trade war helped knock China’s stock market into a bear market over the summer.

Another way to look at the stock market losses is that we’ve not seen a Dow this low since September 1, 2017.

CNN concludes: “Still, some market veterans argue that a panicky Wall Street is prematurely pricing in a recession that may not hit until 2020.” Scriber hopes so. But there’s a lot of crazy sh!t the Mad King can throw at the world in the meantime.

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