"I would wade though a sea of COVID infested water to vote for President Trump on November 3rd," said a Twitter user named Heather on Tuesday evening. By the next morning, the world's most powerful man had found the message and retweeted it with one of his own: "Thank you Heather!"
It was the culmination of a truly deranged digital exhibition, in which the President of the United States—still in the thick of a bout with COVID-19 and perhaps still on a steroid that can alter a patient's mental state—tweeting or retweeting 42 times in a two-hour period last night. He continued the splurge into the morning, with at least 47 more. Along the way, he screamed about a "COUP!", suggested he could win the state of California and thereafter put an end to wildfires, and shared a Chris Farley meme in which the deceased comedian is screaming at Attorney General Bill Barr to arrest the president's political enemies.
But the most consequential look through this charming window into the Presidential Brain came with the big guy's messages on a (now extremely theoretical) stimulus bill. On Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell—nobody's idea of a free-spending big-government leftist—called for Congress to forget The National Debt for a bit and spend some goddamned money. This echoes his earlier advice to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to seize on historically low interest rates to "go big." The thinking adheres to the basic principle from John Maynard Keynes that when the economy is sinking—which it is for large swathes of the country in this K-shaped recovery—the government should inject some cash to get the gears moving again. The president responded to this entreaty by announcing he was pulling the plug on stimulus negotiations with House Democrats. Equity markets, apparently propped up by the devout belief Congress would not be dumb enough to forgo another round of stimulus, immediately tanked.
(To be clear, House Democrats first passed an additional $3.5 trillion stimulus bill in May[!] that Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, did not engage with whatsoever for months. Boosted unemployment benefits were allowed to expire on August 1. The Senate finally came up with a $300 billion "skinny" bill in early September that crashed and burned pretty much immediately. Last week, Democrats passed a revised version of their bill to the tune of $2.2 trillion. The White House was reportedly willing to go up to $1.3 trillion, but Pelosi rejected that and it's not clear the Senate Republican caucus was even on board.)
To demonstrate that someone is definitely behind the wheel and that someone is definitely of sound mind, the president waited about seven hours after blowing up the negotiations to send a tweet demanding that Congress "IMMEDIATELY" fund a $25 billion bailout of the airline industry. As a master negotiator, President Business Deals knows you can take out bits and pieces you want from a failed negotiation and just yell until the other side gives them to you for nothing in return. Shortly thereafter, he demanded Congress pass another round of $1,200 stimulus checks as well as help for small businesses, again under the impression that his tweets alone had the power to compel the Speaker of the House to abandon everything Democrats want after the president already announced there would be no stimulus bill and that everyone should know it was his call.
NOW THAT THE RADICAL LEFT DEMOCRATS GOT CAUGHT COLD IN THE (NON) FRIENDLY TRANSFER OF GOVERNMENT, IN FACT, THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN AND WENT FOR A COUP, WE ARE ENTITLED TO ASK THE VOTERS FOR FOUR MORE YEARS. PLEASE REMEMBER THIS WHEN YOU VOTE! https://t.co/gsFSghkmdM
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2020
The question is whether the president is just whacked out or whether Mitch McConnell has gotten in his ear and convinced him to self-immolate. After all, Trump's tweet setting some TNT under the stimulus negotiations specifically mentioned the Senate should shift priorities to the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Since packing the judiciary with judges who will advance conservative priorities from the bench—including, most importantly, the entrenchment of corporate power and the voter suppression policies that allow Republicans to win elections with a non-majoritarian coalition—is McConnell's main bag, this seems right up his alley.
It is not in Trump's interests, however. The president needs a stimulus bill to juice up the economy before the election, yet he didn't just scrap it, he broadcast to the world that he should be to blame. It's like he doesn't even want to win—or as if McConnell thinks he is destined to lose, and wants to get his judge while allowing the economy to deteriorate further ahead of a Democratic administration. In this scenario, Joe Biden could enter office—assuming the coming election is free and fair—with an even bigger task ahead of him. Even if he's got a Senate majority that will pass his proposals, which include a $2 trillion infrastructure and clean energy plan, there could be a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court waiting to strike it all down on the basis of "textualism," or "originalism," or whatever other horse shit the conservative activists on the bench are serving up today.
This was a problem in the early New Deal era, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded, in part, by threatening to pack the Court. He failed to do so, but the Court stopped striking down his stuff. Biden has expressed reluctance to get into that game, but he might not have a choice if he wants to avoid a failed presidency. It may come down to escalationism or defeat. And speaking of escalations, Biden should start ramping up the scale of his stimulus plans if McConnell continues to act outside the public interest and forgo the kind of action necessary to instigate a broad-based recovery from the pandemic downturn that includes working class people. $2 trillion should become three or four.
The fact is that none of these are likely big enough to tackle the scale of the problems the United States faces, particularly when it comes to rebuilding the country with an eye on the climate crisis. But it's a start, and it's a political winner, particularly if—as Biden has promised—it will create union jobs that pay $15 an hour. All the better if they're building green infrastructure or getting clean water to places like Flint, Michigan. Nobody cares about The National Debt right now, not even the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Spend the money. The nature of our current K-shaped recovery is that the people McConnell serves, and even most big-city professionals who will vote for Biden, have already bounced back from the COVID recession. It's the people who've lost their jobs, or some of their hours, or had to quit to care for their children, or whose small business could fail between now and another stimulus bill who will suffer. The Democratic Party must represent them, or we will all someday pay the price.
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