Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Trump's Boy Who Cried Wolf Problem

There are almost incalculable ways that the Trump administration has already damaged the country in the past two months, and admittedly throughout their campaign the previous 16.  Incendiary rhetoric, hateful bigotry, and heinous political speak that included claiming that he would jail his opponent, all are amongst them.  But we're running into, in the past few days, a problem that perhaps will eventually supersede them all, that of Trump playing the proverbial "boy who cried wolf."  In the wake of the Russian claims, and in particular Trump's ludicrous wiretapping accusations, we have run into a situation where there are too many people now who trust the president blindly or who don't trust him at all.

This is a problem for a variety of reasons, but perhaps none more so for those who trust him blindly than after the CBO report yesterday which lambasted the Trump/Ryan healthcare bill.  The CBO report was horrific.  Basically it proclaimed that the bill would cause 24 million people to lose their health insurance in the next decade, and in particular would put the cost of the burden on the poor, old, and sick.  In turn, an enormous majority of that money that we're saving would not go to those same people or even to the regular public at large, but instead would be an enormous tax break for the wealthiest Americans (indeed, if you don't make more than $250k-a-year it's very likely that you won't benefit from this at all).  24 million people being uninsured would border on a national health crisis, putting tens of millions of people at risk for bankruptcy if they were to get into a car accident or contract cancer.

What should be worse for Republicans is that there are large swaths of red states that are on programs such as Medicaid; Arkansas and West Virginia, for example, are in the Top 10 states in terms of a percentage of their population that are enrolled in the program.  Other red states such as Kentucky, North Dakota, Louisiana, and Alaska (not to mention swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan) are all on the Medicaid expansion that would disappear under the plan and now have tens of thousands of people collectively on the program.  24 million people sounds like a lot-to illustrate how big it is, remember it's more than the entire state of New York.  Not the city, the state.

The problem here is that Trump has already sent out people like Tom Price to try and disparage the CBO, which is ludicrous.  The CBO is run by a lifelong Republican, a Republican that was appointed by Congress.  He surely would prefer not to make Donald Trump, let alone the man who got him his job Paul Ryan, look bad.  But the CBO is also an independent organization, and trades in facts, not in favors.  The reality is that 24 million people will lose their insurance based on this plan.  It's possible that someone like Paul Ryan doesn't care about this, but it's more damaging that Trump is out there saying that this simply won't happen if the plan passes even if it will, because there are people out there (we all know them...you might even be them) that believe anything the man says.

The issue here lies in the fact that reality has a way of not caring whether or not someone is lying or not.  Trump can say that his inauguration crowds were the biggest ever or that he won the popular vote, and probably nothing happens as a result because there aren't really any larger consequences here (except one we'll get to in a second), but with a lie of this magnitude, the music will eventually start playing.  Trump supporters may not notice or care about a travel ban that doesn't affect their day-to-day lives, but they'll notice if they lose their health coverage.  There may be an amount of hubris here for Democrats (though this plan also takes health coverage away from millions of Democrats as well), but Trump and Republicans are going to have to deal with some truly galling attack ads in 2018 and 2020 if this comes to pass.  There could well be people who talk about how losing Obamacare made them go bankrupt or even that a loved one died because they couldn't afford healthcare.  Like climate change, you can only lie so much until the truth envelopes you.  Reality doesn't spare you if you deny it.

This problem, that Trump lies more than any other major politician of recent memory, means that his supporters will eventually, potentially even when it's too late to punish him for it, realize that he was a charlatan.  They'll realize it when their homes are ravaged by extreme weather and they get no help, or when their healthcare costs balloon by 10x what they currently are right now and they get no help.

The inverse is equally troubling and an issue-Trump's opponents also have a problem with his perpetual lying, and here we have a different kind of reality check problem.  As I mentioned above, Trump has an issue where he's lying continually over stupid things like inauguration sizes.  The problem is that at this point he has walked back so many of his lies (ie wiretapping) or has lied so consistently that it's impossible to expect the general public to take him seriously or believe him.  Millions of Democrats, who might have given a John McCain or a Mitt Romney the benefit of the doubt at least in terms of their speaking the truth on issues of major national importance, will not do so with Trump.  Additionally, his insistence on a unified front "or else" has caused most of the other major leaders in the country (people like Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Jeff Sessions) to lie as well, in the case of Sessions perjuring himself before Congress.

The danger here is that eventually we're going to run into a situation where the president is going to need the benefit of the doubt from the American people, and it's going to be an issue of national security or national importance.  I'm not talking about getting a buy-in on a major spending bill or the like-I'm talking about an issue of national security where he can't release all of the information.  It might be North Korea or Iran or Syria, but at some point the president is going to need the trust of the American people, and at this point he doesn't have it, and it's next to impossible to think of ways he could feasibly win it back.  America doubting the president when he says he's taking military action to respond to a terrorist threat is a big deal, as it limits what he can do to respond in the short-term and makes the country seem like it's not united behind his actions even if they're to their larger benefit.  Trump has lied so repetitively to try to gain marginal points on the evening news that he has tarnished his bully pulpit beyond repair.  He could attempt to repair it by releasing his tax returns, firing Jeff Sessions for his congressional testimony, and dismissing Kellyanne Conway in a sign of better faith with the news media, but that seems as likely as Oscar Isaac becoming my boyfriend...today.  The reality is that this is a president that doesn't give a crap whether or not he has credibility as long as he has press and power.  That comes at a price, though-don't forget that the boy who cried wolf eventually is eaten in the end.  The problem here is that Trump may take the country with him for his insistence on lies being the truth.

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