December 10, 2017

Flavour of the week

Friday, May 19, 2017

Prepare for the big smash

By Nicolás Meyer
For The Herald
If, after observing the following diverse items of news, you connect the dots, you may come to the same sobering realisation I did. Did I say “sobering”? “Deadly alarming” is more like it.

Item: US President Donald Trump declared that the United States “needs a good ‘shutdown.’” (He himself put inverted commas around the word “shutdown,” within the overall quote.)

He made the statement, as is his wont, in a tweet. His precise words, published on his Twitter account @realDonaldTrump, were as follows: “Either elect more Republican senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51 percent. Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”

Item: Trump is becoming more open in his admiration for strong-arm personalities overseas.

His palship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin is celebrated. He has softened on China: the US Navy has cut back its “freedom of navigation” movements in the South China Sea, where they were being held to signify to China it couldn’t freely bully its territorial rivals there. He has variously endorsed, or invited over, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, and Marine Le Pen during France’s electoral race (“she’s the strongest on what’s going on in France”). After North Korea had released a fantasy video in which missiles blow up the White House, he said he would be “honoured” to meet dictator Kim Jong-Un.

Item: although Trump has flip-flopped on a number of issues (notably, as mentioned, China), there are two pursuits in which he exhibits perfect consistency. One is measures that will directly favour the wealthy, including himself; the other is measures that will increase his powers as president.

Item: Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy.

The amount of debt invoked varies according to who’s counting and how — figures of US$70 billion and US$123 billion are among those that have been reported — but for the purposes of the present dot-connecting game, the precise figure doesn’t really matter. (It matters, of course, to Puerto Rico’s creditors and to the pensioners who depend on the island’s government to collect their pensions.) In any case, the size of the insolvency dwarfs that of Detroit when it went belly-up four years ago, which was US$18 billion.

Item: the director of the US Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, stepping up to elucidate Trump’s “shutdown” tweet, said a shutdown is merely “a negotiating tool to an extent.”

The background: the operation of the US government had almost shut down because of a dispute over funding. Why? Because if Trump’s budget proposals had been approved by Congress as submitted, they would have meant acceptance of diverse major policy changes he is seeking. Democrats, although in a minority, gave Trump a hard time, especially on the border wall he wants to build, before a deal was reached.

That’s what Trump meant by saying more Republican senators should be elected: with an even bigger majority, the Democrats couldn’t do him the same mischief again. Failing that, he wants the Senate rules to be altered in his favour. Currently, the opposition can indefinitely delay (filibuster) his proposals, unless he controls the 60 percent of the Senate votes that are necessary to stop a filibuster. But if that figure were lowered to 51 percent, the majority Republicans could override the minority right now.

In other words: if the government had almost shut down, due to money issues, it was because Trump’s side still isn’t strong enough to do as it pleases, and must negotiate. Trump was saying that a shutdown would show people they need to give him more power.

Trump’s cosying up to the likes of Erdogan and Duterte, Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, is cleared up. He envies and feels empathy with people who don’t have to fool around with legislatures or judiciaries with genuine power.

Item: Trump filed for bankruptcy six times, in his pre-White House business dealings. (He says it was only four times, arguing that the first three — involving three casinos, the Trump Taj Mahal, the Trump Castle, and the Trump Plaza and Casino, filed separately over two years — were actually one operation.) He was famously employing bankruptcy rules to his advantage: “On occasion — four times — we used certain laws that were there.”

Tie it all together, and what’s the conclusion? That should the US economy become seriously troubled, Trump may decide to copy Puerto Rico’s example and declare the entire US bankrupt. (Wouldn’t Argentina’s default look small then?) Forget the impact on the rest of the world. The Mother of all Bankruptcies: THAT would teach US voters to give Trump the margin he wants!

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