Coming from Donald J. Trump, it was a remarkable speech – the measured tone, the presidential timbre. Plus it offered something to everyone: increased military expenditure of $54 billion to establishment Republicans, immigration controls to the Tea Party wing, tax cuts and a repeal of Obamacare for both, and the sop of family leave to the Democrats.
Trump Brings Chaos and Pain
Thus went the address to a joint session of Congress. Now comes the hard part: the implementation. The first item on the agenda is likely to be health care. Yes, Obamacare has problems, but it has insured the poorest with government help – individuals who did not have insurance before. The insured now seek help earlier, encouraging preventive care and reducing expensive visits to hospital emergency rooms. If they do go, hospitals get paid, assuring their support for Obamacare. The Republican proposal to offer tax credits for health care doesn't help these people because their income is insufficient to rack up enough credits when they are paying very little in taxes. Will the Democrats put up a fight?
The U.S. spends more money on defense than the next eleven countries put together. Moreover, President Obama initiated a 20-year $1 trillion program to update nuclear weapons. What this and the proposed $54 billion will do is increase pressure to cut social programs: education, government sponsored early childhood programs, aid to families who qualify, food stamps and so on. Simply put, defense, Social Security and Medicare take up most of the budget and are impossible to cut given the politics, leaving social programs (not loved by Republicans) most vulnerable.
Martin Luther King Jr. called out three evils: racism, militarism and economic exploitation. In the near five decades since his passing, there has been much progress. But economic segregation becomes tantamount to racial separation and military adventurism is increasing. A shocking fact: Since independence in 1776, the U.S. has been in some sort of conflict in all but 17 years of its existence. In Yemen, Trump ordered a failed mission almost as soon as he came into office. Now direct bombing has begun – under Obama the U.S. only refueled Saudi aircraft.
As it appears, the military spending increase is certainly more concrete than the so far abstract public-private investment in infrastructure, likely to take longer to reify. The trouble is military spending is the worst way to grow an economy. Here is a simple example. If the military buys a smart bomb, what it does is make a several million dollar hole in the ground. Yet if you buy a car, its maintenance adds to the local economy. Better still, educating your children increases their earning capacity, the GDP, and returns your investment many times over.
Such are the politics and policies in the U.S., the only industrialized advanced country not offering universal health care -- hence the slogan 'Medicare for All' at rallies. As congressional battles are reported on, it won't be long before the bloom is off the rose.
The press with one scalp to its credit, Lt. General Mike Flynn, is after another. This time it is Jeff Sessions, the newly confirmed Attorney General. The fact is when asked during confirmation hearings in the context of an election question if he had met with any Russian officials during the election campaign, he answered 'no.' Now a news leak duly checked out shows he met with the Russian ambassador twice. Mr. Sessions claims the meeting pertained to his job as senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee and had nothing whatsoever to do with the election so his answer was not incorrect. At the time, he says, he was a senator who had no inkling he would be considered for the job of attorney general. And there it stands, the situation hinging on whether the media frenzy gets a sympathetic ear from the public.
Back to US War Mongering
The Trump White House's war with the press has heated up. It barred some major news organizations including CNN and the New York Times from a press event on a day when President Trump was using the charged words 'enemy of the people' to describe certain media outlets.
While the Trump campaign routinely barred certain news organizations from campaign rallies and other events, the circumstances become critically different when they concern the nation's business and the White House, the people's house. The stunt was condemned by almost everyone including – of all people – former President George W. Bush, who was criticized and lampooned mercilessly by the press.
On a positive note, the $1 trillion proposed for infrastructure repair is sorely needed. Yet the amount necessary according to an estimate by the American Society of Civil Engineers is $3.6 trillion. The U.S. is also one of a few major industrial countries lacking a proper high-speed rail system. For now, that must remain a pipe dream.
Dr. Arshad M Khan is a former Professor whose comments over several decades have appeared in a wide-ranging array of print and electronic media.