Issue 121: 2017 09 21:Crossing the floor (J.R.Thomas)

21 September 2017

Crossing the Floor

A new Mr Trump?

by J.R. Thomas

The summer recess is over, fall is creeping down from New England to Virginia, and in Washington two remarkable events occurred last week that should keep the American political establishment chattering into the winter.

President Trump, having done a deal with the Democrats to get the federal funding extension through Congress, seems to have got a taste for dealing with the blue side of the political spectrum.  He is now in detailed discussions with the minority party as to a deal to regularise the position of the “Dreamers”, those who have lived in the US since childhood but who arrived as illegal immigrants and who cannot generally get naturalised as American citizens.  Hard working and ambitious as they often are, having bought into their parent’s dream of a better life in the US, they are often unable to return to the land of their birth as they are not passport holders or citizens of their country of origin.  President Obama introduced the DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) programme which helps educate and find employment and solve other problems for Dreamers.  It was a contentious issue in the Presidential campaign last year.  Most voters probably have some sympathy with the trap that the Dreamers are caught in but many Trump supporters – especially in the states where they are seen as a threat to jobs and social service provision – would like a repatriation programme.  Mr Trump’s apparent determination to do just that was probably a big vote winner among those voters – many of them traditional blue collar Democrats – and a couple of weeks ago he announced that the DACA programme would be terminated.  Or maybe not; last week, Donald said that he is working with the Democrats to “codify” the programme.  It is not entirely clear what that means or what the scope of such codification might be, but the fact that it is happening is causing serious angst among Mr Trump’s more hardcore supporters.  Nor was there much about the Mexican wall – just a reference to “enhanced border security”.  Cue burning of “Make America Great Again” baseball caps.

Next up in the test of “How Republican is Donald?” is the Federal Reserve Board.  As with the Supreme Court, the Trump Administration has an opportunity to reshape the board of governors of the Fed, simply because of a coincidence of retirements.  We would say reshape in his own image but a cynic might say that it is not very clear what Mr Trump’s image is anymore.  The Fed is a very powerful instrument of financial governance – like the Bank of England but probably more influential in economic matters, though without the detailed regulatory role of the Bank.  The board has seven governors, but there are currently two vacancies and the Chairman, Janet Yellen, an Obama appointee, has a contract that expires next February.  She is a distinguished economist and a talented Washington insider and word is that she would like another term.   She is 71, but in a country which seems to relish age and experience, a spring chicken compared with Alan Greenspan, chairman at age 80.  Ms Yellen in some ways is very much to the Trump way of thinking – she is inclined to favour low interest rates, is no inflation hawk, and is cynical about increasing regulation.  As an Obama appointment she was seen likely to be replaced at the end of her term of office (she would however continue as a director unless she resigned, as her ten year term expires in 2024).  However, recent smoke signals from the White House suggest that she may be reappointed.  If so she could turn out to be a prisoner of the Fed board – which has those two existing vacancies, an existing Trump appointment in Randal Quarles, vice chairman, and the pending exit of the other vice chairman Stanley Fischer,  stepping down for personal reasons in early October.  That is an extraordinary opportunity for Mr Trump; but rather than predict who all these jobs will go to, it is likely to be more profitable to consider post appointment what the new faces reveal about Trump thinking.  If Ms Yellen is reappointed that will certainly suggest further drift to the Democrat way of thinking in the White House – and more outrage in the Republican Party

So, to the other remarkable event. Welcome back, Hillary Clinton.  Mrs C has been mostly absent from these pages, and from the American media, since November last year.  And the reason for that is that Mrs C has been writing a book.  Or at least, presiding over the production of one.  The book is called “What Happened”.  Not, as you might think, from large parts of it: “What Happened?”; or even, being Hillary, “What the F… Happened?” Hillary knows what happened only too well, but she does not seem to have grasped why.  If instead of rushing into print she had gone for a long walk, or spent a few months on a dude ranch communing with nature, she might have worked out why it happened, and produced a much more thoughtful analysis.  What she is sure of is that it was not her fault, but that of so many other people.  Especially Bernie Sanders, who was impertinent enough to run against her; and Donald Trump who should have stuck to real estate in New York, and those mysterious Russians.  There are some priceless anecdotes in the book which will make it a classic in due course, including explanations for those photographs of the Clintons enjoying Mr Trump’s wedding to Melania.  They did not know him, she says, but as he asked them, was a major force in New York real estate, and the wedding would be wonderfully vulgar they thought it would be amusing to go.  Can this really be taken seriously?  Even if it is true, and there are other photos of Bill and The Donald at play, it is an extraordinary insight into the Clinton mind-set that probably won’t be in any second edition.

Mrs Clinton has risen high in American politics, but unlike, say, Nancy Pelosi or Theresa May or Angela Merkel, she has done it largely on the popularity and office holdings of her husband.  Which is not to say that she is not a clever, immensely hard working, and skilled woman and politician; the shame is that she has never had the opportunity to prove her merits by an electoral victory all of her own.  In 2008 this was denied her by Barrack Obama, and in 2016 by Donald Trump – and almost by that semi professed socialist outsider Bernie Sanders.  It all rankles with her to the extent that one suspects she wanted to win the election much more than she actually wanted to occupy the office of President, which would explain her lack-lustre manifesto but the immense energy and the vast amount of dollars which went into the campaign. In the end she does not understand two things; one, that the Clinton history, the rumours, and air of sleaze that they have never been able to throw off, was always going to take a lot of work to overcome – and, two, just what ordinary working class Democrat voters worry about.

Hillary’s story is in many ways a classic tragedy, a great three part novel or film script, the story of a woman who really wanted high office but whose ruthless single minded determination to get there made it almost certain that she never would.  And with the Shakespearian twist that the man who did take the crown from her increasingly shows all the signs that he doesn’t really want it.


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