Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Moral Corruption of Christianity and Democracy in the Trump Era

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Christianity and Democracy both forfeited their moral legitimacy in the Trump Era.  It was not caused by Trump, but by a moral vacuum that had evolved in America’s Christianity and democracy.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and Trump and his Republican Party merely filled the moral vacuum in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture to gain their political power.


It began with the Enlightenment of the 18th century.  It challenged traditional religious doctrines and politics with change based on reason and advances in knowledge; but institutional churches countered the threat of progressive change with doctrines of religious fundamentalism, asserting the Bible to be the literal, inerrant and infallible source of God’s truth.


Unlike the church, America’s Founding Fathers welcomed the political sovereignty of man over that of God in democracy.  While the church continued to emphasize worshiping Jesus as the alter ego of God over following his moral teachings, Thomas Jefferson asserted that the teachings of Jesus were “the most sublime moral code ever devised by man.”


In the 20th century Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell popularized a form of evangelicalism that ignored the altruistic teachings of Jesus and promoted distorted “family values” and a prosperity gospel similar to the self-centered and materialistic objectivism of Ayn Rand.  Franklin  Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr., followed their fathers and built an unholy alliance with the GOP.


Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to win the presidency with the white “Christian” vote.  Falwell’s moral majority backed Republicans after 1976, and in 2016 most White Christians elected Donald Trump as their president despite his egregious immorality that was antithetical to the teachings of Jesus; and few pulpits in White churches questioned their vote.


The moral corruption of Christianity and democracy culminated with Trump’s election.  It was the moral depravity of American voters, not Trump, that caused that political catastrophe.  While seven GOP senators voted to impeach Trump after he was charged with instigating the Capitol riot on January 6, polls indicate that 75% of Republicans continue to support Trump.


The Republican Party is in disarray and the church is in decline.  The church was once the most powerful social institution in America and the primary source of the moral standards of political legitimacy; but after sacrificing Jesus on the altar of Republican politics the church lost its moral compass.  Like the European church, it’s slowly becoming a cultural anachronism. 


Popularity is the measure of success for both Christianity and democracy in America.  The church has continued to emphasize worshiping Jesus Christ as the alter ego of God and the only means of salvation over following the altruistic teachings of Jesus, allowing materialistic and hedonistic values to shape American culture.  It would take a moral reformation to save American Christianity and democracy from their demise, and that’s not likely to happen.  



Notes:


Michael Gerson has opined that Trump’s rot has reached the GOP’s roots.  “If Trumpism were merely a set of proposals, there could be an antithesis. But the movement fully revealed by the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol is united by a belief that the White, Christian America of its imagination is on the verge of destruction, and that it must be preserved by any means necessary. This is less a political philosophy than a warped religious belief. There can be no compromise in a culture war. There can be no splitting of differences at Armageddon.  What has emerged within the Republican Party is a debate on the value of democracy itself. From one perspective, it is absurd that so many Americans have invested their hopes for the preservation of civilization in a fool. But Trump has been effective in promoting the tribalism of White grievance, as well as desperation about the fate of America. And, unlike any other president, he was happy to step into an authoritarian role, attempting to maintain power through intimidation and violence. Can the GOP really have a productive debate between people who believe in democracy and those who have lost patience for it? Between those who view politics as a method to secure rough justice in a fallen world, and those who view it as a holy crusade against scheming infidels? Between those who try to serve conservative political ideals and those who engage (in Sasse’s immortal words) in “the weird worship of one dude”? The greatest need in our politics is a conservatism that opposes authoritarianism. The greatest question: Can such a movement emerge within the framework of the Republican Party? There are scattered outposts of Republican sanity in Congress, and more in state governments. But in most of the GOP, the rot has reached the roots. Activists feel the anger that Trump has fed rather than the contempt for Trump that he has earned. They feel cheated rather than defeated.

At the same time--though I admire the normality and professionalism of President Biden’s administration--it is hard to imagine a future for market-oriented, pro-life conservatives in the Democratic Party. A strong ideological current heads in the other direction. And it is equally difficult to believe that a third-party challenge to the political duopoly would be anything other than quixotic. But even an exiled conservatism offers this comfort: Nothing human is permanent. And no good cause is finally lost.” See  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-rot-has-reached-the-gops-roots/2021/02/15/8415fbb8-6fb9-11eb-85fa-e0ccb3660358_story.html?.


Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) is a Trump clone who has vowed to keep Trump at the heart of the Republican Party.  He has criticized both Senator McConnell and Nikki Haley for criticizing Trump, saying that “McConnell may have “got a load off his chest” with his floor speech, but he had also made himself a target for pro-Trump Republicans in 2022.  “Donald Trump is the most vibrant member of the Republican Party. The Trump movement is alive and well,  All I can say is that the most potent force in the Republican Party is President Trump. We need Trump.”

When asked about former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley’s recent decision to distance herself from Trump, after supporting him unequivocally and not speaking out against his baseless claims of election fraud, Graham said the fellow South Carolinian was “wrong.”

He also said that Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, should run to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who cast a surprise vote to convict Trump on Saturday. “The biggest winner I think of this whole impeachment trial is Lara Trump,” Graham said. “If she runs, I will certainly be behind her because I think she represents the future of the Republican Party.”

Trump himself has shown no intention of fading away, issuing a statement shortly after the Senate vote that slammed the entire impeachment trial as “a witch hunt” and lamented that no other president had been subjected to such indignities.  “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Trump stated. He added that “in the months ahead I have much to share with you.”

Evan McMullin, executive director of the nonprofit political organization Stand Up Republic, spoke of his recent call with more than 120 Republican officials about starting a new party or faction within the GOP. “Well I think what’s clear . . . is that something new is required,” McMullin said on MSNBC on Saturday. “Forty percent feel there is no hope for the GOP to reform and to rejoin the healthy political process in America.” McMullin said the hypothetical party could put up primary challengers against “Republicans who have most abandoned our Democracy,” citing Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul A. Gosar as examples. McMullin, who ran as an independent in the 2016 presidential election in large part to counter what he saw as the alarming pull Trump had on the GOP, said Trump’s impeachment and subsequent acquittal have only “intensified” the discussions about a third party. “We are committed to either taking a new route to fight for the direction of the GOP or to compete with it directly,” McMullin said. See  https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-acquittal-further-polarizes-factions-within-the-gop/2021/02/14/ff78b098-6ee2-11eb-b8a9-b9467510f0fe_story.html?


In an interview with David Illing of Vox, David French said that the Trump presidency was a catastrophe for American Christianity.  French cited Ryan Burge, a scholar of religion who has shown how different American religious strands, whether it’s Black Christians, Mormons, atheists, Catholics, all maintain some distance in their ideology from the party they most affiliate with. But this isn’t true for white evangelicals. It is an exact overlap. The identification between white evangelicals and the GOP is almost perfect. That’s a problem because it means your faith is now tied to an entire array of both personalities and political positions that do not naturally flow from biblical ethics. ...White evangelicals are Republicans, and Republicans are white evangelicals, which has been the case for a long, long time now, and Trump was just the Republican nominee, and so he had to work incredibly hard to lose their support. 

...Most Republican Christians are not getting their information from the pulpit. They are getting catechized in politics through conservative media, through Fox News, through talk radio.  ...A lot of these people genuinely believe that the country is in some kind of emergency that justifies the extremism of Trump. They believe they need someone who’s willing to be very aggressive in taking on the left, their so-called enemies. Trump was also very shrewd about granting access to evangelical supporters and to outright grifters and opportunists. That’s a big part of what happened as well.

...In many strands of evangelical Christianity, there’s a real struggle to articulate and live out a biblical [moral] masculinity that is not too influenced by a secular culture that either wrongly denigrates toughness or wrongly elevates toughness. That’s led to an awful lot of confusion.  This is a man who evaded military service, who has serially cheated on wives, who is terribly out of shape, is so cowardly in a lot of his personal interactions, that he delegates to others the task of firing people. ...If you were going to map out who is the archetype of the masculine leader prior to Trump, he would be the opposite of that. 

...[On conspiracy theories] the religious right has already been conditioned by decades of conservative media telling them that the godless left wants to destroy their way of life and kill the church. So it’s not hard to see why [people] believe the Democrats stole an election or that perverted pedophiles are trafficking children. The hardcore Trump evangelical base now threatens our constitutional rule of law. People have told me for a long time that I’m exaggerating the threat, but now we’ve seen a direct violent attack on the US Capitol, on the very seat of American democracy, and it was designed to prevent a peaceful transition of power that was taking place at the exact same time as the attack.

...Unless you’re in the middle of Trump country and interacting with grassroots activist Republicans, I don’t believe you can possibly understand how deep the conspiracy thinking has wormed its way into the GOP. I don’t think you understand the ferocity of Trumpism. One of the reasons more legislators have not stood up more dramatically to Trump is that they fear for their lives and the lives of their families. Some stories on this have leaked, but I really do think it’s worse than most people suspect.”  

When asked how we pull back from the brink, and whether he sees a path forward, French said, “I don’t know. To say that there’s no hope is completely wrong. I think there is hope [and] I think the attack on the Capitol was a wake-up call for some people.

My personal hope is that as we move forward without Trump tweeting and inflaming tensions so people can have a chance to breathe.  Our only hope is that the overall atmosphere of the country starts to feel less like an existential crisis and more like normal life, whatever that is, because I don’t think things would have escalated to this point without the stress and anxiety of the pandemic weighing down on all of us. There’s been so much death and fear and restlessness, and it’s amplified our societal dysfunctions.

I have to believe that as the pandemic recedes, and some of the pressures it placed on us fade with it, that things will get better. That’s my best shot at optimism. See

https://www.vox.com/22188646/trump-evangelical-christianity-david-french.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Counterpoint: The Danger of Racial Reparations as a Means of Restorative Justice

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

A politics of reconciliation is needed for America’s racially polarized partisan politics, and Kevin Govern has suggested restorative justice as a means to promote political reconciliation.  Many Democrats advocate reparations to Blacks to compensate them for the evils of slavery as a means of restorative justice, but racial reparations would only exacerbate racism in America.


Civil rights laws that prohibit racial and religious discrimination and the Constitutional right to equal protectiion of the law are essential to restorative justice, but ending the racism that polarizes American partisan politics will require more than enforcing the law.  It will require changing the hearts and minds of White and Black Americans.


Justice is based on standards of legitimacy based on law, morality and values that originate in religion.  The prophet Micah summed up the moral imperatives of ancient Judaism: “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)


The greatest commandment is more specific on the altruistic moral imperative of justice.  It calls us to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions. (see Luke 10:25-37)  It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus, and has been accepted by Muslims as a common word of faith and politics. 


The altruistic moral imperative to provide for the common good goes beyond the law. Belief in the supremacy of one race or one religion over others is not unlawful, but it’s immoral.  In a nation of increasing racial and religious diversity, policies that favor one race or religion over others undermine the common good and threaten the fabric of democracy.

 

White supremacy in politics has long been at the root of America’s racism, but racial demographics are changing in America.  Whites will soon cease to be a majority and become a plurality, while Hispanics and Asians will challenge Blacks as the dominant minority.  Those demographic changes will transform racism and the dynamics of American politics.


Restorative justice requires a politics of reconciliation that minimizes America’s racially polarized partisan politics.  Reparations based on race would exacerbate racism and prevent a politics of reconciliation.  Restorative justice and providing for the common good to end systemic racism depend as much or more on race relations as on enforcing civil rights laws.


Race relations, restorative justice and a politics of reconciliation are inextricably bound together, and they all depend on both the legal and moral standards of political legitimacy.  Economic entitlements based on race do not serve the needs of restorative justice, and they oppose the common good and racial reconciliation needed to sustain American democracy.



Notes:


This Counterpoint relates to the commentary of Kevin Govern posted on February 13 on the topic Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in the Wake of the Second Trump Impeachment.

 

Democrats in Congress have cited slavery in America as an uncomfortable truth in making a renewed push for a national commission to examine the impact of slavery and reparations for Blacks as a remedy for systemic racism.  “Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) announced the reintroduction of H.R. 40 to create a reparations commission last month that would study the history of slavery, the role federal and state governments played in supporting slavery, and racial discrimination against the descendants of enslaved Africans.  “Economic issues are the root cause for many critical issues impacting the African American community today,” Lee said.  “Truth and reconciliation about the ‘original sin of American slavery’ is necessary to light the way to the beloved community we all seek. The uncomfortable truth is that the United States owes its position as the most powerful nation in the world to its slave-owning past.” 

In an earlier House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on H.R. 40 in 2019 that marked the 400th anniversary of slavery, then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) opposed racial reparations saying, “I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” McConnell told reporters. “We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president. I think we are always a work in progress in this country. But no one currently alive was responsible for that, and I don’t think we should be trying to figure how to compensate for that.”  

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2021/02/10/reparations-slavery-congress-hearing-commission/?utm_campaign=wp_evening_edition&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_evening.


Differences among Democrats on racial reparations were cited in the Notes to an earlier commentary at  http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2020/08/musings-on-racism-reparations-racial.html. Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC) has expressed concern over the effect of racial reparations on race relations, while Chales M. Blow has little concern for race relations.  Clyburn understands the importance of race relations to racism in America:  “I always say the root word for reparations is repair, repair, repair. We need to repair what's going on in this country. These fault lines that have been opened up need to be repaired. ...When you start talking about reparations in terms of monetary issues, then you lose me because nobody can put a value on the loss of education. Nobody can put a value on the loss of a life. Let's repair what's wrong with America and not allow ourselves to spend the next 150 years studying what a monetary value needs to be assigned to the loss of these freedoms and liberties.”  See  https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/06/16/james-clyburn-police-reform-protests.  Clyburn also said that “he fears reparations would lead to contested debates about who would be eligible due to the sprawling family trees that have evolved in the generations since slavery was abolished. ...Clyburn said he liked a recent comment by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who said in a CNN town hall last week that he would push to increase the usage of Clyburn’s “10-20-30” policy. That formula, which has already been inserted in some federal policies, calls for directing 10 percent of government funds to counties where 20 percent or more of the population has lived below the poverty line for the past 30 years.  ‘To me, that’s a much better way to deal with what reparations is supposed to be about,’ Clyburn said.” See https://www.postandcourier.com/politics/scs-clyburn-pans-reparations-opportunity-zones-as-unable-to-address-racial-inequality/article_3bb2e8ba-3eb3-11e9-b75a-a376c84be23f.html.

By way of contrast with Clyburn, “Charles M. Blow supports reparations, which he describes as ‘reasonable and right.’  For a vast majority of black people’s time in this country, they have been suffering under an oppression operating on all levels of government — local, state and federal.  It is absolutely a good idea for America to think about how to make that right, to think about how to repair the damage it did, to think about how to do what is morally just.  And the idea that too much time has passed makes a mockery of morality. ...Furthermore, this is not about individual guilt or shame but rather about collective responsibility and redemption. America needs to set its soul right. The paying of reparations isn’t at all an outlandish idea. To the contrary, it’s an exceedingly reasonable proposition. Most of all, it’s right.”  See https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/19/opinion/reparations-reasonable-and-right.html.  Blow showed contempt for race relations when he wrote: “I have never fully understood what [race relations] meant. It suggests a relationship that swings from harmony to disharmony. But that is not the way race is structured or animated in this country. From the beginning, the racial dynamics in America have been about power, equality and access, or the lack thereof.  ...So what are the relations here? It is a linguistic sidestep that avoids the true issue: anti-Black and anti-other white supremacy.  It also seems that the way people interpret that question is in direct proportion to the intensity of revolt that’s taking place at a particular time. ...After the rise of Black Lives Matter, satisfaction with race relations suffered a sustained drop.” See  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/opinion/racism-united-states.html?searchResultPosition=1.

  

The uncomfortable truth is that America’s racially polarized partisan politics are based on deeply embedded negative attitudes on race across the racial and political spectrum.  Restorative justice requires changes in hearts and minds along with the enforcement of civil rights laws.  Reparations for Blacks as a remedy for the evils of slavery and systemic racism would only exacerbate racism in America.  In his commentary on February 13 Kevin Govern cited the theologian Stephen J. Pope in America: “Restorative justice is strikingly different from criminal justice in giving priority to repairing the harm caused by wrongdoing—including first and foremost the harm done to victims but also to the wider community and even the perpetrators.”


Saturday, February 13, 2021

Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in the Wake of The Second Trump Impeachment

      By Kevin Govern 

The Senate voted Tuesday that the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is constitutional after House impeachment managers made an emotionally compelling case showing a 14 minute, 56 second video of how rioters violently breached the US Capitol and attacked police officers last month, invoking Trump's name as they tried to disrupt the certification of the November election.


The historic impeachment trial has a number of firsts: the same president being tried twice in the Senate court of impeachment, and the first time a former president faces disbarment from future federal office if convicted.  This trial comes as a new Gallup poll finds a slim majority of Americans (52%) saying they would like their senators to vote to convict him, yet 48 percent do not want that outcome. 


Meanwhile, Trump faces two New York state inquiries into whether he misled tax authorities, banks or business partners, two lawsuits from women alleging he sexually assaulted them, and the possible revival of a federal campaign finance investigation.


Still unresolved in large part throughout America, Thomas Sugrue observed last Summer that the racial conflicts of 2020 “[weren’t] just a repeat of past troubles; they’re a new development in the American fight for racial equality.”  Presciently, his vision then was as current events are now:  “it remains to be seen if the uprisings of 2020 will resolve the long-standing issues of racial injustice fought again and again on America’s streets, but when many races march together rather than face off, the arc of history may be bending toward justice again.”


After a divisive presidential election campaign and impeachment and civil and criminal litigation to come, and unresolved racial tensions nationwide, what might bring the country together divided on holding Trump accountable for his past actions?


This week’s America Today, a Catholic publication under The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture, exhorts its readership to consider that “[w]e can hold Trump accountable and still have national unity.  Just ask St. Augustine and Pope Francis.”  Author Kathleen Bonnette goes on to elaborate that restorative justice, of which St. Augustine was an early proponent, is a concept rooted in the biblical vision of shalom (peace).  Restorative justice could very well be an adjuvant, if not a cure, to many of our nation’s ongoing ills. 


Shalom can mean peace with others and peace between parties. It means the end of hostilities and war (Deuteronomy 20:12; Judges 21:13).  Shalom also means peace within. Those who trust in the Lord have inner security; therefore, they can sleep well (Psalm 4:8). God gives “perfect peace” (or shalom-shalom) — i.e., profound psychological and emotional peace – to those who steadfastly set their minds on him (Isaiah 26:3).The result of righteousness before God is “peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17).


How is this brought about?  In a somewhat different context, I have previously written how restorative justice, forums for listening and sharing, through stories and prayer, may well offer the most opportunity for fostering healing and reconciliation within the bounds of the law yet not directly involving courts or legal processes. 

The Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue (IRJRD) defines restorative justice as an approach to problem solving that is based around three basic concepts: 

When crime (or wrongdoing) occurs, the focus is on the harm that has been done to people and relationships; When harm has been done, obligations and liabilities have been created; and All involved parties, wrongdoers, victims and the community, should be included in the resolution process.

The practice of restorative justice emerged in the late 1970’s and 1980’s in various countries as a way of dealing constructively with wrongdoing and violations of social trust.  In particular, restorative justice has been a part of so-called “restorative peacebuilding,” and explores its implications for the work of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (Commission) and post-conflict societies. 


The Australian criminologist John Braithwaite defines restorative justice as:

 

A process where all stakeholders affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by the injustice and to decide what should be done to repair the harm. With crime, restorative justice is about the idea that because crime hurts, justice should heal. It follows that conversations with those who have been hurt and with those who have inflicted the harm must be central to the process.


Combining faith with reason, restorative justice strongly shines the light of the Gospel on this scourge, where agents of such justice are mindful of the words of the Apostle Paul, in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians that “[a]ll this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”  In her recent article cited above, Bonnette quotes Pope Francis’ wisdom regarding how injustices and hostility can be overcome only “by cultivating those virtues which foster reconciliation, solidarity and peace.”


In an attempt to build bridges, figuratively, within the divided society he would serve as President, President Biden in his inaugural address quoted St. Augustine, that “a people [is] a multitude defined by the common objects of their love,” and urged us to find those common objects.  


Remediative and restorative measures outside the courts – and outside the Senate chamber – can and should augment legal remedies for multifaceted, effective, people-centered means to address the past and ongoing criminal and civil law and public health crises, and to help prevent future abuses from taking place.


Kevin Govern is a professor of law at Ave Maria Law School in Naples Florida.


Saturday, February 6, 2021

Musings on the Danger of Economic Disparities and Excessive Debt in America

     By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

President Biden has called the economy he inherited from Trump the worst in America’s history, but it’s actually two economies.  One has a booming stock market that provides little benefit to the other; and the two economies reveal dangerous income disparities and excessive debt that are getting worse, eroding the middle class and threatening the stability of America’s democracy.   


Charles Lane has noted, “The wealthiest 10% of households now own 88% of all stocks and benefitted from an 18% increase in the S&P 500’s total return in 2020.”  Policies of the Federal Reserve that promise interest rates near zero and the purchase of corporate debt have attracted investors to the stock market, and both parties support Fed “easy money” policies.


Fed monetary policies have created excessive private debt and an overvalued stock market that provides investors with unsustainable high rates of return.  Excessive debt is not only exacerbating economic disparities but it’s also creating a gigantic bubble on Wall Street that threatens an economic collapse; yet both parties ignore the problem.


The Fed already has a balance sheet of over $7 Trillion in private and public debt, and America’s national debt is an astronomical $27.8 Trillion, and certain to grow with President Biden’s budget proposals.  If the Fed can’t keep interest rates near 0%, increasing private and public debt will precipitate widespread bankruptcies and an economic and political crisis.


With a record spike in money supply and a volatile stock market that has increased 70% since March, runaway inflation in an overvalued stock market threatens a market crash.  The GameStop phenomenon illustrates how social media can fantasize stock values and further distort a dysfunctional and volatile stock market.  It’s a bubble that’s likely to burst.       


Even if the Fed can keep interest rates low and continue to prop up an overvalued stock market, excessive debt, inflation and increasing economic disparities foretell a looming economic and political disaster.  By supporting Biden’s massive stimulus spending bill rather than a smaller targeted relief bill, Americans and their political leaders are ignoring the danger.


Before Trump hijacked the Republican Party in 2016 it promoted fiscal restraint that checked the spending proclivities of Democrats, but today a majority of both parties ignore America’s excessive debt and vie over which party can spend the most on stimulus relief.  In America’s prodigal politics, there seems no limit on government spending and excessive debt.


The storming of the Capitol on January 6 may be a precursor to a major insurrection like the Boston Tea Party of 1773.  It was instigated by an angry middle class that had become hostile to its government.  James Carville once observed, in politics it’s all about the economy.  With increasing economic disparities and a national debt that defies repayment exacerbated by continued profligate spending, America’s ugly politics are likely to get even uglier.


  

Notes:


Laurence Summers sees the Biden Stimulus as admirably ambitious, but warns of big risks.  “As a massive program moves toward enactment and implementation, policymakers need to ensure that they have plans in place to address two possible, and quite serious, problems. First, while there are enormous uncertainties, there is a chance that macroeconomic stimulus on a scale closer to World War II levels than normal recession levels will set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation, with consequences for the value of the dollar and financial stability. This will be manageable if monetary and fiscal policy can be rapidly adjusted to address the problem. But given the commitments the Fed has made, administration officials’ dismissal of even the possibility of inflation, and the difficulties in mobilizing congressional support for tax increases or spending cuts, there is the risk of inflation expectations rising sharply. Stimulus measures of the magnitude contemplated are steps into the unknown.”  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/02/04/larry-summers-biden-covid-stimulus/?utm_campaign=wp_opinions_pm&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_popns.


Brian Hamilton has asserted that America’s soaring debt is a looming disaster “Even as we deal with the economic problems of the pandemic, there's another crisis looming: our national debt.  ...The debt crisis is not going away, and the US needs to understand the consequences of increasing the national debt.”  Hamilton compares the nation’s debt crisis to global warming.  “  Some economists are concerned with the national debt but they always say the problem is off in the future. Unfortunately, a debt-triggered crisis is not something that can be reversed quickly when it becomes an issue.  The debt crisis of the United States is similar to global warming — it is an incremental but enormous phenomenon that could trigger disaster at a given point. Simply, dealing with the $27.5 trillion in outstanding national debt would be difficult to do if our lenders (us and people outside the United States) ever consider the reality of our strength as borrowers. Suppose they find the US no longer a reliable borrower?  See https://www.businessinsider.com/national-debt-problem-of-free-money-stimulus-checks-covid-relief-2021-1.


Edward Luce has cited America’s dangerous reliance on the Fed with its easy money and fiscal gridlock in Washington as “...the most visible threat to US political stability.  The Fed’s quantitative easing boosts wealth inequality by increasing the net worth of those who own financial assets, chiefly of stocks and bonds. The top 10 per cent of Americans own 84 per cent of the country’s shares. The top 1 per cent own about half. The bottom half of Americans — the ones who have chiefly been on the frontline during the pandemic — say they own almost no stocks at all.  ...The Fed’s inescapable bias towards asset owners has combined with the financial sector’s preference for size to produce a very skewed recovery. This has benefited big companies, even junk-rated ones, at the expense of small businesses, including financially-sound ones. And it has boosted wealthy individuals over median households. After 2008, the economic recovery coexisted with a so-called “main street recession”. Today we call it a K-shaped recovery. The majority of people are suffering amid a Great Gatsby-style boom at the top.”  See https://www.ft.com/content/bcb8d4d9-ca6d-45b7-aafc-9e9ecf672a5b.


U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, a former chair of the Federal Reserve, has called for Biden to act big, reflecting long term re-think on government debt, arguing the country’s future economic potential can support more borrowing today and makes the roughly $26.9 trillion in U.S. IOUs seem less formidable. “The interest burden of the debt as a share of (gross domestic product) is no higher now than it was before the financial crisis in 2008, in spite of the fact that our debt has escalated,” Yellen said. “To avoid doing what we need to do now to address the pandemic and the economic damage that it is causing would likely leave us in a worse place ...than taking the steps that are necessary and doing that through deficit finance.”  Federal government interest payments are now nearly $600 billion annually, but historically low global interest rates have kept them roughly stable as a share of the country’s economic output since the 1990s. Coming on top of the more than $3.5 trillion borrowed in large part to fund the coronavirus response last year, “when do we hit the point where the thing starts to collapse?  Nobody is talking about it in either party anymore,” said Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican.  See  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-economy-debt/yellens-call-to-act-big-reflects-long-re-think-on-big-government-debt-idINKBN29Q1BJ.

  

On jobless claims at historic highs and Biden inheriting the worst job market of any modern president, see  https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/01/21/900000-filed-jobless-claims-last-week-historically-high-level-biden-inherits-worst-job-market-any-modern-president/.

 

President Biden remained committed to his $1.9 Trillion Stimulus spending bill after rejecting a GOP alternative of $618 Billion.   “Speaking on the House Democratic call, Biden acknowledged that some lawmakers, including Republicans, get “hung up” on the price tag when the nation is already facing a ballooning federal deficit and skyrocketing debt. Congress has passed nearly $4 trillion in assistance since the beginning of the pandemic.  The economy is expected to bounce back over the next several months, even without more stimulus aid from Congress, the Congressional Budget Office said earlier this week. But employment levels are unlikely to fully recover until 2024.”  See  https://www.politico.com/news/2021/02/03/biden-dems-call-stimulus-checks-465484.


“President Joe Biden’s coronavirus rescue plan, and two of its key economic provisions, have broad support as Democrats try to push it through Congress, a poll released Wednesday found.

More than two-thirds, or 68%, of Americans support the $1.9 trillion package, the Quinnipiac University survey showed. Only 24% of respondents oppose the measure.”  Unsurprisingly, the direct payments to individuals with no targeting of those most affected by the pandemic are most popular. “The poll found 78% of Americans support the stimulus checks, and 18% oppose them.”  It seems that few Americans are concerned with increasing the massive national debt so long as they receive a check.  See  https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/03/biden-1point9-trillion-covid-relief-plan-has-wide-support-poll-finds.html.

  

On the GameStop chaos as a bubble in the stock market, see  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/01/29/gamestop-chaos-may-be-bubble-what-does-that-actually-mean/?utm_campaign=wp_opinions_pm&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_popns.  On GameStop as a new, destabilizing collision between social media and the real world, see 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/01/31/gamestop-signals-new-destabilizing-collision-between-social-media-real-world/?utm_campaign=wp_todays_headlines&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_headlines.


On how the rich got richer in the pandemic and exacerbated income disparities in America, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-rich-got-richer-during-the-pandemic-we-need-to-claw-back-their-gains/2021/01/25/d17c8a44-5f32-11eb-9430-e7c77b5b0297_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_todays_

headlines&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_headlines.