History reminds us that it is a familiar pattern with autocrats and delusional politicians who perceive they could be facing the latter days of their time in power: as their influence ebbs, the grandiosity of their “orders” and “commands” tends to grow.
And so it appears to be with Donald Trump as he confronts the growing possibility that he is entering the final few months of his presidency. As his ability to control and even influence public events has steadily eroded and more and more people – even within his own party – have tuned him out, Trump has resorted to issuing a growing number of ambitious decrees and pronouncements.
The latest and perhaps most preposterous example of these last-ditch efforts was Trump’s weekend declaration in which he purported to establish a new federal pandemic relief package.
As Policy Watch reported on Sunday,
[Trump] signed three presidential memoranda and an executive order, at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J. Trump would provide $300 per week in federal unemployment assistance with another $100 a week kicked in by states, consider temporarily stopping residential evictions, pause federal student loan payments and defer payroll taxes.
Trump said the actions would ‘take care of pretty much this entire situation, as we know it.’”
But, of course, Trump’s action does no such thing. Even if it were somehow possible to fully implement the items Trump outlined (a highly questionable proposition given the practical roadblocks and the virtual certainty of constitutional challenges to some of his broad claims of authority), they would not come close to addressing the massive crisis that now envelopes the nation.
First of all, the plan would provide unemployed workers with only 2/3 of the $600 per week federal benefit they’ve been receiving. That means that around 31 million Americans and their families would suddenly experience an $800 per month drop in income.
The scheme is also premised on states kicking in 25% of the money. How is that going to work? As Richard Craver of the Winston-Salem Journal reported yesterday, such a requirement poses a host of significant practical problems – especially in a state like North Carolina in which the GOP-dominated legislature has maintained an unrelenting hostility toward unemployment insurance and rendered the state’s system one of the stingiest in the country.
It’s also far from clear that our state has access to the cash that would be necessary to pull off such a scheme, or that it could even take such a step without action by the General Assembly, which is out of town until September.
And then there’s the idea of deferring payroll taxes. First, and most obviously, such a deferral does nothing for those who are unemployed. What’s more, as Robert Greenstein, president of one of the nation’s preeminent fiscal policy research nonprofits, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, noted on Saturday, the idea that it would help the economy is “laughable.”
To make matters even more absurd and in keeping with his delusions of grandiosity, Trump claimed that if he is reelected, he would make the payroll tax change “permanent.”
Earth to Donald Trump: much as you might wish it to be so, the president does not possess the power to make federal tax policy unilaterally.
The continuation of the pause in federal student loan payments is a similarly underwhelming idea that does little to help the economy, while leaving out millions of borrowers with private student loans.
And the evictions proposal? Well, it’s really no more than that; it merely directs the Housing and Urban Development Secretary to see what he can do to address the national housing crisis and does not include continuing the moratorium on evictions in federally-supported housing on the list of options.
And then there is the long list of vitally important issues Trump’s order leaves unaddressed, including:
- the national crisis in virus testing and contact tracing;
- the large and quickly widening budget shortfalls that are confronting state and local governments;
- the existential crisis confronting the U.S. Postal Service; and
- the massive challenges that are confronting childcare providers, K-12 schools, and colleges and universities..
In each of these areas and many more, the present dire national situation cries out for massive, concerted and sustained federal action – the kind that can only be delivered when Congress and the President come together and do the hard work necessary to craft a bipartisan solution.
Unfortunately, at this point in his presidency, such an outcome appears to be beyond Donald Trump. Instead of helping to forge a true national unity government at a moment of great crisis (or, at the least, finding some sliver of common ground on which to perch a rational compromise) the great “dealmaker” has been reduced to dispensing half-baked executive orders that seem all but certain to be forgotten faster than a quickly canceled reality TV show.