VOL. 132 | NO. 59 | Thursday, March 23, 2017
View From the Hill
Trump: Next Old Hickory or Carnival Barker
By Sam Stockard
For those who ignore the news – fake or otherwise – Donald Trump won the presidency last November.
While he didn’t capture a majority of the vote, he did win the electoral vote, causing many detractors to call for the elimination of this outdated voting method.
But that’s a debate for another day, because now that he is the president, he’s doing almost exactly what he said he was going to do: run illegal immigrants out of the country, kill Obamacare and try to bring back industrial and manufacturing jobs with tax threats.
To make certain everyone knows – apparently, those who don’t read newspapers, Breitbart or even watch Fox News – he’s touring the country to send a reminder.
So, with great anticipation of his Victory Tour – the Jackson 5 made one of those in 1984, too – thousands of people turned out in downtown Nashville on a recent Wednesday to get a glimpse of the man who is our leader and who also might have the weirdest hair in world history. Its placement is mesmerizing.
He commands a great following, especially in a red state such as Tennessee where he rolled to victory in November for 11 electoral votes, though one wonders whether as many people voted against Hillary Clinton as voted for Trump.
In return, Trump’s people gave away enough tickets to fill Bridgestone Arena but couldn’t get all of the ticket-holders into Municipal Auditorium before he was done talking, no matter how many other Republican leaders made speeches to try to kill time. The result was a passel of anti-government folks standing in a cold, dark street.
Remember, Trump didn’t have the backing of moderate Republicans, including Gov. Bill Haslam, though he was nice enough to mention the governor in his opening. But he didn’t want their support, and that’s how he won, picking up votes from those who feel they’ve been ignored for, oh, about the last 180 years.
Incidentally, that’s when Andrew Jackson left the presidency after two terms, changing the tenor of American politics from one in which only the elite could find their way to the White House to one in which an orphaned, rough-hewn Indian fighter from the backwoods of Tennessee could elevate to the pinnacle of American politics.
So, here we stand in the second decade of the 21st century trying to figure out if Donald Trump is the second coming of Andrew Jackson or just another salesman who pulled one over on the American people.
Before his rally, which was a Trump Campaign event and not a White House visit, thus the logistical nightmares, he laid a wreath at Jackson’s Hermitage grave site, a historical moment on Jackson’s 250th birthday.
Only two other presidents, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, have taken such a moment to honor one of Tennessee’s favorite sons, whose legacy is no longer quite as entrenched as it once was because of his signing of the Indian Removal Act and support of slavery as a plantation owner, even if he did oppose South Carolina’s effort to secede.
Aside from the obvious, a penchant for evicting large ethnic groups, about the only fair comparison between President Trump and President Jackson is that Trump claims to be a populist in the vein of Jackson.
While Old Hickory fought the British, whom he hated bitterly, and the Indians, whom white settlers wanted out of the way, dueled with men over the honor of women and rose from being a country lawyer to the president, Trump is a real estate developer turned reality TV star who doesn’t even have the backing of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He promises to return American jobs that fled the country for cheaper labor costs, get rid of illegal immigrants and stem the flow of refugees from terrorist-linked countries, though he leaves Saudi Arabia out of the equation.
All of this is easier said than done, considering federal judges keep rejecting his travel bans and the business community says his efforts on illegal immigration will raise the price of milk and leave fruit rotting in the field.
But forget those silly consequences, he’s got a rally to run.
WHAT HE SAID
Bitching about judicial “overreach” on his travel bans to the hooting and hollering of his Municipal cheerleading section, Trump points out the Constitution and federal law give the president authority to suspend immigration if it’s too dangerous for national interest. Unfortunately, he forgets America is a nation of laws, not of men. So, we’ll probably be fighting this battle for months, if not years.
Meanwhile, he touts decreases in illegal immigration since he took office two months ago. But one has to wonder if he ever employed any illegal immigrants to mow the grass or make the beds at his properties.
Trump points out Obamacare is flawed at heart because it requires people to buy a government-approved plan. No doubt, most people will agree the tax penalty is not working, and even Democrats concede the Affordable Care Act has problems.
Yet, as the president castigates Obamacare and calls for its repeal, he’s leaving people twisting in the wind. Tennesseans, in particular, are begging for more details on Paul Ryan’s Trumpcare as insurers drop their coverage.
“The House has put forth a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare based on the principles I outlined in my joint address,” Trump said during the rally. “But let me tell you, we’re gonna arbitrate. We’re gonna all get together. We’re gonna get something done.”
He points out the Senate needs 60 votes to pass it but predicts Democrats will not go along, so he’s gonna go at it a “different way, a complex way.” He touches on the potential for letting Obamacare implode, possibly a hardball play with Congress.
The president talks about a three-phase process and says the new plan will cut billions in Obamacare taxes and provide tax credits so people can buy health insurance. In that, medication prices would be cut through competitive bidding.
He also mentions Medicaid “flexibility” for states to take over their health care, something Tennessee Republicans have wanted for years.
“The bill that I will ultimately sign, and that will be the bill where everybody’s gonna get into the room and we’re gonna get it done. We’ll get rid of Obamacare and make health care better for you and for your family,” he said.
Thousands cheer and chant, “USA, USA, USA.” But is this the Olympics or a policy deal?
Because more than likely, he’ll end up with something that looks like Insure Tennessee, Gov. Haslam’s plan, which nobody wanted to touch with a 10-foot pole.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Senate Speaker Pro Tem Jim Tracy say it’s too far above their pay grade and too early to know exactly how this federal health care deal is going to work out.
Yet the two Republican leaders give Trump the benefit of the doubt.
“One of the things that’s fascinating about this from sort of a historic and a federal standpoint is the importance of states, because under this new administration, they’re gonna give us more responsibility and maybe some additional headaches,” Norris points out.
“But those of us who’ve been talking about state sovereignty and states maintaining or taking a greater role and less federal, I think we’re gonna have to meet that challenge.”
Tennessee wants flexibility for TennCare, the managed care program operating under a waiver of federal rules for Medicaid recipients, along with per-capita funding from the feds, so the money during tough economic times can increase to cover the costs.
“But we feel like at the state, we can go a better job than the federal government. Matter of fact, we know we can,” says Tracy, a Bedford County Republican.
Asked if that means throwing people off TennCare or cutting benefits, Norris says, “All that’s in the mix.”
It must be noted former Gov. Phil Bredesen dumped thousands of people from TennCare, and since then the Legislature has been asking Haslam to figure out a way to help about 300,000 caught in a gap between Medicaid and Obamacare.
As everyone tries to figure out what the heck’s going on, Tracy and Gov. Haslam at least say communication with the Trump administration over health care has been better than with the Obama administration.
That’s to be expected, considering Tennessee declined to expand Medicaid along with passage of the Affordable Care Act and then declined to approve Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan to take advantage of $1 billion annually in Tennessee-paid taxes.
But, Tracy also points out the marketplace individual coverage plan is in dire straits in Tennessee as insurers keep pulling out of the market. Some regions are down to one insurance company, as they stop participating with an eye toward their bottom line.
“It is collapsing right before our eyes, so we’re gonna have to deal with it as a state. I think the federal government’s gonna have to deal with it too, so we’re concerned about that,” Tracy adds.
Republicans have hardly uttered a word this session, though, about the collapse of the individual marketplace. Haslam’s budget does include more funding for those added to TennCare rolls.
Yet, while Republican leaders won’t say anything negative about Trump’s approach on health care, Democrats have plenty of criticism.
Sen. Jeff Yarbro points out Trump spent time at the Hermitage with about 100 lawmakers honoring Jackson but barely touched on health care during his speech at Municipal. Yarbro, a Nashville Democrat, points out the Ryan plan would remove 24 million people over 10 years, while raising deductibles, co-payments and premiums on Tennesseans.
Instead, Trump started “laying the groundwork” for blaming the authors of the Affordable Care Act and “sabotaging” the system in a manner that is dangerous to Tennesseans, says Yarbro, chairman of Senate Democrats. He expects people to start getting notices in the next couple of months telling them their insurance will be gone next year, unless Congress “does its job.”
“And when you’ve got the President of the United States coming all the way here with the purpose of advocating for a health care plan, and he doesn’t even bother to talk about the health care plan but to set up all the excuses for why he’s not at fault, I think that’s a dereliction of duty that just shows profound cowardice,” Yarbro explains.
Yarbro, possibly a little harsh, was expecting far too much. Then again, maybe everyone was.
Rep. Mike Stewart, chairman of the House Democrats, calls the Trump verbiage “the same old tired baloney” pumped out by conservative groups over the last few decades. He contends the president’s policies will wind up hurting the very people he professes to be helping.
“And I think people over time will see that widening gulf and will really start to see President Trump more as a talking head than as an actual player in our policy process,” Stewart says.
It’s hard to argue with the president about the need for manufacturing jobs in the nation. But he’s got to focus his message on high-tech jobs, because the days of sewing shops aren’t coming back. As for getting rid of 11 million illegal immigrants, he’ll need some luck because big business is already turning on him.
Who’s going to frame houses and pick fruit? Today’s young people aren’t feeling it. Put a hammer in their hand, and they might try to hit you with it.
Meanwhile, persuading insurance and pharmaceutical CEOs to turn down their seven-figure salaries for the good of the people is going to be nearly impossible.
When an uninsured person can pay a fraction of the cost, or nothing, compared to someone with insurance, we have a problem. Health care is too complex, too expensive and too big to fail. Sounds sort of like the banks we bailed out a decade ago, the ones overseen by Trump’s financial adviser.
With all of these vexing problems in our midst, could our president – love him or hate him – please spare us the re-election campaign just two months into his term? Shutting down Nashville for an entire day so he can claim to be the new Old Hickory is not good for business.
As a businessman, he should understand that solving problems means more than hanging a painting of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office.
Sam Stockard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.