"Here's your problem—it looks like you're paying attention to what's going on."
"A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity."
|WASHINGTON -- Luck -- pure, dumb luck -- is an underestimated advantage in politics, and Donald Trump is one lucky man. He ran for the Republican nomination against a fractured field, in which the other candidates tore each other to shreds. He drew a historically unlikable and self-destructive general-election opponent. He got a last-minute boost from then-FBI Director James Comey's inexplicable decision to announce the reopening of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. He entered office on an economic upswing. And he will choose two justices -- at least -- for the Supreme Court. |
For Trump, the retirement of Anthony Kennedy could not be better timed. Replacing the Supreme Court's most prominent swinger combines every culture war battle into a single, all-consuming conflagration. And when hatred is at its height, and civility and comity completely break down, and Americans are at each other's throats, Trump is in his element.
The actual stakes of the struggle are a bit lower than either side -- intent on whipping up the froth of their own partisans into stiff peaks -- will admit. Activists are already making the shorthand argument that replacing Kennedy with a conservative judge means the death of Roe v. Wade and the illegality of abortion in much of America. In fact, replacing Kennedy with a conservative judge means that Chief Justice John Roberts will become the new swing vote. This will probably make the court more likely to take up decisive and fundamental cases on cultural matters (since the chief justice can be more confident in determining the outcome). But Roberts -- as he demonstrated in his 2012 decision leaving Obamacare largely in place -- is uncomfortable with sweeping decisions and willing to risk conservative displeasure.
The result of a Roberts-dominated court, over time, would probably be the weakening of Roe's pro-choice absolutism. This would allow states more latitude to make incremental restrictions. But before Roe, many states were already moving in a pro-choice direction. And the availability of abortion has become a deeply entrenched social expectation. A democratically determined outcome in most places would probably involve very few restrictions on early abortions, when a fetus is nearer to being a blastocyst, and greater restrictions on late-term abortions, when a fetus is nearer to being a newborn.
Roe is vulnerable to revision because it is medically, morally and legally incoherent. It drew a series of preposterously arbitrary scientific lines, declared the ethical concerns of millions of Americans inconsequential and forestalled the development of a more stable and legitimate democratic consensus. In all likelihood, Roberts will try -- gradually -- to allow democracy to resume its work in this matter. This is not likely to please those who view abortion as a fundamental right or as a fundamental wrong. But the result would probably be more favorable to the pro-choice position than many pro-choice activists fear.
As a political matter, however, the fight over Kennedy's replacement is a gift to the president. It is a reminder of Trump's adherence to the deal he made with evangelical (and other religiously conservative) supporters: Ignore my bigotry and bad character, and all the kingdoms of the courts, from lowest to highest, will verily be yours.
But it is more than this. In his tariff policy, Trump is an economic illiterate. In his foreign policy, he is an easily manipulated tyro. In his immigration policy, he is condemning Republicans to future defeat. But when it comes to the choice of judges -- which he has effectively delegated to the Federalist Society -- Trump is firmly in the GOP mainstream. He is making moves that genuinely unite conservatives of all stripes.
If, for example, Trump is wise enough to nominate federal appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, he will do more than rally his base. Nearly every veteran of the George W. Bush administration will lend their enthusiastic support. When Kavanaugh was Bush's staff secretary (the essential position that handles the paper flow to the president), I was head of speechwriting. And seeing Kavanaugh's concern for accuracy and honesty, his focus on detail, his unfailing decency, his quiet integrity, was one of the joys of my job. Kavanaugh's writings reveal his judicial philosophy. But I also know him to be a conservative by temperament -- fair-minded, non-dogmatic and thoughtful.
Others who appear on Trump's short list would have similar broad appeal among conservatives -- even Never Trump hardliners. Unless Trump blows this nomination with a foolish, impulsive pick (not impossible), he will enter the midterms with a cause that excites his base and unites his party.
Once again, Trump's luck holds.
SAN FRANCISCO — Souvla, a Greek restaurant with a devoted following, serves spit-fired meat two ways: in a photogenic sandwich, or on a photogenic salad, either available with a glass of Greek wine. The garnishes are thoughtful: pea shoots, harissa-spiked yogurt, mizithra cheese.
The small menu is so appealing and the place itself so charming that you almost forget, as a diner, that you have to do much of the work of dining out yourself. You scout your own table. You fetch and fill your own water glass. And if you'd like another glass of wine, you go back to the counter.
Runners will bring your order to the table, but there are no servers to wait on you here, or at the two other San Francisco locations that Souvla has added — or, increasingly, at other popular restaurants that have opened in the last two years: RT Rotisserie, which is roasting cauliflower a few blocks away; Barzotto, a bistro serving hand-rolled pasta in the Mission district; and Media Noche, a Cuban sandwich spot with eye-catching custom tilework.
Inside these restaurants, it's evident that the forces making this one of the most expensive cities in America are subtly altering the economics of everything. Commercial rents have gone up. Labor costs have soared. And restaurant workers, many of them priced out by the expense of housing, have been moving away.
Restaurateurs who say they can no longer find or afford servers are figuring out how to do without them. And so in this city of staggering wealth, you can eat like a gourmand, with real stemware and ceramic plates. But first you'll have to go get your own silverware.
"Souvla was the beginning of this whole new onslaught of things that in every single way look like a full-service restaurant — nice décor; good wine list; tasty, healthy foods. It's much more chef- and ingredient-driven," said Gwyneth Borden, the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. "But it's 'take a number and go to a table.' "
She regularly hears from restaurateurs considering the model, who want to create the Souvla of Mexican, the Souvla of Italian. (Souvla is apparently to Bay Area restaurants what Uber is to gig-economy start-ups.)
Restaurateurs here have taken a model familiar to taquerias and fast-casual, cafeteria-style places like Sweetgreen and Chipotle Mexican Grill, and pushed it further up the fine-dining food chain. Call it fast-fine, they suggest, or fine-casual. Or counter service "in a full service environment" that includes $11 cocktails and $22 pan-roasted salmon.
Such hybrid restaurants are spreading to other high-cost cities, and they fit what analysts say is growing demand for more flexible dining options. But here, the extreme economics have rapidly made the model commonplace.
San Francisco's tech riches have fed demand for restaurants — and some wealthy tech workers have decided they would also like to be partners in a restaurant, opening up more investment. But as those highly paid workers have also driven demand for scarce housing, the city has struggled to keep lower-wage workers afloat.
On July 1, the minimum wage in San Francisco will hit $15 an hour, following incremental raises from $10.74 in 2014. The city also requires employers with at least 20 workers to pay health care costs beyond the mandates of the Affordable Care Act, in addition to paid sick leave and parental leave.
Despite those benefits, many workers say they can't afford to live here, or to stay in the industry. And partly as a result of those benefits, restaurateurs say they can't afford the workers who remain. A dishwasher can now make $18 or $19 an hour. And because of California labor laws, even tipped workers like servers earn at least the full minimum wage, unlike their peers in most other states.
Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, estimates that when housing prices rise by 10 percent, the price of local services, including restaurants, rises by about 6 percent. (The median home price in San Francisco has doubled since 2012.)
So burgers get more expensive as houses do. But even wealthy tech workers will pay only so much to eat one. "If we were to pay what we need to pay people to make a living in San Francisco, a $10 hamburger would be a $20 hamburger, and it wouldn't make sense anymore," said Anjan Mitra, who owns two high-end Indian restaurants in the city, both named Dosa. "Something has to give."
If customers won't buy $20 burgers, or $25 dosas, and the staff in the kitchen can't be cut, that something is service. "And that is what we did — we got rid of our servers," Mr. Mitra said.
In December, he opened a counter-service version of Dosa in Oakland. The new restaurant serves cardamom- and fenugreek-spiced cocktails. But there's also a self-service water station, and a busing station for diners inclined to clear their own tables. (If they aren't, an employee will do the job.)
Charles Bililies had worked in fine-dining restaurants for years before he opened the first Souvla in 2014. By then, restaurateurs were already fretting about the city's employer mandates and housing costs.
"We can sit around here, and we can complain and whine and moan," Mr. Bililies said. "We can be very negative about this. Or we can sort of turn this on its head and see an opportunity."
At Souvla, there is no oversize menu board above the counter, no service line where your food is assembled before your eyes. Behind the counter sits a shelf of wine glasses for the all-Greek wine list, touches that make the place feel plausible for a dinner date.
At the original Souvla, the counter is just inside the front door, so a line invariably spills onto the sidewalk, a neat marketing trick that also means the restaurant wastes little of its rented space on waiting customers.
The model and the small menu are conducive to takeout, which produces more than half of the revenue at this location. The restaurant has just 40 seats, but now averages more than 900 meals a day, far more than a full-service restaurant could manage in the same space.
For restaurateurs, counter service makes fine dining — or something like it — profitable. To economists, it makes sense. David Neumark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, who has studied the minimum wage, recalled a trip to Norway where nearly every restaurant he and his wife visited relied on counter service.
"I said, 'Well, duh,' " Mr. Neumark said. "It was so clear there." Norway has among the highest median wages in the world. So parts of this story are not new. "Economic history is filled with ways that we have figured out how to do things with fewer workers, and ultimately that's what makes us richer," he said.
Innovations in farming machinery or microwave meals, for instance, freed up people to be more productive, and better paid. But that is not entirely what is happening here. Restaurants haven't developed a way to serve meals with less labor. They've gotten customers to do the labor they had been paying employees to do.
There is something innovative in reprogramming diners to decouple fine food from full service. But the fact that restaurants have to do this speaks to deep fears here of what the Bay Area will look like if certain classes of workers can't afford to live here.
"It's really sad," said Jennifer Sullivan, who worked for years as a server in the area. Twenty years ago, she moved from Chicago to Oakland, where she rented a $750 studio apartment and waitressed her way through college. She fears that story would not be possible in the Bay Area now.
"I've even had dystopian future visions of buses full of labor that come from the outskirts of these really wealthy areas," she said.
A few blocks from the original Souvla, at the celebrated modern French restaurant Jardinière, the chef Traci Des Jardins said her labor costs, including taxes and health care, now eat up 43 percent of her budget.
When she opened Jardinière in 1997, they were 27 percent. (Mr. Bililies said Souvla's percentage is in the mid-20s now, even with paid vacation and retirement benefits.)
Ms. Des Jardins has experimented with raising her prices, but she said customers simply spent the same amount in different ways, skipping a second glass of wine, or ordering two appetizers instead of an entree.
At one of her other restaurants in town, she now serves lunch as counter service.
"I enjoy doing what I do, and we support a community of people here," Ms. Des Jardins said. "But the economics are pretty rotten."
Souvla, on the other hand, is planning to expand beyond the Bay Area, starting with New York. Mr. Bililies said he wanted to occupy "iconic streets in iconic neighborhoods in iconic cities."
The strategy, in other words, is to go to precisely the places with rotten economics.
On Father's Day last week, the highest-paid employee of Washington State University tweeted out a video of a 2014 speech by Barack Obama that was altered to make him sound like a one-world-government tyrant.
When called on the fraud, Mike Leach, the head football coach and $3.5-million-a-year representative of the same school that gave us the legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow, said, "Prove it."
It was easily proven as doctored. But instead of apologizing, and owning up to his dissemination of a fake conspiracy video, he then wrote, "What is a fact?" Of all the things President Trump has done to destroy civil norms, his debasement of language is the most chilling and poisonous. For it has now reached down to every level, allowing people who are supposed to be societal pillars, or even role models, to act as if reality has no foundation.
Trump's frightful legacy is not just the epidemic of everyday incivility in daily life. Nor is it his practice of using dehumanizing language to justify cruelty. The worst of the trickle-down Trump effects is the way he's opened the door for other public figures to get away with making things up. When a president is applauded for lying, why should a head football coach, or a cabinet secretary, feel any shame for doing the same thing?
To authoritarians, language is a weapon, usually deployed in the service of an emotional half-truth: something you believe to be true even if it isn't. Truth has to become meaningless — "What is a fact?" — in order for this strategy to work and morality to become a shapeless thing.
We saw it when Vice President Mike Pence called the former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio a champion of "the rule of law." Arpaio is a convicted criminal later pardoned by Trump. You can say he's a hero to the political right, or a fighter, but by no standard is a sheriff who was repeatedly called out for violating the law a champion of the rule of law.
And we saw it in graphic detail over the last week with the Trump administration policy of ripping migrant children from their parents. The cages holding weeping kids are "essentially summer camps," in the words of the Fox News host Laura Ingraham.
Worse, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the administration's zero-tolerance policy that led to 2,300 children being taken from their parents didn't exist — "period." A day after saying this, she defended the policy that doesn't exist. And on Wednesday, Trump signed an order trying to resolve a crisis that he created, after saying earlier that he couldn't stop it because it was the fault of others, even if it did exist.
After a while, people come to "believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true," wrote Hannah Arendt, the German-born philosopher, in describing how truth lost its way in her native land.Everyone laughed when the North Korean news agency reported that the late Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, scored five holes-in-one while playing a round of golf. But how is this any different from Trump saying this week that crime is "way up" in Germany when it just recorded the lowest year for crime in nearly three decades? Who is left to call him on this? The press, which he's labeled the "enemy of the American people"?
In North Korea, the masses are forced to believe the lies, something Trump clearly envies. "He speaks and his people sit up in attention," Trump said of Kim Jong-un. "I want my people to do the same."
The constant repetition of the lie is the way to make truth meaningless. You say a falsehood over and over and it takes on the shape of reality. This is the case for many of the 3,200 lies or misleading claims that Trump has uttered since taking office.
My larger concern today is this: How is a fact-based democracy supposed to function when the Trump toxins have gotten deep into the national bloodstream?
When Mike Leach was caught in his video lie, his university did not set the record straight. Washington State issued a meaningless statement backing its coach's right to his "personal opinions." And Leach himself said the actual words spoken by Obama are "irrelevant anyway" because "we are discussing ideas." All of this from an institution of higher learning.
And where did Coach Leach get this mush, an excuse that would be laughed off the field if one of his players tried it with him?
|Fear grows beyond the border|
Government agents take a woman suspected of living in the country illegally into custody during an immigration sting at Corso's Flower & Garden Center in Castalia, Ohio, on June 5. (John Minchillo/AP)
WASHINGTON — President Trump, spurred on by conservatives who want him to slash safety net programs, unveiled on Thursday a plan to overhaul the federal government that could have a profound effect on millions of poor and working-class Americans.
Produced over the last year by Mr. Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, it would reshuffle social welfare programs in a way that would make them easier to cut, scale back or restructure, according to several administration officials involved in the planning.
Among the most consequential ideas is a proposal to shift the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a subsistence benefit that provides aid to 42 million poor and working Americans, from the Agriculture Department to a new mega-agency that would have "welfare" in its title — a term Mr. Trump uses as a pejorative catchall for most government benefit programs.
That proposal, which includes an equally ambitious plan to merge the Education and Labor Departments to consolidate work force programs, is not likely to gain the congressional approval needed to make the changes, Mr. Mulvaney's aides conceded in a phone call with reporters on Thursday.
But the rollout has a bigger long-term purpose, said Margaret Weichert, one of Mr. Mulvaney's deputies who drafted the proposal. She cast the proposal as a rallying cry for "small government" and said the audacity of the plan proved "why many Americans voted for this president."
Mr. Trump, for his part, joked on Thursday that the plan was "extraordinarily boring" before TV cameras in the Cabinet Room.
But being boring in an all-too-exciting White House has provided cover for a small army of conservatives and think tank veterans who have been quietly churning out dozens of initiatives like the proposal to reshuffle the cabinet, with the ultimate goal of dismantling the American social welfare system from the inside out.
"Our guys have been in there since the start, grinding it out, and basically no one is noticing it except the smart liberals like Rachel Maddow," said Stephen K. Bannon, the president's former adviser, who believes the attack on social programs will be one of Mr. Trump's most enduring policy achievements.
"It is one of the reasons Trump is at like 97 percent with the base. This is what the base wants," he said. Referring to the right-wing conspiracy theorist who hosts a popular radio show and the progressive consumer activists allied with Ralph Nader, who became a force in Democratic politics in the 1970s, he added: "Trust me, it's not Alex Jones that's driving things. It's these guys — they are our version of 'Nader's Raiders.'"
Philip G. Alston, a New York University professor and the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, agreed with Mr. Bannon's assessment. "My sense is they are making very considerable progress, even though no one is paying much attention," he said.
But Mr. Alston, author of a recent study on endemic poverty in American cities and the rural South, has a different view of what Mr. Trump's aides are trying to do. "There is a contempt for the poor that seems to permeate the president's inner circle that seems very worrying," he said. "It's done under the banner of providing opportunity and seeking long-term solutions but it all seems designed to increase misery."
The president himself is deeply uninterested in the details of policy and can identify only a handful of domestic policy aides, including Mr. Mulvaney, by name, according to current and former staff members. His policy operation during the 2016 campaign was skeletal.
Aides would often watch Mr. Trump's stump speech on TV for cues on what he wanted to do, search Google for policy proposals that seemed to be the closest fit — then draft white papers or debate talking points from the results.
As president, Mr. Trump would become so bored with the details of domestic policy that aides long ago stopped sharing all but the most top-line specifics of their plans — including the reorganization, according to several people who have worked closely with Mr. Trump.
If Mr. Trump is fuzzy on policy, he is acutely attuned to the perils of offending his base, especially older voters.
A few weeks after Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Mulvaney and a handful of other aides, including Reince Priebus, then the chief of staff, approached the president in the Oval Office to suggest a slate of entitlement changes to reduce costs in the Medicare and Social Security programs.
They were a few minutes into their pitch, according to someone familiar with the meeting, when Mr. Trump waved a dismissive hand and shouted, "No way! What else you got?"
Mr. Trump has, however, given wide latitude to conservatives like the education secretary, Betsy DeVos; the housing secretary, Ben Carson; Attorney General Jeff Sessions; the director of the Domestic Policy Council, Andrew Bremberg; and Mr. Mulvaney, who has emerged as the most provocative and hyperactive of the president's senior policy advisers.
Mrs. Devos has been especially aggressive, pushing to loosen restrictions on for-profit colleges and enforcement of civil rights laws. She is close to Mr. Mulvaney and supported the proposal to merge her department with the Labor Department, calling it a "bold reform" in a statement.
"Artificial barriers between education and work force programs have existed for far too long," she added.
Democratic critics saw the new proposal as a threat to both departments, but the proposal also divided conservatives.
Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the Republican chairwoman of the House education committee who has aggressively pushed a higher education bill that would achieve the same goals, said it was "a recognition of the clear relationship between education policy at every level and the needs of the growing American work force."
But it was one of the rare proposals that fell flat with conservative supporters who champion Mr. Trump's agenda to shrink the government, in part because it did not include an accounting of staff members or funding for the reorganization.
Lindsey Burke, the education policy director at the Heritage Foundation, which has steered a slew of Trump policies, said that the proposal risked increasing the federal government's role in education and the work force, creating more "bloat, control and federal tentacles in local schools and markets."
For the most part, however, operatives aligned with Heritage, the Federalist Society and the sprawling Koch brothers network have been on the inside making policy.
Benjamin Hobbs, a former employee of Heritage and the Charles Koch Foundation, who received a top policy job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was a driving force behind a proposal to raise rents on some of the poorest residents of subsidized housing by as much as 44 percent, according to two administration officials.
In a recent meeting, Mr. Hobbs raised eyebrows by claiming the increases were intended, in part, to persuade unmarried couples to move in with each other to pool rent payments, according to two people in attendance.
Mr. Carson, his boss, broadly supports the idea of reducing dependence, aides said, but was lukewarm on the idea. The backlash to the proposal was so severe that Mr. Carson, speaking this month in Detroit, wavered when asked whether he planned to back legislation needed to achieve the hikes.
Rick Dearborn, another former employee at Heritage, who served as deputy chief of staff for Mr. Trump during his first year in office, steered a total of about 70 Heritage-linked experts into policy roles in the White House and various cabinet departments.
At the same time, Mr. Bannon, who was Mr. Trump's most influential aide at the dawn of the presidency, enlisted one of Heritage's founders, Edwin J. Feulner Jr., to help create a list of action items on scaling back social welfare programs days after Mr. Trump's inauguration.
Heritage had just received a multimillion-dollar commitment from Mr. Bannon's former benefactor, Rebekah Mercer, according to two people familiar with the gift. Much of the cash was informally earmarked, they said, to help Mr. Trump expand his near nascent policy operation, according to two people familiar with the details of the donation.
By early 2017, Heritage produced a government reorganization plan that served as the initial template for Thursday's announcement. They also drafted a list of 334 policy recommendations, about half of them aimed at domestic programs for poor people or Obama-era regulations protecting low-income consumers.
"Once the transition started, we seized on the opportunity to help out and define the policy agenda of the next administration," said Paul Winfree, a social policy expert at Heritage, who once worked for the Domestic Policy Council coordinating administration policy of social welfare programs and entitlements.
"Even when many thought Trump had no chance, Heritage researchers and alumni were working hard over on implementation plans," said Mr. Winfree. "We went to work while much attention was paid to the palace intrigue or on personalities. Having one big personality isn't enough to change a government. Having many good people, who know and trust each other, in the right places is the key."
The core of Mr. Trump's safety net policy is an expansion of work requirements to foster self-sufficiency among recipients of food assistance, Medicaid and housing subsidies to reduce dependence on the government. "Our goal is to get people on the path to self-sufficiency," Mr. Bremberg said.
Its real purpose, advocates for poor people claim, is to kick hundreds of thousands of the needy off the federal rolls, to cut taxes for the rich.
That effort dovetailed with a separate but related rollback in the enforcement of fair housing, educational equity, payday lending and civil rights cases pursued aggressively under the Obama administration intended to protect vulnerable populations from discrimination and abusive business practices.
"It's a war on the poor, pure and simple," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which has challenged several Trump administration policies in federal court.
The pace of administration activity in all of these areas has picked up sharply this year, in part because many of the conservatives inside the administration believe Mr. Trump's political and legal troubles will limit their window for action after the midterm elections.
Over the last two weeks alone, Mr. Trump's team unsuccessfully tried to ram through a $15 billion bill clawing back domestic spending, Mr. Mulvaney fired the 25-member advisory board at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he serves as the acting director, and administration lawyers challenged an Obama-era anti-discrimination rule that resulted in greater funding for projects in minority neighborhoods.
What remains unclear is whether the flurry of activity will have a long-term effect on the trajectory of federal spending and the management of safety net programs.
This year, the Heritage Foundation reported that Mr. Trump had checked off 64 percent of their policy checklist. But dozens of those victories were partial or pyrrhic.
Some proposals, including Medicaid waivers that allow states to impose work requirements and the reorientation of enforcement across an array of federal agencies, are moving ahead despite court challenges. But many others, especially those in Mr. Mulvaney's dead-on-arrival budget proposals, have been blocked by Democrats with the help of Senate Republicans.
As Mr. Mulvaney was pitching his reorganization plan to the cabinet and news media on Thursday, the House was passing a farm bill that included stiffer work requirements for SNAP recipients. Senate Republicans have already vowed to kill that provision.
A handful of Mr. Mulvaney's recommendations, including changes to federal personnel management and State Department overseas aid programs, can be accomplished through executive action alone.
But many other parts of Mr. Mulvaney's reorganization plan are likely to face similar resistance as work requirements, including efforts to consolidate fisheries and wildlife programs, aggregate food safety and inspection programs in the Agriculture Department, shift rural housing programs to HUD and move the Army Corps of Engineers to civilian agencies, among others.
"This is an art-of-the-possible exercise," Ms. Weichert said.