Trump's gaslighting $400 bait-and-switch scheme does nothing for unemployed Americans

Trump's gaslighting $400 bait-and-switch scheme does nothing for unemployed Americans
President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are greeted by guests as they arrive to the New Year’s Eve celebration Tuesday evening, Dec. 31, 2019, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Trump and his administration have institutionalized bullshit by disconnecting actions and rhetoric from fact and truth. Their willingness to say anything so long as the results trick the gullible and advance their interests is shocking. Now, congressional inaction on further pandemic economic relief has compounded the Trump con game and opened the door to a cynical political ploy that could bury millions.


Trump signed an executive order last weekend that he and his underlings portray as a lifesaver tossed to people drowning in violent economic seas. The White House pretentiously titled it Memorandum on Authorizing the Other Needs Assistance Program for Major Disaster Declarations Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019.

The pandemic has become an excuse for empty posturing.

The reality is an attempt by the administration and GOP to absolve themselves of blame that could sink Trump’s re-election campaign. In presidential elections, voters keep a keen eye on what their finances tell them. The news for 10s of millions is bad.

The Census Bureau has been conducting weekly surveys of adults. The most recent results are worrisome. Just over half (51.1%) had lost at least some employment income. About 12.1% at least at times lacked enough to eat over the previous week, while 26.5% either missed a housing payment the previous month or had only slight or no confidence about making the next one.

By the way, even 10% of adults would represent more than 25 million people, according to the Census Bureau. That means legions of children also face difficult times.

There are many in this country who can’t—or won’t—understand what it’s like to subsist on a small income. They would rather chide people about what they should have done previously. But this is far beyond a bleeding-heart issue.

With so many not paying landlords or utility bills or spending less on food, many small and large businesses face falling revenues. Those companies then reduce their spending and lay off people until times get better, which means more joblessness, additional strain on unemployment benefits and a vicious circle that draws down everyone’s economy. The country strolls closer to a deeper recession and, depending on how bad things get, a potential depression.

Trump’s Imaginary Kingdom

The administration regularly pretends it can rule by fiat through executive orders (EOs), although recent history proves it can’t. Remember Trump repeatedly attacking Obama for using EOs?

“Why is @BarackObama constantly issuing executive orders that are major power grabs of authority?” Trump tweeted in 2012.

“This is how it starts. Obama is now threatening to use an Executive Order for gun control,” he wrote in 2013.

“If elected, I will undo all of Obama’s executive orders,” he promised in 2015.

Trump is busy replacing Obama’s Executive Orders with even more of his own. As the conservative Washington Times noted, Trump is on pace to exceed Obama’s use of EOs during the latter’s first term.

Trump uses EOs to redirect funding and build that wall Mexico was going to pay for, although so far it’s mostly just replacing previously existing segments.

All Hat, No Cattle

Repeatedly Trump promises a “beautiful” healthcare plan in two weeks but it never materializes. Indeed, it never even gets to the EO stage.

And what of the “future of economic justice and security for American workers” from the trade deal with China? Ah, who needed that?

The pandemic has become an excuse for empty posturing. There’s been no additional economic aid because of a ridiculous congressional deadlock. The biggest culprits: Senate Republicans under Mitch McConnell’s direction. It was, also, a House Democrat all-or-nothing power play, as reported by Politico, that helped create the current fiasco and opened a door to blatant political posturing.

The executive branch, following a long-developing GOP path, has excised fact and truth from their statements and strategies. They’ll say anything to get what they want. When that fails, they pretend they said something else and attack anyone who suggests otherwise. And then they whine that they are being treated unfairly.

Ignite the Gaslights

Early in Trump’s new executive order, the gaslighting groundwork starts, blaming state and local “protective measures” for creating unemployment. In this new EO, Trump claims his administration “has worked to quickly provide billions of dollars in relief to supplement unemployment benefits and help businesses keep their workers employed, in addition to zeroing Federal student loan interest and delaying Tax Day.  In total, nearly $3 trillion has been appropriated for emergency funding related to COVID-19.”

Interesting number, $3 trillion. That’s the size of the relief Democrats passed in the House and that McConnell claims is about three times too big. What McConnell really wants is absolute immunity for all businesses from COVID-19 litigation, even companies that behave badly and cause workers, customers and people with no tie to a business to become sick and perhaps die.

The severity of the protective measures was necessary because the administration has yet to do anything significant to address the pandemic, even though there were pre-existing plans developed by the Obama administration.

A Vanity Fair piece quotes a nameless public health expert, reportedly in close contact with the national virus testing team led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with a chilling assertion:

The sentiment among the White House “political folks” was that the virus would mostly hit Democratic states and so  “they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.”

Congress Took Charge

Existing relief money and plans were largely the work of Congress, which appropriated nearly $3 trillion. Handed tools, Trump pounded nails with saws and cut wood with hammers.

His administration repeatedly tripped while trying to administer their part. The $1,200 payments were late to millions, with paper checks going out in a way that made it sound as though Trump personally ensured the money. Many families still haven’t received the additional $500 per child that was promised.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)—loans to small businesses to keep people working—became a disaster, with hundreds of public companies finagling a share and big banks turning the program into a brand-building tool.

In this continuing fantasy, the administration blames only Democrats for the lack of help from Congress. That ignores how the House introduced a new COVID-19 relief measure back in May. Republicans in the Senate refused to take up the bill and failed to act in time, pushing everything to the final moment because that is when politicians feel they can gain the most advantage.

Ignore the Law

The largest area of gaslighting is the implicit assumption that Trump can order money shifted from one department to another, changing the intended use. He’s eyeing $80 billion of the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), intended for state, territorial, tribal and local aid and $70 billion in the Department of Homeland Security’s Disaster Relief Fund as additional aid.

Forget for a moment that saying remaining CRF funds now will “supplement the billions of dollars States have received in other Federal assistance” is silly because the funds previously were allocated and are not truly supplemental funds. And that taking of disaster relief money from Homeland Security when the ongoing hurricane season is supposed to be particularly bad isn’t a wise move as that money may be needed elsewhere.

Consider that the Constitution is clear—only Congress has the power to set spending and appropriations. The New York Times called these “legally dubious methods.”

Even the often-reactionary Wall Street Journal editorial board thought that shifting money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund to unemployment supplements a terrible idea. “Mr. Trump is commandeering the power of the purse that the Constitution reserves for Congress,” they wrote, further stating that “our polarized politics is stressing the constitutional system.”

Not for the first time. Barack Obama, as the Journal noted, had done similar things with Democratic approval. But it was a dangerous and illegal choice then and continues to be now.

States Don’t Have the Money

The unemployment aid Trump is suggesting, of $400 a week, is far from adequate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show 5.9 million open jobs. However, even by the seemingly conservative BLS count, there are 16.3 million unemployed people.

That’s close to three people per job, assuming everyone could fill each position and is geographically close enough for serious consideration. Leaving people on less money than they had will put enormous strains on the economy.

But even a promise of $400 is a lie. The administration is only saying it would pay $300 weekly and expects states to kick in the extra $100. The states, that is, that are already collectively $19.7 billion in debit over unemployment payments.

On Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared on CNBC and claimed that the states effectively would not pay anything in addition. “The 25% isn’t coming from the states because we’re authorizing them to use the money out of the $150 billion we just sent them, so in essence, all 100% is coming from the federal government,” he said, according to a transcript sent by CNBC.

Democrats have claimed that the White House isn’t “budging” in the pandemic relief negotiations and won’t compromise on what they say the price tag and contents should be, according to The Hill. Trump wants his way.

Money Spent

Bloomberg Tax noted that the $150 billion in discussion was to help states and cities cover other costs. What Mnuchin mentioned was like sending someone to the store with $20 worth for groceries, but placing an order for $35.

When the person points out that you didn’t give them money for that, you say, “Oh, no problem, I already sent money.”

The result, according to Roll Call, might be that states count existing unemployment payments as their $100 contribution, meaning that people would get only an additional $300 a week, putting them into an even deeper hole. A few days after Trump signed the EO, top administration officials were admitting that it could wind up as only $300 for states providing their normal assistance of at least $100 a week.

In fact, even the promised $300 may be a steaming pile of BS. As Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said in a news conference, according to the Miami Herald, “That’s not an option for us in Florida, because those CARES Act dollars are obligated already.”

Remember the $20 you sent for that $35 order? It underwrote a different trip to the store weeks ago. For some states, there is nothing left. No $300 a week available for people wondering how they’ll eat and where they’ll live.

Misrepresented, likely illegal, thoroughly half-baked, actually focused on his needs to be loved and admired, and ultimately empty—Trump’s latest executive order is like a microcosm of his whole time in office.

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