I’m developing a catchphrase to try to explain how mystifying politics has been lately. It’s only two words long: “Nothing matters.”
I know, it’s not exactly uplifting, like, say, “audacity of hope,” or “nothing to fear but fear itself.” But I’m not calling things as I wish they were, only how they appear to be.
Here’s the most recent, local example of what I mean. Last week in Olympia, state officials delivered some eye-opening testimony about a recent policy decision, and how it has been as costly to the citizens of this state as any in recent memory.
“The tariff wars are a $2.4 billion hit on Washington households” annually, testified Robert Hamilton, the state’s trade adviser, to a state Senate committee. “That comes out to about a thousand-dollar-a-year hit on (each) Washington household.”
And we’re upset about our car tabs.
Seriously, what’s curious is that this news, about the supposedly easy-to-win trade war and the huge impact it’s having, was met with a shrug (including by lawmakers, who mostly sat there mutely). It was followed, this week, by news that the federal government’s trade war bailout, a $25 billion farm-support program, will likely cost about twice the Obama administration’s auto-industry bailout back in 2009.
Ah those were the days, when the fashion was to dress up in tricorn hats and rail about government spending and the evils of socialism. I went to some tea party rallies, one in downtown Seattle, where people carried signs equating Obama to a thief, and even to Hitler, because of his decision to prop up General Motors.
“If I paid only $1 in federal taxes, I’d still be outraged by the GM takeover,” one protester told me then.
Where are these people now, one wonders?
State officials testified last week that Washington state farms alone have been granted $51 million in trade-war bailout money, with more on the way. The $25 billion national rescue effort is using taxpayer dollars to try to make up for huge export losses from President Trump’s ongoing tariff fight with China and other countries.
“The Washington ports have seen a dramatic slowdown in container traffic,” Hamilton told state lawmakers.
The $2.4 billion annual hit to our economy is mostly paid by consumers in the form of higher prices, he said. It also doesn’t include the cost of bailing out the farms.
But the only taxpayer protest taking place in our state is a few lawmakers and citizens trying to go all tea party on their car-registration fees. Tim Eyman has called for a car-tab boycott, after a judge this past week put his Initiative 976 to slash car tabs on hold.
But let’s put those fees in context: Across city, regional and state governments, car tabs are about a $700 million cost to car owners annually, according to state fiscal documents. That means the trade-war tariffs are costing us three times the car-tab bill that we’re spending so much oxygen fighting about.
“Can you imagine if Obama did that?” is now a rueful parlor game that liberals play. In this case though there’s no need to imagine: Obama did do it (bailed out a struggling industry) and the right went ballistic. They took to the streets because they said it was un-American to interfere with the free markets like that.
Today, there’s not a peep of protest, and support for Trump among those struggling most from the trade war — farmers — seems only to be rising, recent polls show. A roundup of farmers’ views found that some just think the fight for a stronger trade position is worth it, which is fine. But some incredibly said they’re sticking with him because they’re against government handouts. On principle.
“I’m not in favor of everyone going to college for free, or getting health care for free,” one farmer said. “Someone has to pay the bill.”
With cognitive dissonance like that, it’s probably true Trump could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes. Here he’s dropped a bomb on farmers — and by extension, made a multibillion-dollar hit squarely on our trade-dependent state. Yet even the main casualties aren’t budging an inch.
Like I said: Nothing matters. Nothing manages to bust through the fog of polarization. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it, at least until something comes along that causes this strange fever to break.