Paul Krugman: Impeaching Trump is good for the economy

(J. Scott Applewhite | AP) Activists rally for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., committed Tuesday to launching a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump.

If there’s one thing the tweeter in chief believes, it is that what’s good for Donald Trump is good for America. A little more than a month ago (although it seems like much longer) he told a rally that “you have no choice but to vote for me,” because his electoral defeat would lead to a market crash.

But a funny thing has happened over the course of Trump’s latest terrible, horrible, very bad, no good two weeks. Suddenly, impeachment (though not removal from office) has gone from highly unlikely to highly likely. In fact, given the explosive nature of the now-revealed whistleblower complaint, I don’t really understand how he can not be impeached.

And the financial markets have basically shrugged.

On the surface, this may seem strange. After all, whatever the eventual outcome of the surging prospect of impeachment, the immediate effect is surely to cripple the Trump administration’s ability to pursue its legislative agenda. Why doesn’t this worry investors?

The answer is, “What legislative agenda?”

Even when Trump’s party controlled both houses of Congress, he had only two major legislative initiatives. One was a big tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that will generate trillions in deficits but doesn’t seem to have done much for the economy. The other was an attempt to take away health insurance from around 30 million Americans, which didn’t pass.

What about now? Well, I guess impeachment could get in the way of the big infrastructure plan Trump has been promising for three years. OK, you can stop laughing. “Infrastructure week” has long since become a punch line; nobody, and I mean nobody, believes that any real plan, let alone one that could pass a Democratic House, will ever be forthcoming.

At this point, the only halfway significant item on the legislative table is Trump’s proposed replacement for NAFTA — which is basically indistinguishable from NAFTA. Trump may think it’s important to stick a new name on the same old trade agreement, but hardly anyone else agrees.

To be fair, legislation isn’t the only way presidents can make policy, and the prospect of impeachment will probably exert a chilling effect on Trump’s ability to pursue policy through executive fiat. But here’s the thing: Since most of what Trump is trying to do is bad for America, whatever paralysis impeachment may induce is all to the good.

For Trump has, in effect, been waging a war on competence.

In Trump’s vision of government, career diplomats who do actual diplomacy, experienced regulators who actually try to enforce regulations, researchers who produce objective data — up to and including weather forecasters whose predictions he doesn’t like — are all part of a deep state that’s out to get him. So Trump officials have been engaged in a systematic campaign to degrade America’s Civil Service, driving out people who know what they’re doing and replacing them with political hacks.

Consider the case of the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service, a respected, heretofore apolitical unit that produces highly useful reports — reports that farmers and businesses rely on — on various trends affecting rural America. After the agency produced reports documenting the obvious — that the 2017 tax cut disproportionately benefited well-off farmers — and refused to cook up studies justifying other administration policies, it was summarily told to relocate from Washington to Kansas City.

The obvious and successful purpose of this move was to induce mass resignations by the unit’s experts, and it’s very unlikely that if and when the agency is reconstituted it will be nearly as good at doing its job.

A similar process of hackification has been going on throughout the federal government. And let’s be clear: This degradation of government is bad for business. Businesses may not always like government regulations, but they do like government that is predictable, is competent and makes decisions based on clear criteria, not political connections.

But here’s the thing: An impeachment inquiry will surely have a chilling effect on the Trumpian project of government degradation. It may not come to a dead halt, but Trump’s team of cronies will be distracted; they will be less brazen; they will be worrying about more potential whistleblowers going public about what they’re doing.

If we had a normal administration, one that, whatever its ideology, was trying to govern the nation well, the distraction and paralysis that comes with an impeachment investigation could have adverse side effects, although even then the historical record is unclear. (Compared with the Trump era, the Nixon administration was a paragon of good government.)

But this isn’t a normal administration; it has never seemed to care much about governing, and it is actively hostile to civil servants trying to do their jobs. So paralysis is good. The more time Trump appointees spend worrying about potential prosecution rather than planning loyalty purges, the better off all of us, from ordinary citizens to giant corporations, will be.

Impeaching Donald Trump is good for the economy.

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.

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